When Your Tank Runs Dry… Sustaining Healthy Ministry by Making a Pit Stop

Below is a weekly series posting content from one of the most innovative content sources in the church world: SUMS Remix Book Summaries for church leaders. SUMS Remix takes a practical problem in the church and looks at it with three solutions; and each solution is taken from a different book. As a church leader you get to scan relevant books based on practical tools and solutions to real ministry problems, not just by the cover of the book. Each post will have the edition number which shows the year and what number it is in the overall sequence. (SUMS provides 26 issues per year, delivered every other week to your inbox). 

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More days than we would like to admit, church leaders face the necessity of leading on an empty tank. The ever present needs of the body, the ongoing call to lead our families through challenging or exciting seasons, and the every day mechanics of ministry leadership compound to drain even the healthiest leader. In fact, the question is not will you ever lead from an empty tank, but HOW will you lead from an empty tank. More importantly, what should a Pastor do when that season emerges?

A pastor’s greatest leadership tool is a healthy soul. Our concentration on skill and technique and strategy has resulted in deemphasizing the interior life. The outcome is an increasing number of men and women leading our churches who are emotionally empty and spiritually dry. – Lance Witt

It is time to face the reality that no numeric or other measurable short-term success in ministry can ever offset the long-term consequences of leading from an unhealthy spirit. What do you do when your tank runs dry?

Solution: Make a pit stop to replenish and recalibrate.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Replenish, by Lance Witt

Every leader functions on two stages-the front stage or public world, and the back stage or private world. One cannot lead successfully front stage when one is completely depleted back stage. In a time when pastors are leaving the ministry in record numbers due to cynicism, disillusionment, weariness, health crises and personal scandals, there is an urgent need for soul care in the private lives of leaders.

Replenish helps leaders focus on the back stage, the interior life, in order to remain spiritually healthy. In a caring, encouraging tone, Lance Witt, former Executive Pastor at Saddleback Community Church shows pastors how to prioritize matters of the soul. Urging leaders to develop healthy spiritual practices and address problems that lead to burnout creates a healthy rhythm in their lives, improves their people skills and the spiritual climate of their team, develops better systems in their churches, and discovers how to lead an unhurried life.

For the many ministry leaders feeling alone, in over their heads, or simply worn out, this book will offer welcome relief and a healthy path forward.


In NASCAR, the race is won or lost in the pits. With a well-trained crew following the strategy of the crew chief (tasked with constantly adjusting to the realities of the race), a driver’s chances of being a winner are greatly enhanced.

Without a pit stop, though, it’s going to be a short race.

The same is true for leaders who think they can keep going and going, and going…

Instead of feeling constant pressure to be “on” all the time, leaders need to learn how to flow in a rhythm and pace themselves in between intensity and renewal. You really can’t balance the two, but you can work over a period of time to develop a rhythm where allowing for planned, intentional “pit stops” enables leaders to not only race strong, but finish well.

If you could plot the trajectory of your soul, where is it headed? Where you end up in ten or twenty years is largely determined by how well you manage what’s going on inside you now.

Leaders who stay spiritually healthy long term are those who learn the sacred rhythm of advance and retreat. There are times when we’re focused on the mission and taking the next hill for Christ’s kingdom. But you can’t stay on the front lines forever. You have to rest and regroup. In fact, the more fierce and intense the battle, the more you have to retreat.

Times of retreat have two powerful benefits:

Replenishing my soul. When I’m on retreat, something happens inside me that’s hard to explain. I have learned to slow my spirit, and I now realize the world can get along just fine without me for a little while. I am learning to “be” with my heavenly Father, and my soul is replenished in the process.

Recalibrating my perspective. As I ponder and pray, God regularly shifts my outlook by reminding me of what is really important. He regularly convicts me of getting so worked up over things that just aren’t that important. On retreat I have removed most of the white noise form my world, and I can be quiet enough to hear God’s voice.

– Lance Will, Replenish


How do you know when you need a pit stop?

People who dream big and execute well run into particular hazards that most people don’t encounter.  Will Mancini has discovered that it’s not uncommon for a true ministry visionary to be tired. He has developed five causes that block the future-minded leader from feeling 100%.

At your next team meeting, write the following “formulas” on a white board or flip chart:

  • #1 God’s Vision + Man’s agendas  = Too much work
  • #2 Personal Driven-ness + God’s Vision = Too much work
  • #3 God’s Vision – God’s Timetable = Too much work
  • #4 God’s Vision – Empowering Others = Too much work
  • #5 God’s Vision – Personal Growth = Too much work

Reflect on each formula individually and discuss together as a team the extent that each formula is sapping the healthy lifestyle, mental sanity or energy-filled style that faithfulness to God and his vision deserves.

Create action steps to help each team member rewrite the formula in their own life, producing replenished leaders and a team built to finish the race.

Closing Thoughts

Godly leadership is always inside out. God has and always will choose to smile on men and women who are healthy, holy, & humble. – Lance Witt

By making a pit stop to replenish and recalibrate, leaders will help themselves and their teams keep a “full” tank and be healthy emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

To learn more maintaining a healthy ministry, start a conversation with the Auxano team today.

Taken from SUMS Remix 14-1, published May 2015

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Bob Adams is Auxano's Vision Room Curator. His background includes over 23 years as an associate/executive pastor as well as 8 years as the Lead Consultant for a church design build company.

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Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree with your 3 must-haves. I would add that the rectors have to call on every member who attends, at least once a year. The existence of a "calling commitee" is just an excuse to avoid making the effort. This is part of #3. If a rector does not like to call on parishioners, then she/he should not be a rector, but should find a different ministry. Carter Kerns, former senior warden, Diocese of Eastern Oregon and lifelong Episcopalian Tel# 541-379-3124
— Carter Kerns
comment_post_ID); ?> Are there any reliable statistics about the percentage of church plants that fail after 3 years in the US?
— Jon Moore
comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks

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