Social media is littered with stories of the rise and fall of leaders in the Church. Infidelity, misuse of finances, abuse of staff and volunteers, and pushing loyal congregations into the shark-infested waters of bad doctrine seem to be a common theme on news feeds and websites. We can blame it on a culture where celebrity is king and idolatry is easily mistaken for admiration. We can blame it on the pressure of a society that pushes against truth if it limits liberty. But if there’s truly nothing new under the sun, then culture and society have been working hard against those in leadership since mankind was given an opportunity to lead.
So what’s the real issue?
I think one significant challenge we have as leaders is embracing rest. While physical sleep is important, I’m going to focus on the rest that comes when we step away and have a Genesis 2 moment with our Creator. “God formed Man out of dirt from the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life. The Man came alive—a living soul!”
God breathed. And we came alive.
I wonder how many of us are suffocating, gasping for breath we try to find in a vacation or in time blocked on a calendar or on a rare day of sabbatical.
There’s a treasure of great leadership wisdom found in Proverbs 31. Rarely is the chapter read in its entirety; most often, the last 21 verses are shared on Mother’s Day or at weddings when we want to honor wives, moms, grandmothers. But read from beginning to end, the words take on new depth for leaders.
Proverbs 31 starts with a warning to us—to not give away our leadership strength to those things that kill kingdoms. We’re encouraged to take a breath, lead and love well, give our voice to those who have none, to serve with palms up and knees bent as God’s life is incarnated in ours.
And then, we’re given a picture of what that “leading and loving well” life looks like.
We don’t know the leader’s name, but this we do know about her: she is trusted because her life is trustworthy. She’s strong and industrious, always looking for ways to care for others—especially those who serve. She has no need to fight to be right because she does right daily. She looks at everything around her as opportunity to care more wholly for even more, and she is unafraid to dig in deep. She’s wise in her financial decisions, responding with forethought in seasons of plenty to prepare for seasons of want, because she knows there will be both. She doesn’t create chaos, and those she loves lack no good thing even in times of devastation. Her leadership lifts up those around her and gives them places of honor. She invests time in people, and finds joy when they benefit from that investment. She is unafraid of an uncertain future because she knows wisdom and kindness will greet her there. It’s never failed her yet. And it’s wisdom and kindness she speaks to others. She knows kindness attacks evil at its core, and she sets up guards around her words to ensure they are used for good. Again, she is trusted because she is trustworthy with the days that have been given her.
She sounds like an amazing, tireless leader, right? Well, planted like seeds within the Scripture are two beautiful reminders for you and me.
She rises before dawn to organize the day…
She makes her own bedspreads…(NLT). Another translation says, “She makes coverings for herself. (NLV)
The Proverbs 31 leader understands the value in beginning and ending her day wrapped in Sabbath. She knows she is counted on by family, friends, employees, and the community, so she starts her day by preparing for her day, setting it rightly by tending to the nourishment of her body, soul, and spirit. She ends it by retreating to a quiet place—a sanctuary so valuable to her well-being that she has honored it by giving it the best she has.
I have a feeling that, if we were to ask the Proverbs 31 leader why she believes in daily Sabbath rest, she would offer up three practical reasons.
- You can’t listen well to others if you aren’t spending time listening to God.
- You can’t encourage others to live a God-breathed life if you aren’t demonstrating what it looks like.
- You risk becoming a dangerous decision-maker when the choices made for others are clouded by your own soul crying for help. I’ve witnessed the wake of dangerous decisions as resources run dry, bad hires destroy the morale of good employees, and loyalists to a cause or a ministry become disillusioned.
Jedd Medefind of the Christian Alliance for Orphans recently said this about the need for leaders to find rest: “Sabbath doesn’t just set us free from working. It frees us from the silly notion that everything depends on us.”