CorLead 09-07-104

Leading on Empty

Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion


Wayne Cordeiro

Bethany House, 2009, 215 pp., ISBN 978-0-7642-0350-3



Cordeiro is founder and senior pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship in Honolulu, a church of 12,000, and one of the nation's fastest growing churches.  He has helped plant 100 churches and he is an author and international speaker.  His previous books include the popular Doing Church as a Team.  This one is a loose organization of his journey through burnout and beyond.  However, it ends with him in the hospital preparing for heart surgery. 


"A tragic flaw of many leaders is that they cannot recognize their limits…as the demands of work or ministry scale up dramatically." (Bob Buford, Foreword)


"During this winter season, the only things I had to hold on to were the disciplines I had already built into my life." (11)


"Suffering will change us, but not necessarily for the better.  We have to choose that." (15)


"When the first signs of burnout appear, it's time for a break." (18)  "I had developed the discipline of image management, but on the inside I was experiencing a slow-motion implosion." (18)


"It is a gift to be able to launch an inspiring vision.  But unless you manage it along the way, it can turn on you, and soon the voracious appetite of the vision consumes you." (21)


Symptoms:  "Ministry became more arduous.  My daily tasks seemed unending, and e-mails began to stack up.  People I deeply cared about became problems to be avoided, and deliberating about new vision no longer stirred my soul."  What began as a joy became a drain.  Decisions were paralyzing.  Creativity flagged.  I was backing away from the things that used to challenge me.  (22-3)


Life can pick you up like a giant surfing wave.  "The trick is to know when to get off the wave.  But that doesn't come easily.  You need to be willing to give up the thrill of speed and advance for safety and longevity." (29)


High self-expectations can eventually eat you alive.  (32) "To finish strong, you must learn to rejuvenate your spirit early in your ministry." (33) 


Burnout may be accompanied by depression.  I was blindsided by ambivalence and de-motivation.  "Depression haunts you with feelings of worthlessness and clouds your hope.  It attacks your faith and it smothers your future." (44)   


Triggers:  Long-term stress, great losses, unresolved problems, financial stress, and pressure to excel are triggers.  One pastor spoke of a "growing disconnect between who I was up front and who I was in private." (57)


Warning signs: A sense of hopelessness, difficulty concentrating and making decisions, irritability, insomnia, low activity levels, feeling alone, eating disorders, aches and pains, lack of marital attraction.  A growing desire for both isolation and release makes one vulnerable to pornography or affairs!


"The desert fathers went to the wilderness because the simplicity of life there offered few distractions.  They quieted every demand and opened their ears to only One Voice."  "This oscillation between desert and ministry is a nonnegotiable pattern for today's busy pastor." (69)


"Solitude is a chosen separation for refining your soul.  Isolation is what you crave when you neglect the first." (70)  Some men cannot abide quietude because it reveals their inward poverty.  (70, Charles Spurgeon) 


"Sometimes we get so busy rowing the boat, we don't take the time to stop and see where we're going…or what we are becoming." (71)


"I felt the need to perform, to succeed, to endure and win at any cost.  That was one embedded principle I needed to unlearn." (73)


"Learning the difference between a concern and a responsibility may save your ministry, your family, and your sanity.  If we mis-define concerns as personal responsibilities, it will eventually confuse us and diffuse our energies." (74)  "I had mixed them up, and as a result, the world was resting on my shoulders." (75)  "I had to rethink … what God had asked me to do--and how I would restructure my life to concentrate on these priorities in my final stretch." (78)  "We won't be held accountable for how much we have done, but for how much we have done of what He has asked us to do." (79) 


"Your faith, your marriage, your family, and your health have to be not only priorities, but higher priorities than everything else, including work, money, promotion, or position." (81) 


What are your nonnegotiables?  Your boundaries?  Determine these and drive them deep into your soul before you are tempted.  (82) 


"The goal is not to 'get over depression' quickly.  The goal is to draw close to God." (86)


"Each of us has an internal emotional reservoir.  On the topside, there's an input, and on the bottom, a drain.  Certain activities will drain you more than fill you, and others will fill you more than drain you.  Some tasks will contribute to you and others will take from you."    "What fills you?  What drains you?" (89)  Write down what activities energize you and what ones deplete you.  Make a list. (91) 


It's impossible to avoid things that drain you.  But be sure to keep your emotional tank full.  (93) 


Without appropriate ways to fill our tanks, we become prone to unhealthy substitutes, such as affairs, casual pornography, excessive alcohol, prescription medication, or illicit drugs.


"We can also allow our depression to draw us nearer to God….and that is precisely where we must focus in order to heal." (102)


God's ways are certainly not our ways, and all too often before the truth sets you free, it will make you miserable.  We dare not conclude that what we are going through lacks the divine touch simply because it entered our life without our permission." (103)


"In the turbulence of depression, when you do not know which way to turn, focus back on what God called you to do in the first place. … It will give you back a sense of purpose, and hope will start to return." (105)


After burnout, depression will never be far away.  (114)  "You may find yourself withdrawing, searching for repose and solitude.  When that happens, find it.  Take it.  Pull the plug for a while, even if it's only for a day." (114) 


"If you do not steward your energy, a few years and fifteen pounds later you will realize that you borrowed all the available pockets of energy you had and invested them in your job, career, or ministry.  You gave what was left over (if any) to what was most important." (121)


Go to bed earlier rather than sleeping late.  You get better rest.  Exercise, but start slowly.  Do exercise activities that you enjoy.  Eat healthy.  Recharge with God daily.  Start fresh each morning.  Build your family base. 


Don't jump back into life at the pace you could not sustain but get to the resolution side as quickly as possible.  "A good amount of solitude and counsel are required to gain accurate assessment on the analysis side, but don't camp there. … Most of the changes will happen along the way back home." (13-44) 


When you are clear-headed, healthy, and close to Christ, imagine your ideal future and write it down.  (147-48)  What would delight God and be the optimum plan for your life and future?  It will act as your GPS when emotions sag and energy flags.  (149)  "At some point in my healing process, I had to anchor my soul on hope." (151) 


Advice from Tom Patterson: "Wayne, we must come to a point where we fully surrender to Christ.  Nothing held back.  And the events of great suffering in your life will bring you to that point.  You can choose to recede or you can choose to surrender.  I chose to surrender." (153) 


Find a wise Christian friend who can listen and help you navigate this new season and calibrate your compass.  (153)  "Don't discount the value of having someone else monitor your spiritual journey." (155)  You need divine mentors.


"Friendships are not made in the blur of life.  They are made in the margins." (154) 


"Every mistake, every pitfall, and every poor decision you could ever make has already been made and recorded somewhere in the Bible." (157) 


A monthly life calendar helps me live intentionally.  It helps me gauge the speed and accuracy of my life. (167) 


"My 'dashboard' includes twelve dials that meter vital systems essential to my health and success."  Mine are my faith life, marriage life, family life, office life, computer life, ministry life, financial life, social life, attitudinal life, author's life, speaker's life, and physical life.  I grade each one and then write directions to improve.  (175-79) 


"The Sabbath acknowledges the completed work of God.  … Desisting on the Sabbath simply expresses that our work is insignificant compared to His.  Our work…should always give way to His designs for the day." (184) 


"Sometimes we may need to get our hunger back.  Hunger is renewable.  It may require that you disconnect for a while, do something a little bit different from what you've been used to, but that's okay.  It's better than playing the game after the hunger and the desire have faded--just because everyone expects you to." (186-87)


Questions to ask in a season of self-assessment:

  1. What was my original calling from God?
  2. What activities that I am involved in do I love the most?
  3. What activities and people have been draining my tank?
  4. If I retired today with several million dollars and no debts, what would I do?
  5. What triggered my depletion?
  6. What am I doing now that I cannot do anymore?
  7. What are those things that I enjoy doing but cannot do to the level I am involved now?
  8. Who do I need to share these findings with so that the rebuilding can begin?" (202)


"When a person actually burns out, he goes through a metamorphosis, a change in substance, character, and appearance.  He cannot successfully go back to what he was doing…. It is time now to invest the rest of your life in what the Lord was preparing you for with the experience you have had." (204, in a letter from Tom Paterson)



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