I spoke recently to a long time friend in ministry who is tired. I could hear it in his voice. With the tiredness has come questions about whether he is in the right place and what his next run looks like. As the pastor of a church that has experienced significant growth over the past three years he realizes that if he is to ramp up for a new phase of ministry that he is going to need to rekindle his passion and make some strategic changes.
In conversations with colleagues in their fifties, I find this to be a very common struggle.
Many reading this blog have been in a similar position. Certainly I have, at a number of junctures of my career. While it is a frustrating place to be, these junctures represent a significant opportunity because they force us to look at ourselves, our gifting, our wiring, God's call on our lives and rethink our assignment for even greater ministry impact.
Obviously I do not know what is right for my friend. However, I do believe that there are some guiding principles that can help us evaluate how we respond to our lack of passion and the rekindling of that passion.
First, recognize that long ministry runs at high energy levels inevitably deplete us and we are naturally left tired, empty and wishing there was a different way of doing life. In many respects that personal depletion is a result of good things that God has done but our bodies and spirits cannot sustain that kind of pace for ever.
Second, there are natural junctures over our career where unless we refocus our energies so our time is more directly spent in our areas of greatest strength and get out of areas of weakness, we will increasingly become bored and unfulfilled in our work. It is natural for this to happen in our fifties because by then we are pretty aware of who God made us to be, what fills our tanks and what depletes us.
We look at the years before us and think to ourselves, I have a limited number of years left, I know how God has made me and what I am really good at, and I don't want to squander my time doing things that I am not made to do. How we respond to this inner prompting - indicated by our lack of passion may well determine whether we coast to a finish, keep on our current trajectory or figure out how to ramp up for an even more effective next run. We also know that our pace is not sustainable and ultimately not fulfilling.
Usually, significant tiredness indicates that we are moving too fast, probably doing things that are not in our sweet spot and need to refocus what we do if we are going to re-engage for the next run.
The last time I faced such a juncture, I went to those who knew me best, inside and outside of my organization and asked the question, "Knowing what you know about me and how God made me and where I am most effective, and my organization, what are the things you think I must do and what are the things you believe I ought to give up?" It was fascinating to me that the response I received was pretty uniform and I was able to refocus my personal role around four areas where I uniquely gifted - and give up some things where I am not.
Rekindling passion almost always involves letting some things go that others can and should be doing and refocusing our energies around our greatest strengths. It is doing less in order to do more and it is slowing down to do "more" better.
Third, recognize that refocusing your role may create a crisis of sorts in your organization because it often means reorganizing your leadership structure which brings advantage to you (you are better positioned in your sweet spot) and brings perceived loss to others.
The loss may be to congregations who expect their senior pastor to take care of all of the pastoral care and no longer does, to other leaders who are used to more access to you who no longer do or other scenarios depending on your situation. There is no refocusing that does not bring some loss for you as you give something up or to others who are affected by your revised focus.
One of the reasons that pastors often leave a successful ministry at this juncture is that their leaders who love them do not understand the need to refocus and rather than fight that battle a senior member of the staff may choose to move on. It is often an unnecessary loss for both the pastor and the church had they understood the dynamics involved.
This leads me to a fourth principle. You may need to bring in an outside adviser or consultant to help you refocus and to help a board or staff understand the value and importance of that refocus. You are not then left as the one trying to convince others that this is a good thing or be seen as looking out for yourself when in fact it is a matter of what will best serve the organization.
My final observation is that what is best for you in refocusing your role in order to rekindle passion for the next run is usually what is best for the ministry as well. Your ability to live in your area of greatest strength is a huge plus for the ministry. Their flexibility in allowing that repositioning is to their advantage because your renewed energy, engagement and effectiveness is the result.