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Is Your Team Pursuing Health in Unhealthy Ways?

You don’t have to look very far to discover yet another cautionary tale of an unhealthy leader burning out or falling away. With each year, there seem to be at least one or two headlines that reverberate through our news feeds. There are some things that just can’t be cheated – and health is one of them.

healthy leadership myths

Spiritual, emotional, physical, and team health each stands as necessary building blocks for any leader who wants to build something beyond themselves. Without health, whatever you build will eventually crumble. Accordingly, being healthy (or at least healthier) makes the top of the whiteboard for a lot of teams these days.

But strange as it might sound:

In our quest to be healthy, we sometimes pursue health in some pretty unhealthy ways.

So, here’s four myths we often fall prey to on the pathway towards being a healthy leader.

Myth #1: Being Healthy Means Less Stress

When we first start to imagine what being healthier looks like, we might picture Psalm 23.

Lying down, green pastures, quiet waters, soul restoration. A keener awareness of God’s goodness and mercy. Just being with God where he is.

So, we might get away for a day to simply meditate on that Psalm and allow the Spirit to do his renewing work in us.

But the next day as we head back into the office, those quiet waters quickly get stirred up again. The deadlines are still there. The personnel issues are still there. There’s decisions that need to be managed and made. And then, of course, the weekend.

Suddenly, this convicting thought pops into our minds:

Shouldn’t all of these “earthly” concerns just fade away into the background? Doesn’t health mean we should be under less stress?

Short answer: nope.

Being healthy simply doesn’t always equate to less stress for the leader. Leadership is stressful. Period. Doesn’t matter how healthy or unhealthy you are. And if you take issue with that, look no further than Jesus in the garden. Was Jesus somehow unhealthy as he dealt with the stress of his upcoming crucifixion? Of course not.

Being healthy and being stressed aren’t mutually exclusive.

Now being healthy can (and should) lead to you dealing with stress differently – with solitude, prayer, community, submission – all of those things that Jesus modeled for us in the garden and throughout the rest of the gospels.

Still, being healthy doesn’t always mean less stress. If you’re never really stressed, chances are you’re not really leading.

Being healthy simply doesn’t always equate to less stress for the leader. Being healthy and being stressed aren’t mutually exclusive. Click To Tweet

Myth #2: Being Healthy Means Less Busyness

This is a close relative of myth #1. By the same misguided thinking, the demands of ministry can cause us to start to fantasize about just doing less.

Fewer meetings during the day; Fewer appointments at night; Fewer things on the to-do list. We start to imagine health as being less busy (or maybe even not being busy at all). We feel overworked, over-committed, over-burdened, and over-fatigued. If only we could cut about half of our responsibilities, we’d get healthy again.

Now that certainly could be the case – but that doesn’t necessarily let us off the hook. Some of us have elected to create a work life for ourselves that is unhealthy in lieu of delegating, developing people, or saying “no”. If there’s another hat to wear, we’ll wear it. If it’s easier to do it ourselves, we’ll do it.

But let’s be honest with ourselves: If we’re in that boat, it’s because we hopped in it and are captaining our (leader)ship towards the jagged rocks of burnout. It’s on us to steer in a different – and healthier – direction.

That being said, what we’re talking about here isn’t being too busy. What we’re talking about here is this battle we’ve set up in our minds between being busy and being healthy.

We start to believe that the healthier we are, the less busy we’ll become. We envision the on-ramp towards health beginning as we start doing less. And so the myth begins to take hold.

The truth of the matter is this: leaders are busy and leaders should be busy.

Said differently:

Working 6 days a week isn’t unhealthy; it’s biblical. But never taking a Sabbath – that’s unbiblical. That’s unhealthy.

Our problem isn’t the presence of work. It’s the absence of some boundaries and rhythms and space designed to care for our souls.

The enemy of health isn’t busyness. The enemy of health is busyness unchecked.

Our problem isn’t how much we’re working. It’s how little we’re resting.

Our problem isn’t the presence of work. It’s the absence of some boundaries and rhythms and space designed to care for our souls. Click To Tweet

Why? Why don’t most leaders protect a sabbath rhythm of rest? We trick ourselves into thinking it’s because we have so much to do. That’s our go-to. We’ve convinced ourselves If we were to stop working for a whole day, we’ll just be that much further behind the day after.

But beneath that veneer of self-importance lurks a truly unhealthy belief: not that we don’t have the time to rest, but that we don’t really need to rest.

God couldn’t be any clearer, from the creation to the commandments: being healthy doesn’t require us to do less. Being healthy requires us to rest more. God rested and designed us to need rest.


Myth #3: Being Healthy Means No Spiritual Dryness

Every leader experiences seasons of spiritual dryness. Ranging from a lack of desire for spiritual disciplines to devastatingly discouraging circumstances, these seasons end up finding their way us eventually. When they do, and when we find ourselves in the middle of them, it’s pretty easy to fall prey to thinking: something has gone wrong within us. Something is unhealthy.

Maybe. But not necessarily.

You don’t have to look much further than the Psalms to realize not every season of spiritual dryness is because of something that has grown unhealthy within us.

You’ll find the same thing when you read a biography of one of your spiritual heroes. Or the early church fathers. Or the medieval mystics.

In each case, what you’ll discover is this: sometimes God often uses seasons of spiritual dryness to plant us more deeply and fully into dependence on him. Not because we’re unhealthy – but because He’s gracious.

Myth #4: Being Healthy Means No Conflict

Last but not least: some of us can be quick to label conflict of any and every kind as unhealthy – especially if we’re leaders who have the strength of harmony or the gift of peacemaking.

For those of us who buy into this myth, here’s how we’ll usually think:

  • If the meeting was contentious at certain points, it’s because of a character problem.
  • If consensus wasn’t reached, it’s because someone was too prideful to compromise.
  • If two people aren’t getting along, it’s because of a lack of maturity.

And so on, and so forth.

We all know of plenty of conflicts that are very unhealthy. Show me a team without character problems, or pride, or immaturity, and I’ll be grateful to have met the Trinity in person.

But not every conflict is unhealthy.

Sometimes God often uses seasons of spiritual dryness to plant us more deeply and fully into dependence on him. Not because we’re unhealthy—but because He’s gracious. Click To Tweet

Healthy teams are not necessarily marked by an absence of conflict. In fact, the presence of conflict sometimes signals a pretty healthy team.

Maybe people are willing to share their perspective despite knowing that it may not be well received. That demonstrates a presence of trust and candor that is wonderfully healthy.

Or maybe a conflict reveals an opportunity for the team to grow in how they talk respectively to one another, or to be quicker to listen or slower to speak.

Other times, pressing into a conflict reveals a third way previously hidden – and it would’ve remained hidden if some team members had decided to remain silent in order to avoid conflict and the unhealthy label sometimes attached to it.

If we see health as the absence of conflict, we’ll actually be missing out on a lot of healthy things.

Being healthy is a must for leaders and teams. Let’s make sure that we’re approaching health in a healthy way.

Jesse Tink

Jesse is the Pastor of Campus Development at Prairie Lakes Church, which currently spans across six campuses in northeastern and central Iowa. He’s served in various roles including college, music, production, teaching, and senior leadership. Jesse has led teams in urban, suburban, and rural locations, from campuses of 50 to 1500. Married to Erin, they have their son, Jude, and their daughter, Ellie. He’s outside in the colder months hunting deer and turkey at their family-owned ground, and roots for the Iowa Hawkeyes and New York Yankees.

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