Six Practices Growing Leaders Embrace (longer version)

some time ago, i posted a short FRIDAY NUGGET on six practices that growing leaders embrace. some time later, i expanded that into a column for Youthwork Magazine (in the UK). thought it would be worth sharing here:

Over and over again, I see Christian leaders holding up balance as a biblical value, a goal by which we can live in a Christian way. And, honestly, it angers me. Let me be clear: balance is not a biblical value: it’s a western value born of the enlightenment and modernity.

I’m much more interested in sustainability and thriving. When I read Jesus’ words, “I have come that they might have life, and life to the full,” I don’t hear balance; but I do hear sustainability and thriving.

This issue comes up often in the coaching groups I run with youth workers, people who’s lives are often—because of the never-ending nature of our roles—completely out of balance. Together, we explore what it might look like, for each individual, to practices and commitments that will move them toward a life of sustainability and thriving.

Recently, during an open time of questions at one of these coaching groups, one youth worker asked the group for suggested practices for ongoing growth as a leader. I loved the question (even the question itself is fantastic). And as others in the group suggested ideas, I started scribbling ideas on a piece of paper. I’m not normally one prone to alliteration; but six words starting with R revealed themselves on my page.

If you want to grow as a leader, moving toward greater impact and the sort of life that God has always dreamed of for you, I think you could do a whole lot worse than to lean into these six practices:

marko growth croppedRhythm. If you desire to experience the fullness of life that Jesus offers, you’ve got to be intentional about finding a rhythm of life that works for you (and the significant people in your life). If your beautiful and wonderful calling to youth work gets played out with you being out five evenings a week, you haven’t found a healthy rhythm. If you don’t have downtime, you haven’t found a healthy rhythm. If you don’t have times when you’re not thinking about ministry, you haven’t found a healthy rhythm.

Consider a rhythm that leads to vibrancy at a weekly level, a seasonal level, and an annual level.

Healthy, growing, vibrant leaders are both proactive and reactive about rhythm. They plan and ruthlessly schedule rhythm; and they pay attention to three things: their energy levels, the fruit of the Spirit in their daily lives, and their levels of intimacy with core relationships. And, when they discern any of those things are out of whack, they make adjustments.

Read. Surely you’ve heard the saying “Leaders are Readers.” It’s tough to grow without reading. Put yourself on a reading diet.

Make sure you don’t only read books you expect you’ll agree with. Often our best growth comes from being challenged to think in different ways.

And don’t only read ministry books (though include those also). Read widely, from many genres. I often find that fiction, and nonfiction from bodies of knowledge that are foreign to me, spark my most creative thinking.

Risk. Just yesterday I was coaching a youth worker, and asked him, “Where are you taking a risk in your ministry this season; and where you are taking a risk in your personal life?” He struggled to find a good answer, and we both knew he was coasting. Coasting = no growth.

Bluntly: there is no growth without risk.

Renew. If you’re in full-tilt mode at all times, you’ll soon be headed for a crash, or burnout. Check this: even Jesus was intentional about withdrawing from his work and the crowds. Jesus left people unhealed, potential sermons unpreached, and miracles unmiracled! And remember (duh!) that Jesus is God, with limitless power. Clearly Jesus wasn’t a slacker; and clearly, you need renewal if you’re going to serve in youth work for more than a few weeks.

Bottom line: healthy leaders find meaningful pursuits that provide recalibration, refreshment and renewal. (Ooh! Three more R words!)

Reflect. Great youth work requires adjustments that most often come from careful, contemplative, strategic thinking. And that sort of thinking rarely happens on the fly, while grabbing another large coffee in a drive-thru.

Instead: great leaders make intentional time to reflect. This requires a discipline of slowing down (at times).

Retreat. This last practice overlaps with some of the other practices on this list (particularly rhythm, renewal and reflection). Growing leaders pull away for extended times on a regular basis. Short bursts of renewal and reflection are great; but real growth also requires more extended retreat.

Are you growing? Are you thriving? Does your entire life (ministry and not) feel gorgeously sustainable? If not: take a moment to prayerfully consider which of these practices you need to ramp up.

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