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We all have a front-stage life and a back-stage life. 

Front stage is the public world of ministry. It’s where we’re noticed, where the spotlight is on us, where people applaud and affirm us. On the front stage everything is orderly and neatly in its place. It’s where we cast vision, inspire others, and lead with skill. Front stage is all about doing.

But we also have a backstage life, and the two are connected. If we neglect the backstage, eventually the front stage will fall apart. While the front stage is the public world of leadership, the back stage is the private world of the leader. The back stage is private, always dark, and usually messy. The audience isn’t allowed there.

Back stage has no spotlight and no glory. What happens back stage facilitates and empowers what takes place on the front stage. Back stage is all about “being.”

What happens back stage facilitates and empowers what takes place on the front stage. Click To Tweet

Front vs. Back Stage Conversations

As ministry leaders, we know how to have front-stage conversations. We talk freely about attendance and strategy and services and vision and volunteers and staff. But where is the conversation about our back-stage life? Who is talking to you about you.

Back-stage conversations don’t come naturally to most of us. As leaders in the kingdom we may feel a subtle pressure to have it all together. Talking honestly about the messiness of our private, interior world feels risky. It’s safer to limit the conversation to the front stage. Or we may be so focused on the vision that our back stage isn’t even on our radar.

When the Wesleyan bands (small groups) got together, the first thing they asked each other was a back-stage question: “How is it with your soul?” I don’t know if in forty years of following Jesus anyone has ever asked me that question.

For most of my ministry I neglected my back-stage life, the care of my soul. After all, front stage is where the action is. But I am learning that the key to the Christian life is found back stage, and the only way to be healthy is to pay attention to it.

This is exactly what Jesus taught—that the Christian life is inside out, that the private informs the public. He taught that out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. He taught that the root (back stage) determines the fruit (front stage).

The Christian life is inside out—the private informs the public. Click To Tweet

Understanding What Influences Your Soul

Imagine that your soul is like a bucket. I have learned there are two forces at work that will put holes in your bucket and drain out the life.

First, there are external forces. The seduction of leadership, the grind of ministry, the brokenness of our culture, and the pace of twenty-first-century life create an environment in which it’s very challenging to stay healthy at the soul level. If not managed well, these factors can poke a hole in our bucket and leave us feeling empty.

As Ruth Barton writes in Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership,

It is possible to gain the world of ministry success and lose your own soul in the midst of it all. … These days (and maybe every day) there is a real tension between what the human soul needs in order to be truly well and what life in leadership encourages and even requires.

It’s scary to realize that the path to external success and internal emptiness can be the same road.

Furthermore, there are internal forces at work. Part of the problem is we’re poking bucket holes in our bucket from the inside as a result of insecurities, broken places, and compulsions.

That’s why it’s so important to learn the art of soul care. For some of us, simply acknowledging we have a soul that needs to be care for is the first step. Most days as a pastor I didn’t give much thought to the fact that I had a soul. Your soul is the invisible, eternal part of you. It’s the real you. If you lose part of your body or have an organ transplant, it doesn’t change your soul. Your hair may turn gray (or, as in my case, turn loose), you may get wrinkles or put on twenty pounds, but you are still you.

Our soul is far and away the most valuable possession we have. Just as you need to tend to your body to be physically healthy, you must tend to your soul if you want to be spiritually healthy.

In this time of crisis, how are you doing? Are you feeling equipped as a leader? Or do you feel like you’re drowning in the mess?

Most leaders I know have been scammed into believing that an insane pace is the price tag of effective leadership, but my experience has shown just the opposite.

I recently wrote on the implications of living with a hurried spirit, and I think it’s more important than ever to learn the important of slowing down. Check it out here—

The Need for Speed: Why an Insane Pace Isn’t the Price Tag of Leadership

Lance Witt

Lance is a pastor and a friend to leaders. He is passionate about helping people live well so they can lead well. Lance served 20 years as a Senior Pastor before serving 7 years as an Executive/Teaching pastor at Saddleback Church in Southern California. He is also the founder of Replenish ministries and for more than a decade has been serving leaders and organizations of all shapes and sizes. Lance has written two books, Replenish and High Impact Teams.

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