As a community of believers are we helping each other stay on course with what God has called us to do— love God, our families and give the Lord our calendars? Below is one of the best articles on how to live the Christian life working from a place of rest. It comes from a Leadership Journal interview with Bill Hybels that was originally posted on Christianity Today.
The part that resonates with me is the power of community- holding each other accountable that it’s time for us to de-stress, time for us to neglect the things we are not called to do and not allow the good to get in the way of the best. Do yourself a favor and set aside the time to read this. You will be refreshed!
The Secret of Strategic Neglect
When you think of someone with a simple life, Bill Hybels probably isn’t the first person who comes to mind. He founded and pastors one of the largest churches in the country, Willow Creek Community Church, leads a global leadership summit, mentors leaders around the world, and, of course, writes books. His latest is Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul (Tyndale, 2014). Marshall Shelley and Drew Dyck talked with Hybels about schedules, burnout, replenishment, and “strategic neglect.”
Why did you write about simplifying your life?
For survival purposes. I have a pretty complicated life. There are a lot of different kingdom initiatives that I’m excited about. But along life’s path you realize unless you make a series of tough choices, you’re not going to accomplish the things God has called you to do. You have to focus, simplify, and prioritize. That means letting go of a lot of good things to do the best things God has called you to do.
What changes have you made?
One would be in the area of scheduling. I know that sounds like such a boring subject, but sitting down before God with a calendar and a submitted spirit is one of the holiest things you can do. Putting a schedule together is not so much about determining what you’re trying to get done; it’s deciding who you want to become. That sounds like a nice little rhyme, but there’s something profound in it.
Most of us sit down and we say, “Oh man, I’ve got 30 responsibilities, and I’m going to be in trouble if I don’t get them all done.” Then you list them and try to cram them all into your schedule. But this approach prevents us from doing the harder, deeper work of asking, “Who do I want to become over time? What kind of husband? What kind of father? What kind of friend, pastor, leader?” And then asking the follow-up question: “What needs to be put into my schedule so that I become this kind of person?”
Once those who-you-want-to-become ingredients are put into your schedule, then you say yes, and there are some things I just have to get done. I have to go to work. I have to pay the rent. Have to mow the lawn. But there have been times when God really rang my bell and said, “You’re getting a hundred things done. You’re probably not too happy with who you’re becoming. So why don’t we flip this around.”
Some ministry cultures glorify the idea of burning out for Jesus. “Better to burn out than rust out.” Is that the best way to frame the question?
Those metaphors don’t work for me. The pastors I talk to describe hitting a wall at a high velocity. There is nothing romantic about that. And that’s the way it happens in today’s world. It’s not like leaders are rusting out slowly. Most of the time they’re moving way too fast. I’ve seen too many people—businesspeople, pastors, athletes—hit a wall and wreck a marriage, wreck their kids, wind up with serious psychological or physical damages, some of which they never recover from, and there’s nothing noble or romantic about that.
So I give leaders a gentle but serious warning. If you sustain unsafe levels of speed long enough, something terrible is going to happen. It’s not going to be a matter of getting a headache some day and having to lie down for a while. It’s going to be much worse than that.
Something terrible is going to happen—and you may not be able to recover from it. I hope you can, but most of the time, when I see people hit walls, the accident scene is not pretty.
Is this tendency to go too fast primarily a Western phenomenon?
Not at all. It’s international. I was in China, mentoring a roomful of leaders. The pastors were raising their hands and asking questions through translators. They said because of the explosive church growth in China, pastors who had been pastoring churches of 300 or 400 are now pastoring churches of 3,000 and 4,000.
This kind of rapid increase in responsibility is almost debilitating. They didn’t have time to spool out all the infrastructure necessary, and so they just work longer hours and deal with more people. They do more weddings. More funerals. More conflict mediation.
Then there’s the clutter that comes from living in the modern world. They’re wrestling with this too. We’ve had a little time to acclimate to all the ways that our culture’s speeding up. But in other places around the world, it’s just happened in the last three to five years, and it’s really hard on leaders. Look at how many people are moving into the middle class, how many are going from the countryside into the urban scene. This is happening by the billions.
You take a family from someplace in Asia who’s been in the countryside and all of a sudden now they’re in downtown Bangkok or Shanghai. It assaults their senses, and their heads are spinning. This phenomenon is very real outside of the West.
You write that simplifying your life doesn’t necessarily mean doing less. Is it about working smarter?
It’s mostly about practicing what I call “strategic neglect.” In today’s information age, you can wrap your head around a hundred complex issues between six p.m. and midnight every night, if you wanted to. You really can. Anything you want to know about the Middle East, about the Ukraine-Russia conflict, about immigration, about any issue—just Google it and you’ve got enough information to keep you busy till midnight. It’s so tempting to get sucked into trying to wrap your head around everything, especially if you’re a learner.
But we have to say, “I’m going to entrust that conflict or problem or dilemma to smart people whom God has assigned to resolve that. I will strategically neglect that issue so that I can really wrap my head, my heart, and my energy around what God has assigned to me. This practice helps us focus. It’s about deciding, “What’s my particular role in the redemptive drama? Which things can I let go of, trusting God has assigned those responsibilities to others?”
Then when you get that laser focus on exactly what God wants you to do, then travel lightly, and strategically neglect things you aren’t called to do. You’ll feel less rushed, and you’ll slowly lose that chronic anxiety that you left something undone. Leaving some stuff undone is a sign that probably you’re properly focused.
What other things clutter up our lives?
When you see people feeling constantly overwhelmed, a high percentage of the time it’s because of finances. They’ve dug a hole they can’t get out of. Every single purchase makes them feel guilty. They have no hope on the horizon of ever being able to solve their problems. And it clutters their soul.
Or if you have some broken relationships in your life, you walk around all day, every day, with a nagging sense that you aren’t in control. You have those relational rifts that keep nipping away at you all the time.
People tend to reduce decluttering to cleaning your basement or making your schedule a little cleaner. And sure, we all should probably clean our garages and our basements. But decluttering also involves dealing with soul clutter that bogs you down and makes you feel like you’re stuck. We need to clean up our relationships and clean up our debt and clean up some other stuff that, if left untreated, can have a disheartening effect in our lives.
Part of uncluttering involves managing the expectations others place on you. What are some ways we can do that?
This is a lesson I learned early on. From the earliest days at Willow, I taught people what spiritual gifts they had, which gifts they didn’t have, and kept reminding the entire congregation that no one has all the gifts, and that we won’t stand accountable before God for gifts he didn’t give us.
At the end of those teachings on spiritual gifts, I would say, “Hey, I don’t have all the gifts. Don’t expect me to be the pastor that has 12 gifts. I only have three, and you know what they are. I will not hold you accountable for using gifts God didn’t give you. Please don’t hold me accountable for using gifts he didn’t give me. So if you don’t see me in active in some area, or you don’t see me taking up a certain cause, it’s probably because it doesn’t match my gifts. Please allow me to do what I’m allowing you to do.”
I would also teach family and marriage series and make strong statements like, “I want your family to win. I want your marriages to win.” Then at the end I would say, “I hope you want the Hybels family to win. And I hope you understand if we take a few days off. I hope you’ll bless our family, and help us win, too.”
So I was quite open about it from the beginning. I was trying to foster an environment where everyone wanted to see people live sanely and see each other win.
Is that harder to do in a small church?
It’s way harder in a smaller church. When I mentor pastors, I freely admit that. If you’re in a church of 300, it’s much tougher than if you are in a church of 3,000. People don’t even expect me to be around anymore. They’re surprised when I show up at certain events. When you’re in a small church, people are offended if you don’t show up, if you don’t do all the weddings and all the funerals.
Even so, that doesn’t excuse pastors from making tough choices. It’s just harder. It’s not impossible. You just have to cast vision to the congregation for how they can help you.
Instead of saying, “Do not call me on Saturdays,” and laying down rules like that, say something like, “I’ve got three young boys and on Saturdays they’re off school. That’s when Dad can do an adventure with these three kids. They’re only going to be with me up to college, so would you pray that my Saturday adventures with my boys would be special for them? If I can’t get right back to you on Saturdays, you’ll know that I’m out with my boys.”
When you cast vision for it that way, and, say, “Hey, the rest of you moms and dads, I hope you’re doing adventures with your kids, too,” then you’re planting the idea. You’re not just being a rigid boundary person. You’re actually trying to be a great dad.
How can leaders keep themselves fresh without resorting to escapist behavior?
They need to seek out streams of replenishment. We all have those temporary feel-good activities or temptations we turn to when our souls get depleted, but what we’re looking for really are streams of replenishment that do more than mask the depletion; they actually replenish.
I get into this in almost every mentoring session I do. I’ll ask, “What do you turn to before you turn to a truly replenishing stream?” And people say, “I turn to food.” “I turn to alcohol.” “I turn to television.” “I turn to internet surfing.” “I turn to porn sites like www.nu-bay.com before anything else.”
Pastors are very open. And I’ll ask, “So how does that feel after an hour or two of that stuff? Does it help your true soul depletion? Does that start to refill you?” And they all say, “No.”
So I say, “Okay, so even if it’s not an evil thing, it’s not helping you. Let’s distinguish between escapist behaviors and what is a truly replenishing stream that will fill your soul back up.”
Some might say, “I would do more to replenish myself if my boss would let me, if the elders would let me.” Is getting replenishment your responsibility?
It really is. The hardest person you’ll ever lead is you. And sometimes we complicate it. Sometimes we won’t discipline ourselves. Sometimes we won’t take the time to discern our patterns of replenishment. Or even when we take the time to discern them, we won’t integrate them into our lives. And we love to blame others and say, “Well, I’m doing this heroic work for God, and so that’s why I’m overwhelmed.” We’ve all done it.
When I talk about taking responsibility for your personal replenishment, people get it pretty quick. They see the difference between just medicating depletion and replenishing. And once they can make the distinction, they change direction.
In my mentoring groups if I have, say, 75 pastors in a room for eight hours, we’ll spend two hours on this very subject matter. I’ll point to a pastor and say, “Stand up and tell me what replenishment stream works best for you and why.” And then I’ll ask someone else, “Would that work in your life?” And other person will say, “There’s no way that that would work in my life. I have two kids under three.” So that’s when it really gets good, when you’re in a community and you can help each other with the implementation.
It’s best when people work through this in a team where they know each other. Then if someone is talking about what they do to replenish themselves but everyone knows this guy loves living at Mach 2 and his life is out of whack, people can call him out. In a loving community, you can say, “Hey, Fred, you know what? You got to start over. Man, we all know you, and we know you’re blowing smoke right now. You’ve never tried to implement any of these things. You’d rather just complain about the fact that you’re overworked. But that’s an old story. We’ve heard this for four years now.”
That’s the power of community—to hold each other accountable and to say, “Let’s see you actually try to do this stuff instead of just complain about how you can’t.”
Is there a practice you know about today you wish you would have implemented years ago?
I don’t think there’s a single silver bullet. Even in my younger years I was pretty committed to a set of spiritual practices that would be at the core of my relationship with God. I’ve revised them over the years. I’ve had them working better at some points in my life than others, to be sure.
But if a leader’s going to sustain high levels of passion for decades, you have to have certain disciplines, routines, and practices at the very core of who you are and what you do. Those must be in place if you’re going to suit up every day and replenish on a regular basis, to experience the kind of inner circle relationships that hold you accountable and cheer you on.
In the end, those practices are what will make the difference.
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