Leading From a Healthy Soul…and Why It Matters – Part 2

We continue the conversation from yesterday about the importance of the soul.

It’s not a matter of indulgence. It’s a matter of sanity.

Finding Sanctuary for the Soul. There is within each of us a need for sanctuary; a place of refuge when a weary soul needs rest. There is a need to find a place to go for refreshment and renewal. Blogger Nick Ross writes, “Sanctuary has its roots in the word sanctus, to mean ‘holy place.’ Psychologically it is a place deliberately put aside for the development of wholeness, a place also of healing. Finding sanctuary is essential to life; to our capacity to hear the story behind the story. It is worth taking the time to consider where and with whom we find such space, what happens when we make space for sanctuary in our lives and what happens when we don’t.”[1]

This inner sanctuary where God dwells is a place deep that is sacred and inviolable that cannot be touched by outside suffering or pain. It is where we keep those precious things that make life worth living, despite pain, despite loss. It is the place where we hang our hat of faith and hold on to hope. It becomes the place where we can pray. It is where we can enjoy God and where we can hear his voice speak to us. It becomes the place where we surrender our lives to his will and purposes.

This is a place where we recognize God working below the surface; a place that can survive unfulfilled longings. It is a place where we recognize small signs of God’s activity in our lives and be convinced there is more going on than what we can see. It is a place which embraces and recognizes divine appointments, opportunities for grace, and God-ordained, God-infused moments. And more.

To not care for our soul is devastating.  When we forego a language and appreciation for soul the consequences can be devastating to us and to those we serve. Blogger Nick Ross writes, “When the soul of a person (‘that which is essential’) is left behind, when we forego a language and appreciation for soul—when we no longer know or are able to stop long enough to let our souls ‘catch up’—the consequences are devastating. The soul of a person, as every poet knows, needs to speak, to muse, to consider and reflect if it is to be well, if it is to act as it should, as a guide for what is most important in our lives. It’s not a matter of indulgence. It’s a matter of sanity.”[2]

With their lives constantly on spiritual and emotional discharge, ministry leaders often lead on empty. Whatever little spiritual oxygen they had has been cut off and they have little to offer another struggling soul. Many pastors would probably nod in agreement with Job: “I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest but only turmoil.”[3] As one vulnerable ministry leader confessed, “Nobody around me knows this but I am operating on fumes. I am lonely, hollow, shallow, enslaved to a schedule that never lets up.” Most troubling is that leaders are inviting people into a life they are not living.

We get stuck in these relentless patterns because we have very little at self-awareness and what’s going on in our soul. Author Thomas Moore writes, “The great malady of the twentieth century, implicated in all of our troubles and affecting us individually and socially, is “loss of soul.” When soul is neglected, it doesn’t just go away; it appears symptomatically in obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning. Our temptation is to isolate these symptoms or to try to eradicate them one by one; but the root problem is that we have lost our wisdom about the soul, even our interest in it.”[4]

It seems obvious, in the sacrificial work of ministry, the care of the pastor’s soul is tantamount.

The soul is only alive to the extend that it is connected to God in the present. The soul is only alive to the extent that it is connected to God in real, right-now time. God can only be known and experienced in the present moment (not past or future). Thus, the only lever we get to pull is to stay fully present in the present moment. Notably, however, with relentless distraction and preoccupation, the contemporary cultural environment suffers from a kind of collective attention deficit disorder in which one is rarely “all there.” Unfortunately, ministry leaders remain susceptible to this crisis of attention. Leaders often find themselves scattered and pulled in a thousand directions. A life of distraction can result in a divided life—separated (not “all there’) from the present moment.

When we are exhausted, depleted, distracted from the things that would bring us life, we lose the ability to recognize the ways and movements of God. Leaders, then, struggle to remain fully present and can lose life-giving connection with God, themselves, and others.

We can have a successful ministry…and still lose our souls. Jesus put the well-being of our souls as the highest priority…over success, accomplishment, position…when he said, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16:26) Jesus wasn’t talking about losing our eternal; salvation. He was talking about the part of us that is most fundamental to who we are; our real self. We are at risk of living from a place distant from who God created us to be.

John Piper, high profile author and pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in March 2010 announced he was taking an eight-month unexpected leave of absence from public ministry saying, “I see several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with [my wife] Noël and others who are dear to me. How do I apologize to you, not for a specific deed, but for ongoing character flaws, and their effects on everybody?”[5]

Later he wrote in his book based on his self-imposed sabbatical, titled, “Pastor, Know The Self.” Piper writes, “Everyone should do this for his own soul. Pastors, you will know your people’s souls best by knowing your own. So try to be ruthlessly honest with yourself. The key here is not professionalism. The best soul-searcher and the best counselor may have no letters after their names. The key is brutal, broken vulnerability and honesty, sustained by pleas for mercy, and soaked in the riches of Scripture—both its warnings and its wonders.” This is an excerpt from the revised edition of Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (B&H Publishing Group, 2013).

The soul is not subject to self-help.

You may be able to fake others (at least for a while.) You can’t fake your soul. In the same way, we cannot heal our own souls. The soul is not subject to self-help, but comes by way of, as Piper explains, “brutal, broken vulnerability and honesty, sustained by pleas for mercy, and soaked in the riches of Scripture.”

When disintegration happens pretty soon the disconnect will be too much. The worn-out strategies of “soldiering on” no longer work and our souls will eventually crumble under the weight of ministry. Ultimately, leaders need a way of living and leading through the clutter and chatter of daily life and ministry that cultivates a willingness to pay careful attention to the state of their own hearts and living attentively to how one’s life is unfolding. This may mean doing ministry a whole different way and must include a way of structuring life and ministry around the on-going health of their soul.

This kind of deep self-awareness to which this these ancient voices speak does not come about haphazardly, coincidentally, or naturally. This, in turn, leads to fully engaged, whole leaders—ones who can offer something sacred and real to those they serve.

“Let us take a look at the way we are living and reorder our lives under God.” Lam. 3:40

See Part 1 – Leading From a Healthy Soul

*Excerpt from The Attentive Leader: Living and Leading Fully Present to the Things That Matter Most, by Gail Johnsen.

[1] Nick Ross, “In the shadow of VUCA: A call for Soul and Sanctuary in Leadership

Nick Ross Blog, May 11, 2016, https://nickross.me/2016/05/11/in-the-shadow-of-vuca-a-call-for-soul-and-sanctuary-in-leadership/

[2] Ibid.

[3] Job 3:26.

[4] Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul, A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), xi.

[5] Hansen, Collin. “The Toll of Our Toiling.” Christianity Today, March 2010.


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