Friday, November 4, 2011

Leading on Empty by Wayne Cordeiro

Several months ago, I ran into an old acquaintance who is a senior pastor about thirty minutes from me. It has been great to start developing a good friendship with him and his family. We decided it would be good for both of us to get together once a month for some encouragement and fellowship. Of course, I wanted to redeem the time, so I recommended that we read a book each month and talk about it. This morning we are meeting to talk about a book he wanted to read by Wayne Cordeiro called Leading on Empty. This book tells the story of his life of burnout in pastoral ministry and how he finally took some time off to refill his tank and passion. It is a very personal book, as he talks about his struggles and his work-a-holic attitude that led him to burnout. It is his goal in this book to help pastors before they get to the place where he found himself.

I need this book. My wife would recommend that I need this book. If I have any tendency, it is going to be work too much. I can hardly take a day off. I want to be there for anyone at anytime. I'm a work-a-holic. But before I get to some very specific things that helped me and I hope to implement in my life, let me share the one main critique I have with this book. And it is a big one.

I honestly feel that this book would have been better if he had never quoted Scripture. Wow. I can't believe I said that. I doubt any Christian author would ever want that accusation placed on something they wrote. Throughout the book, there were many great principles that he made that really helped me, but then they were weakened by his a verse here or there that were thrown in to justify his point or to give it credibility. And it sure seemed that most of the time, the verses he shares are ripped out of their context. Let me give just one example. At one point, he says,
"What I do is who I am, and who I am is inextricably connected to what I do. I am a shepherd. It wasn't something I chose as a business profession. It was something I could not escape." (96) 
I agree. It is a calling. But then he quotes John 15:16, where Jesus says that His followers did not choose Him, but that they were chosen by Jesus that they would go and bear fruit. The problem is that this section where Jesus talks about His choosing of them has nothing to do with their occupational calling, but their calling unto salvation. This is just one example of many. I feel his use of Scripture leads people to take biblical interpretation carelessly.

While I did not like how he interprets the Bible, his principles that he presents in order to avoid burn-out in life is very helpful. I would even say that many of the things he says would not just be for pastors, but for anyone. For me, one of the things I have been convicted of is just taking a day of rest. At some point, taking one entire day and resting. That does not mean sitting on the couch and watching TV, but it does mean doing something that refills my spiritual, emotional, and physical tank. There are many reasons to do this, but the one that stuck with me the most is how taking time of rest can actually display what you believe theologically about your view of your work. He says,
"Schedule rests in before your calendar fills up. Rest is not an afterthought; it has to be a primary responsibility . . . When we rest at predesignated intervals, we are reminding ourselves that ultimately God controls the outcomes, not me or all of my wonderful efforts. It's good for us to wean ourselves off the need to be needed. For many of us, that will be the beginning of health." (125-6)
Another thing that really makes sense is when he says you should never sleep in on the back side of the clock, but to sleep in on the front side of the clock. He makes a pretty good argument that going to bed at 9 pm and sleeping in until 5 pm is much better for you than going to bed at midnight and sleeping until 8 am. This Eastern Time Zone thing is killing me! But this might be something I will try more often.

Probably the one thing I hope to implement more than anything is what he calls Personal Retreat Day (PRD). This is a time when he gets away from the office, maybe even away from the home, and spends one day reading, praying, planning, and evaluating your life. He likes to do it towards the end of the month so he can think about the next month. He says that it is something that must be scheduled into the calendar or it will never happen. Here is what he does.

  • Part One: A short physical workout and an long spiritual workout. Spend time with God. (2 hours)
  • Part Two: Calendar Organization. Look at how you have spent your time and look at how you plan on spending your time the next month (1 hour)
  • Part Three: Upcoming speaking and preaching schedule. Spend some time praying and thinking through an organization of what you will be speaking on in the coming months (2 hours)
  • Part Four: Honestly evaluate your life. Spend time grading yourself on your every component of your life. He has twelve places in his life that he grades (Faith life, marriage life, family life, office life, computer life, ministry life, financial life, social life, attitudinal life, author's life, speaker's life, physical life). You may choose many different categories. (1 hour)
  • Part Five: Message Preparation and Reading. I think I would do more reading for enjoyment at this point. Something to stir my soul. (2 hours)
  • Part Six: Dream. Write down goals you dream about in the next five years. (1 hour)

That's a 9-hour day that will help you refresh and get more organized. This is something I hope to do. As I read this book, I know that I could be on the path to what he calls burn-out. I hope I can avoid it.

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