Learning to Lead Yourself


A regular check-up goes a long way

by Steve Sonderman

Years ago, when working with a ministry to college students I found myself in the middle of a very busy summer season. The college kids were home and this meant weekly meetings, messages, events and normal pastoral duties. As the summer progressed, I sensed my energy waning and so I did what any good pastor would do—read the Bible more and prayed harder!

On a Monday in early August I met with my assistant to go over the week and I found myself just staring out into space, feeling numb and shutting down. When asked how I was, I responded by saying I didn’t feel well. I went back to my office, closed the door and started to cry. This is not normal for me. I shouldn’t be crying in the middle of the day in my office for no apparent reason, for Pete’s sake! After all, it’s not like the Brewers, Packers or Badgers just lost a big game!

The actual problem was that the wheels were falling off. I was in crisis mode, with nothing left emotionally, physically, spiritually and relationally. When I got home that night Colleen and I quickly planned a three-day getaway to start the healing process.

I will tell you right now, it took much longer than that for my batteries to be recharged, as the healing was slow and hard. But the one lesson I learned through it all was that if I am going to effectively lead others, my family, ministry, at work and in the community I had to learn to lead myself first. I had mismanaged the pace of my life and the work I was doing for Jesus was ruining the work of Jesus in my life.

In Acts 20:28, Paul is teaching the elders of Ephesus about leadership and says, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” Paul says you cannot care adequately for others if you neglect the care and nurture of your own soul. The problem so many of us face is that the way we are doing life, work, play, family, ministry etc., is often hindering or harming the work of the Lord in our own lives. We are living at a pace that is just not manageable. More often then not we find ourselves in crisis mode, burned out on life.

If we are going to lead ourselves, I suggest paying attention to five areas of life and consider a few things you can do to lead yourself well.

Physically: Many studies show if you eat right, exercise regularly, and get the sleep you need, you will have 15 to 25 per cent more energy during the course of the day and live longer. Build into your schedule a regular pattern of exercise, have your yearly physical and ask your doctor what your ideal weight should be and then get on a plan of your choice to get there.

Emotionally: Most men are clueless when it comes to knowing what is going on emotionally in their lives. One way to begin to identify what is going on emotionally is to journal on a regular basis. Each of us needs to know what refuels us emotionally and take steps to build that into our lives.

Intellectually: Most men are behind on their reading time. Make it your goal to read one book per month for fun, to stretch you, to grow, to challenge you.

Relationally: If we are going to be healthy and manage the pace of our lives, we need relationships that are replenishing. We need a few guys who we don’t have to “fix” or counsel, but who we can go out with and just be ourselves.

Spiritually: Last but not least, one of the things that often goes first is our time with the Lord. It is in our time at the feet of King Jesus when our moral compass is aligned, our soul nourished and purpose crystalized. This will look different for each of us, but if we are going to live a productive and effective life for the long haul, you need to guard and look forward to these times with Jesus.

Men, the best gift you can give your family, friends, small group, and company is a healthy, fully surrendered, energized and focused self. In order for this to happen, we need to lead ourselves, before we lead others.

Steve Sonderman is Pastor at Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin and founder of No Regrets Men’s Ministries. He consults widely with churches worldwide, sharing his passion for ministry to men in every local church. He makes his home in Borrokfield with his wife, Colleen.


Photo credit: hang_in_there via Foter.com / CC BY