On this Thanksgiving, as we meet with family and friends to celebrate and give thanks for the harvest, many of us will pause and think of the hunger of those less fortunate.  For some, these thoughts turn into action as they make donations of food or their time serving those in need.

In 2003 we went on a missions trip to Lima, Peru. Our mission purpose was to share ideas on leadership and team building that would strengthen and encourage pastors to reach the hearts of the Peruvian people and prepare them for the Harvest to come.  These pastors came from the mountains of the north, the cities of the south, from the metropolis of Lima, and from the Amazon region to the east.  They were Methodist, Lutheran, Catholic, Charismatic, Assembly of God, and Presbyterian, among other denominations. 

These pastors knew something about teamwork that is often lost in other countries, and notably so in the U.S.  They know on whose team they belong.  They know that they are on the team headed by Jesus Christ.  They did not bring dogmatic or theological disagreements to the conference.  They knew that the Harvest Day is coming, and they understood that any intellectualizing would prevent them from working together as a team.

These pastors were hungry.  Many of them traveled literally hundreds of miles to reach the conference in Lima.  They came by car, by bus, by train, by foot, or by boat, to have the opportunity to sleep for four nights on cots, fifteen and twenty people to a room, take cold showers, and eat box lunches.  During each session, we often only saw the top of their heads.  They had their heads down, eagerly writing down every thing that they were hearing, so that they wouldn’t miss anything.  By contrast, I recently led a one-day seminar in the U.S.  I asked the participants why they were there, what there purpose in attending was, what did they hope to receive from the seminar.  One woman replied that it was an easy way to get out of a day at work.  Not surprisingly, she failed to return after lunch.

These pastors were hungry.  If you have attended conferences in the U.S., you have seen the excitement of a thousand like-minded people at an opening session. You have also probably seen how the enthusiasm wanes on each succeeding day.  As a professional speaker in the U.S., I always hope that I am not the last speaker on the last day of a multi-day conference.  You know the attendance will be low, and that those who are there will be leaving early to catch a flight home.  The Pastor’s Conference in Lima began on a Tuesday and concluded on Friday evening.  Attendance was at its peak at the Friday evening session, and when it was over...no one wanted to leave...especially us.

These pastors were hungry.  Two of the other speakers, Jim Cymbala from Brooklyn Tabernacle and Kemp Holden from Harvest Time Tabernacle, called on the pastors to step out and present themselves at the altar if they needed prayer, if they were struggling, if they wanted more of God’s blessings.  This may seem a bit unusual, pastors calling pastors to the Altar of God, yet each time the call was made, hundreds and hundreds of pastors stepped out of their seats and rushed to the altar for God’s blessings.

We spent a week with people who truly live, love, and lead with a servant’s heart; among people who truly are hungry...hungry for God.  These pastors are changing the nation of Peru, bringing millions to the Lord, preparing them for His Harvest.  It isn’t often that we get to do great things.  Mother Teresa said, “I can do no great things.  I can only do small things with great love.”  Please know that your prayers and your generosity can play and important role in changing a nation.  Because of you, these pastors will reach people you will never meet, and prepare them for His Harvest.

Latin Equip is a driving force behind this movement of God in Peru. Leadership training is Latin Equip’s primary function. Each year, thousands of pastors and leaders are trained in national conferences, regional conventions, and personal consulting throughout Peru and elsewhere in Latin America. Because only 10 percent of pastors in developing nations have received formal Bible training, Latin Equip puts tools into the hands of these laborers for ministry. If you want to be part of this amazing work of God, prayerfully considering making a contribution to Latin Equip at: http://latinequip.org/donate/

On this Thanksgiving, as you pause to give thanks for the harvest, and as you remember those who you think are less fortunate because of their hunger, remember the pastors of Peru and pray to be hungry like them.  I know I do.

Burnout.  Been there?

Sixteen years ago, I entered into the darkest period of my life.

I set high standards an had a strong work ethic. I thought nothing of working 60-80 hour weeks. Associates and a good friend and mentor had warned me that I would burn out. I thought I was strong and would prove them wrong.

And usually I did. I would get tired – out of balance – but I would keep pushing.

Until it happened.  I woke up and went on my morning run, training for the Midnight Madness Marathon in Alaska. My hands hurt in a way I had never experienced, and I turned and headed back home. After a few weeks the pain went away and I returned to my pressure schedule.

Nine months later, the pain returned in my hands and this time also to my feet. I made an appointment with my physician who ran some blood tests. A few days later, I received the results of those tests and they were positive for Rheumatoid Arthritis. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder that involves the body's immune system attacking itself. In addition to joint pain, it is accompanied by massive fatigue because the immune system is running on "high" without any way to shut itself off. It was as if God had said, "Oh, you think you're so strong? Watch this!" 

I could get out of bed every day, and I did; but my energy was minimal and my speed decreased to a snail’s pace. It is said that the good news is that RA doesn't kill you; and the bad news is that RA doesn't kill you. You just wish you were dead.

Hope felt like it had died. My motivation and passion dropped to zero. I became depressed.

I had never been there before. 

I knew many had gone down this road before me, and what scared me is that some of them never made it back.

For them, they thought their career and life as they knew it were done, which resulted in depression, and sometimes, tragically, they were done – hope never fully returned and they didn’t ever become the person they were before.

That was the last thing I wanted to happen to me.

The RA diagnosis was daunting, the origin of RA is not completely known and their is no cure to date, but their are many ways to treat it

As for depression, no one really knows what corrodes our spirit to the point where it deflates. But I’d say the most likely candidate for what derailed me is what I’d call emotional burnout. 

In caring for others and trying to do too much, I had not adequately cared for my own body, heart or soul, or let others who wanted to care for it do so.

I spiraled down for about 3 years before I hit bottom. Then with the love and assistance of a great wife, close friends, a counselor, a wise physician and a very gracious God, I slowly began to recover. It took a few years to really feel full stride again, but I recovered to 80-90% of full strength in two years. The last 10%-20% took two or three more years.

Stress and burnout seems to be an epidemic in leadership. In fact, there are more than a few of you who know you are right on the edge of the cliff and you could so easily fall off.

And probably a few of you who are in free fall right now.

So how do you know if you’re heading for burnout? 

Here are 9 things to watch for:

1. Your motivation has faded. The passion that fueled you is gone, and your motivation has either vaporized or become self-centered.

2. Your main emotion is ‘numbness’ – you no longer feel the highs or the lows. This was actually one of the earliest signs for me that the edge was near. 

3. People drain you. Of course there are draining people on the best of days. But not everybody, every time. Burnout often means few to no people energize you anymore.

4. Little things make you disproportionately angry. When you start losing your cool over small things, it’s a sign something deeper is very wrong.

5. You’re becoming cynical. Many leaders fight this one, saying that they are just discerning, but cynicism rarely finds a home in a healthy heart.

6. Your productivity is dropping. You might be working long hours, but you’re producing little of value. Or what used to take you 5 minutes just took you 45. That should sound a warning bell.

7.  You’re self-medicating.  Your coping mechanism has gone underground or dark, and you start resorting to "inappropriate self-medication." Whether that’s overeating, overworking, marathon TV or video games, living in social media, drinking, impulsive spending or even drugs, you’ve chosen a path of self-medication over self-care. Ironically, my self-medication was actually more work, which just spirals things downward.

8. You don’t laugh anymore. Nothing seems fun or funny, and, at its worst, you begin to resent people who enjoy life.

9. Sleep and time off no longer refuel you. Sometimes you’re not burnt out; you’re just tired. A good night’s sleep or a week or two off will help most healthy people bounce back with fresh energy. But you could have a month off when you’re burnt out and not feel any difference. Not being refueled when you take time off is a major warning sign you’re burning out. (This is also a sign to visit your doctor, because it is a major sign of sleep disorders.)

Identifying with just a few of these signs might just be a sign that you’re tired.

If you identify with half, you might be close to the edge.

If you identify with most or all, well, you might be in the same place I found myself–burnout.

If you are burned out, I would encourage you to seek immediate professional help – a medical doctor and a trained Christian counselor.  I would also encourage you to get a life coach. You can contact us for a free consultation at www.ignitingyourfuture.com

Think of your first real career opportunity. You were fired-up, enthusiastic and ready to take on the world!  We all start that way or close to it! You said yes to the work, and yes to a leader who invited you on the team. Even if you were a little nervous or unsure, you were in!

And yet, it is surprisingly easy for your enthusiasm and passion to fade. Work becomes common place, and routine. Often leaders unknowingly slide into a comfort zone, which often leads to complacency and a loss of commitment. Eventually, this skews your perspective, and your heart is no longer on fire!

There is a wise and relevant admonition to “fan the flame of our gifts.” If you don’t tend to the fire, it will go out. That’s just a fact of leadership and life. Just like an untended campfire will soon go to embers, fade and go out, your passion will dwindle without new fuel and intentional cultivation.

Practices to Keep Your Passion High:  

 1) Remember your initial commitment to your ultimate goal. 
 Your call to serve and lead can never be separated from your ultimate goal. If your faith about your goal is shaky or becoming “same old same old,” your work can turn to mechanical duty. It can become a routine where you merely go through the motions.

Regular reflection on your initial experience of commitment will keep your internal motivation kindled.

2) Be clear on your commitment.
It’s important to know if your commitment to work is part of your life, or if it just a service. You may do nearly the exact same function, for example, teaching, but the context is very different. If your professional work life is where you live out your commitment, that’s far different than performing a dutiful service.

Until this is clearly settled, you will lack the inner peace and rest in your heart and soul that is needed to keep your passion burning brightly.

3) Do what you love, love what you do.

When you do what you love, and love what you do, three things are added to you and your commitment that contribute to passion.

• Energy – You will always have energy for what you love. If you love your work, you’ll care about it, and when you care, that generates personal energy. We often call that internal motivation. It’s a fire that burns within!

• Joy – When you love your work and your energy is strong, a sense of joy pervades! This doesn’t mean every day is an easy day, but the practical translation is that even on the tough days, it’s worth it! This makes the majority of your work fun and you truly can enjoy it. This continually re-ignites your passion.

• Improvement – It’s absolutely vital to keep growing while you keep going. The goal is to get better at what you do. How are you improving? Improvement increases passion!

4) Develop a genuine caring or “agape love” for the people with whom you work.

Agape love or caring for co-workers is unmotivated in that it is not contingent upon their actions or worthiness. It is spontaneous and isn’t determined beforehand whether ir will be effective or appropriate.

It isn’t always easy to care for or love (agape) the people with whom you work, but it’s infinitely easier if you choose to love them!

Here are three practical guidelines to a caring connection with your team.

• Close to a few – You were never designed to be close buddies with everyone on the team. Human chemistry doesn’t work that way. But there should be one or two people, or perhaps even three or four, with whom you share a special bond and close relationship.

• Connect with all – If you are part of a large staff, or part of a smaller group or team, it’s healthy to experience an easy and comfortable connection with everyone. It’s more casual than close, but there is a sense of team, and you enjoy each other even if the interactions are brief. You feel like you are all “in this” together.

• Conflict with no one – Since there will be conflict even on the healthiest and most successful of teams, the key here is not having unresolved conflicts. If there is a rift between you and a teammate, take the initiative to make it right. Don’t let it sit and fester and become a poison in the team chemistry. Have the conversation today.

These three simple guidelines will help you love genuinely, which always leads to greater passion!

If you need more hands-on coaching to improving relationships, improving your soft skills or renewing your commitment, contact us at www.ignitingyourfuture.com