• Lessons from a Road Trip

    Most of you were aware that Al (our Youth Professor) and I took a ten-day road trip with our students to visit pastors and missional leaders from about sixteen or more churches in Alberta and BC. I even received a t-shirt from the trip- “Menno Simons is my homeboy.” [1]   Poor Al (the only one with a bus license) drove over 2000 kilometers. Al- I salute you.

    During this road trip, I learned about recognizing my own exhaustion and some things that God was teaching me on route. Al gave me a pre-release book to read on the trip, it was entitled, The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter Scazzero. This books spoke volumes about my own leadership lessons, I would like to pass on to you.

    Can you imagine what it was like to be on this bus for ten days with about seventeen or so college students? We actually lost some students on the way (not intentionally mind you) as some students were dropped off with parents. We had great talks with them about food, music, school, more food, relationships, theology and hobbies. Our adventure saw a few pranks, times of frustration with one another, coping with people and their anger management, fruit roll-up eating contests, and watching the students get excited about seeing a Lamborghini and passing it on the highway.

    Then there was the sleeping or lack thereof. For the most part, we billeted in church basements, hallways, Sunday school rooms, youth rooms, and Bible Camps. There were many students who snored therefore some were quarantined by their peers (to special sections of the church) so that the rest of us could try to sleep. Beyond lack of sleep, we ate the occasional East Indian meal with really hot spice, which tended to back up a bathroom and create an array of gastrointestinal music during the night.

    There were times I personally felt exhausted as a leader: physically, spiritually, emotionally and relationally. I believe each of the students experienced this as well. As we traveled between churches, some students were regularly asleep on the bus, or passed out on a bus seat.  I know there were times, when I was simply leading others via energy from sugared drinks or caffeine, not a deep abiding relationship with God. There were times when I wanted to escape my leadership role and just put my headphones on for a few moments of silence.

    I am sure that you can relate to different seasons of your life when you felt exhausted, maybe your tongue was hanging out and you were at the end of your rope. If we went around and testified there might even be some of us living like that right now. The problem is when we don’t lead out of presence with God, we lead out of an empty tank and sadly that will always catch up with us.

    In his book pastor/author Peter Scazerro says, “The consequences for not slowing down in loving union with Jesus may not always seem evident at first but will show up in these ways”[2] :
    • You can’t shake the pressure you feel from having too much to do in too little time.
    • You are always rushing.
    • You routinely fire off quick decisions and judgments.
    • You are fearful about the future.
    • You are overly concerned with what others think.
    • You are defensive.
    • You are easily agitated and offended by others.
    • You consistently ignore stress and anxiety and tightness in your body.
    • You feel unenthusiastic and threatened by the success of others.
    • You spend more time talking than listening.

    As I read through these indicators, I realized that I could check off quite a few of these in my own leadership. Like many others, I have lived part of my road trip in an emotionally unhealthy state. I started off leading well but by day seven or eight exhaustion had taken its toll. Any of us can lead out of an abiding relationship with God and just like that we can be prone to lead out of self.

    Scazzero uses this example from Scripture to talk about leading out of self. In Numbers 20, Moses and Aaron were barraged by hundreds of thousands of complaints. They were leading out of physical and emotional exhaustion. Though they had served well in leadership for years, and had been following God’s commands, they soon relied on self leadership.

    20 And the people of Israel, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh. And Miriam died there and was buried there.
    2 Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. 3 And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! 4 Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? 5 And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” 6 Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them, 7 and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 8 “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” 9 And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him.
    10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron,
    “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”
    13 These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy. [3]

    According to God, because Moses and Aaron did not believe in God, and uphold Him as holy, they were not able to enter the promise land, even though for years they had lead faithfully. This is a humbling lesson for Moses and Aaron and a lesson we should heed. If we do not slow down to lead out of presence of God and upholding him as holy in our leadership, it will be costly to you and I. When was the last time you picked up your mantle of leadership out of exhaustion and struck the rock without loving union? [4]

    I am afraid I had led out of exhaustion too many times on our trip. Yet, God is gracious and if he allows, we can do it differently next year. The question we need to constantly ask ourselves is: What is our plan for keeping God at the center of our leadership? What is our plan to lead out of presence verses our own agenda?

    One of my favorite parts of the road trip was when we entered B.C., specifically down around the Okanogan Valley and into Kelowna. It was warm, the trees and flowers were in bloom, grass was green, people were at the beach and when we passed vineyards, and the grape vines were already growing. We actually didn’t get to visit a vineyard but you likely have all seen a picture of a vineyard. Jesus uses this metaphor of the vine to talk about his disciple’s relationship with Himself.

    In John 15, Jesus says,

    “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”

    Again, here is the question: What is your intentional plan to lead out of presence with Christ? Peter Scazzero says, “Very few of us have the support structure we need to slow down sufficiently for the will and presence of God to fill our lives and our leadership.” [5]

    The good news was that by the end of the trip we were at Gardom Lake Bible Camp (pictured at the top of the page header). It was here that I was able to slow down enough to listen and experience the presence of God. One evening I was able to capture a moment that really was a reflection of my soul, as I spent time in rest and prayer and abiding in Christ. My hope is that all of us can recalibrate our life and leadership when the times of frustration and exhaustion come, to get alone with Jesus and take steps to lead with presence in the future.

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    [1] Check out their cool clothes at http://www.mennoapparel.com

    [2] Peter Scazzero. The Emotionally Healthy Leader: How transforming your inner life will deeply transform your church, team and world. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), p.142.

    [3] Scripture taken from Numbers 20. All translations of the Scriptures are from the English Standard Version, 2011 unless otherwise noted.

    [4] The Emotional Healthy Leader., p. 144.

    [5] Ibid., 154.

    [6] Ibid., 157-158.