On October 25, 1999, a twin-engine Learjet taxied down the runway in Orlando on its way to Dallas, Texas. Over Gainesville, Florida the plane should have made a left turn and headed toward Texas. But it veered off course toward South Dakota.
Repeated attempts to contact the pilots were met with a deafening silence. Five fighter planes were dispatched to go up and make visual contact with the runaway jet.
Two F-16’s finally were able to pull within fifty feet of the Learjet. The pilots reported they were unable to see inside because its windows were iced over. The plane flew on autopilot for fourteen hundred miles, over a period of four hours, and finally crashed into a grassy field at six hundred miles an hour.
All six passengers were killed, the most famous being professional golfer Payne Stewart. It was a bizarre and tragic event. Suppose for a moment you had been standing on the ground as the plane flew overhead in the clear autumn sky. It’s traveling fast and straight, and as far you know it’s on course. The reality, though, is that something was desperately wrong on the inside, and it was headed for disaster.
Many pastors and ministry leaders soar through life at breakneck speed. They give every outward appearance of being on course, cruising on autopilot. To the onlooker it seems they have it all together, but on the inside there is a crisis brewing. In spite of appearances, they are on a collision course with disaster.
Solomon said, “The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception.” (Proverbs 14:8 NIV) One of the crying needs of pastors today is to give thought to their ways and where they are headed.
Most every church or parachurch ministry I know of will take a couple of days annually to retreat and talk about plans for the future. Goals are established, initiatives are considered, resourcing is allocated, and course corrections are made. These leadership gatherings are crucial for the future effectiveness of the ministry.
It is just as important to do this on a personal level. As a leader I must regularly pull back from the daily grind and give thought to “my ways”… especially the ways of my soul. My first calling is not to pay attention to the ways of the organization or the ways of the staff, but rather to my ways. How I am paying attention to my soul will always inform how I pastor. The focus of my living must precede my leading.
If you could plot the trajectory of your soul, your inner life, where is it headed? If your soul stays on the path it’s on, where will it be five or ten years from now? Twenty years from now? After you are finished pastoring and you have handed over your role to someone else, what will you be left with? Where you end up then is largely determined by how well you manage what’s going on inside you now.
A lot of ministry leaders I know are “dead people running.” They’re a flurry of activity, and they’re working hard. But on the inside they’re empty and joyless. Their trajectory has them flying toward burnout and disillusionment.
Henry Cloud’s book 9 Things You Simply Must Do provides nine axioms—life lessons—that he has learned through the years. One is a principle called “Play the Movie.”
Every scene in a movie is moving toward a final scene. A plot is developing. And the final scene is being shaped and determined by earlier scenes. I need to determine what kind of final scene I want and then develop a plot that gets me there. We tend to look at life as a series of disconnected scenes. However,
“Playing the movie means never to see any individual action as a singular thing in and of itself: any one thing you do is only a scene in a larger movie.”
As Andy Stanley says “Direction, not intention, determines our destination.” What I often fail to realize is that my life is on a path (direction) headed to a destination. What I am doing today was shaped by what I did yesterday. Who I become tomorrow will be informed by what I do today. And I am writing a scene now that will influence the final scene.
So, as you begin 2017, let me encourage you to spend some time reflecting on the trajectory of your soul. Here are some questions that might be helpful…
· How connected do you feel to Jesus these days?
· Does your spiritual life feel alive and vibrant?
· How would you describe your emotional health?
· What would it look like practically to live and lead from a healthy soul?
Linger over these questions for a bit and allow the Spirit of God to meet you.