Wayne Cordeiro is the founding pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship in Honolulu, Hawaii (okay, take a moment and just enjoy that thought), which was recognized by Outreach Magazine as one of the top ten most innovative churches in America and one of the top five churches to learn from. That’s enough information right there to grab your attention and make you want to listen to what Wayne has to say.
My first introduction to Wayne, though, was through one of the books he wrote, Dream Releasers. An illustration he gave in this book has stayed with me for over a decade. Wayne described a sign that greets hikers as they go up the side of Diamond Head. It reads, “Stay on the path. Take no shortcuts. It causes erosion.” We are each in the middle of the miracle that is God’s plan for our life. When you grasp the enormity of that miracle, alive and moving in your life, then also take hold of the importance of staying on the path … taking no shortcuts … because when you do, it causes erosion. And, as Wayne says, “You don’t want to miss the view!”
The other thing that stood out in Dream Releasers, and I have it underlined and highlighted, was this. “My motto in life is ‘Die empty!’ I aim to give the graveyard nothing but a vacant carcass of a used-up life. I want the words on my tombstone to read, ‘Empty!’ Nothing left. No more gas.” Wayne realized in the years to come, though, that there needed to be times of refueling or empty would come long before its appointed time. Join me as we’re privileged to take hold of some important insights from Wayne regarding the importance of recharging in ministry.
What caused you to take time off to recharge from ministry?
Six weeks was all I could afford at the time, but it helped me to recharge enough so that I could think well about my future. My energy level had been depleted, not because of any violation of any certain thing, but because of a deep love for the ministry. Often I would see the potential of our ministry, the needs of the ministry, and I would keep plowing forward so that I could see them either accomplished or problems rectified. But even those with the best of intentions need to take time to recharge. It was Noah benShae in his book, Jacob, the Baker, that said, “It is the space between the notes that make the music.” My notes were mostly arpeggios. I needed a few more legatos.
What are some of the warning signs of burnout that children’s pastors should be aware of?
The first is when that which used to be fun is no longer fun. The joy begins to leak out so that you end up doing your ministry, but the joy of it—the fun of it—is no longer there. Its work becomes edged and your words become a bit sharper. The decisions that used to come easy don’t come as easy anymore. People become frustrating especially when they drop balls and you feel you have to pick them up.
I felt already depleted and still carrying a large load. When others would drop their balls, because of my love for the ministry, I would pick them up. But then I would secretly dislike that person for having dropped the ball, because now it meant more work to someone who already felt very overwhelmed. I took it internally as they didn’t care when, in actuality, they did. When you’re tired and you’re overwhelmed and beleaguered, you see things incorrectly. So that’s another sign—when you start seeing things from more of a negative perspective than a positive one.
Children’s ministers are known by their all-out passion, but constantly pouring their energies into the demands of their calling can cut short a productive ministry. What are some safeguards that you suggest to prevent burnout?
Well, (1) if it’s a volunteer, the leaders need to make sure that there’s a rotation so that a volunteer is off, not by choice but by mandate; that is a leader’s responsibility. Often, we see those who are faithful and we use them up until they’re burned out. A leader needs to see the crispy edges on the sides of a paper and then stop before that sheet is burned up and completely gone.
If you’re a full-time person, a safeguard is that you need to discuss with your pastor a free weekend every seventh week. This is what we did for many years and, I believe, still are doing in many areas of our ministry where we ask our staff to take a Sabbath or sabbatical weekend. Six weekends they work, the seventh, they take off. They can stay home. They can go to the beach. They can do whatever, but the bottom line is to restore their energy so that ministry becomes a joy again.
Also, we have to remember that the bottom line is that you will only be as busy as you want to be. You CAN take the time off. You CAN take an afternoon and rest, but because of our passion, we don’t. We put ourselves last. This is where you need to be accountable to your spouse or close friends. Give them permission to tell you to take the time off and that will help immensely.
What spiritual disciplines have helped you the most?
My daily devotions have helped me the most where I take an hour or so in the morning and let the Bible speak to my heart. It’s not necessarily to study the Bible, because if you think of the task or the discipline of “studying the Bible” every morning, it becomes another task to be accomplished and to be checked off. Instead, you submit yourself and let the Bible study you. In other words, how is your heart doing? How is your mind doing? How is your family? Your attitude? Let the Bible illuminate those things. That’s when the discipline of daily devotions will help you most.
How would you recommend a subordinate staff member combat trying to please everyone such as their senior pastor, volunteers, and parents?
The first thing is to commend them for wanting to serve—not please—but serve everyone. And often those who we see as people pleasing are those who have a passion to serve the needs of others but don’t know when to say “stop” or “enough.” To them, when they say “enough” (to them, anyway) probably means that they’re not laying down their life completely, because there’s still energy in them. If there’s energy left, they feel as though they should be serving someone. So the first is to see them not as a “man-pleaser” but as a “passionate server.”
The second thing, however, is to constantly help that person see what his or her ministry is: what he is responsible for and what he is supposed to do. Remember that in the end, God is not going to hold you responsible for what you have done. He will hold you responsible for how much you’ve done of what He’s actually asked you to do.
So here is the salient question: What has God asked you to do? What is your ministry description? How are you going to fulfill that? Therefore, what must you say “no” to in order to say “yes” to your assignment? When you help your volunteers or subordinate staff members know what to say “no” to, it will help them to say “yes” to their ministry.
How did your ministry change after time off?
After the season that I had taken off, I was able to focus a little bit more on who God had made me to be and what to say “no” to. I have not been able to, of course, resolve that completely. It will always be a tension in my life until the day I die, because there is so much that can be done and the potential in different things is huge. When you’re a person who sees potential, there is always a ministry everywhere.
But my ministry did change in that I began giving leadership over to other people, encouraging them to take the lead. I wanted to be able to share credit, to give away credit, and to be able to see others succeed. Once you get over “the need to be needed”, you then will be on your way to health.
Have you ever felt that Satan uses our passions against us in some ways?
Absolutely! Your greatest weakness will be your unguarded strengths. Satan doesn’t use your weaknesses. He preys on your weakness, but he uses your strengths against you. He doesn’t use your weakness against you. He uses your weakness as an entry point to get into your mind and to tempt you, but he’ll use your strength to trip you. So again, your greatest weakness will be unguarded strengths.
What do you personally do to separate yourself from the church so that you can gain perspective?
I have other hobbies and activities outside of the church that I enjoy doing. I have a farm in Oregon, so I love working on the farm with animals and that keeps my head in a whole different perspective and keeps me simple.
The other is I have some sports or hobbies, like riding a motorcycle. I love writing books and that takes me away from the every day management and leadership in the ministry setting. I also have ocean sports where I enjoy paddling canoes out in the ocean. When you’re able to get involved in some of those that require physical energy, it gives you mental rest.
A lot of us who are passionate about ministry need to find times where we use our minds less and our bodies more, because often we use our minds more and our bodies less. If you can balance that out, it will help you to be a healthy and balanced person.