Do You Have the Passion Level of a Successful Leader? How to Tell

If there’s one characteristic I see in successful leaders in growing churches and organizations, it’s passion.

The more church leaders I connect with, the more I see this trend: leaders of growing churches (and growing organizations) have a white hot passion for their mission.

You can hear it in their voice.

You can see it in their eyes.

It spills out of them.

I think John Wesley (or Abraham Lincoln or whoever said this) was right: “Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come for miles to watch you burn.”

Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come for miles to watch you burn. Click To Tweet

By contrast, leaders of stuck or declining churches or organizations generally do NOT burn with drive, desire or passion.

In fact, I can’t think of a single leader of a growing church who isn’t passionate about their mission.

The problem for most of us is we can’t tell what kind of leader we are. We live in our own skin. It’s hard to get an objective read on our passion level.

Will your passion level always be white hot? No.

My passion level has gone up and down in seasons, but overall, for me to be effective as a leader, it has to be high.

I know that in the seasons in which my passion has been white hot, I’ve led the best.

Here are 5 signs your passion level is white hot.

1. You have a hard time shutting down

Passionate leaders have a hard time shutting down. They are obsessed with the mission.

This isn’t workaholism…that’s different.

I’m talking about people who care so much that it becomes part of who they are. There’s little to no clock-watching. Monday is an opportunity more than it is an ugh.

And yes…I realize there’s a ton of potential pitfalls in being obsessed with your work or even having your identity wrapped up in it.

But I don’t think Jesus spent most of his days pining for 4:00 so he could go home and watch Jeopardy after dinner or work on perfecting his golf score.

Yes…he took breaks and rested. But his burden was always for people and for his Father.

To be transparent, I’ve grown a little weary of people who call for ‘balance’ in life and in mission. As I outline in the High Impact Leader, most people who make a significant difference don’t live balanced lives; they live passionate lives.

Most leaders who make a significant impact don't live balanced lives; they live passionate lives. Click To Tweet

Of course, there is a ton of meaning outside work, but too many people forget there is a ton of meaning inside work and ministry.

Obviously, to make life work, you need clear boundaries. The best leaders find clear boundaries, but as a rule, they have to restrain themselves from putting too much time into the mission.

The goal isn’t burnout—it’s passion. And passion can be hard to turn off.

That’s actually a good thing!

There's a ton of meaning outside work. But there's a ton of meaning inside work too. Click To Tweet

2. You invest on your own dime and your own time

I think what you do on your own dime and your own time speaks volumes about your heart.

If work is something you do only when someone else is paying or when you’re officially on the clock, it speaks volumes about what you really value.

I’ve worked in churches that have had no budget and I’ve probably over-invested in the ministry at the expense of my family. That’s not what I’m talking about.

But truly passionate leaders don’t mind picking up the check personally, or taking part of a ‘day off’ to work on a project or help someone out once in while.

If you’re only working when you’re working or paying when someone else is picking up the tab, chances are your passion isn’t white hot.

What you do on your own dime and your own time as a leader speaks volumes about your heart. Click To Tweet

3. Possibilities excite you more than problems weigh you down

Passionate leaders are always more excited about the possibilities than they are weighed down by problems.

In every organization there are problems, and sometimes there are BIG problems.

But passionate leaders are determined to remove problems—even big ones—and get moving because the possibilities are so exciting.

Where other leaders see only obstacles, passionate leaders see opportunities.

Where other leaders see only obstacles, passionate leaders see opportunities. Click To Tweet

If you see more problems than possibilities, it will be hard to motivate a team to follow you.

So how do you get your eyes off the problems?

Leaders who focus on the possibilities find the problems tend to take care of themselves. Leaders who focus on the problems find the possibilities eventually evaporate.

Choose your focus carefully.

Leaders who focus on the possibilities find the problems tend to take care of themselves. Click To Tweet

4. You can’t stop investing in people

Don’t get me wrong, passionate leaders have hobbies and pursuits that have nothing to do with work.

They cycle or fly fish or BBQ or run marathons or camp or do yoga.

But passionate leaders can’t help but see people through the lens of their life mission. They pray for their neighbours. They throw parties for unchurched friends.

You’ll find them hanging out with people who are far from God because it’s part of who they are, not just a part of what they do.

They become beacons in their community and people who want nothing to do with Jesus come to them for advice.

They can’t help but bring the love and hope of Jesus in some way into every aspect of their lives.

5. The mission is something you GET to do

We have a very negative view of work in our culture (especially Canadian culture). That can seep into our worldview as church leaders.

Not every day is going to be a picnic in ministry. You will have headaches and frustrations.

Some days you will drag yourself in. You will make yourself do what you’re called to do simply because you’re called to do it.

And even though I’ve said “Love what you do and you’ll never work another day in your life” before, I agree with Jon Acuff that the saying isn’t 100% true. (Read Jon’s awesome perspective here).

Some days are work. And that’s okay.

But overall, leaders who have a white hot passion for their mission realize work is something they get to do, not something they have to do.

The difference in your attitude will leak to your team and to your congregation.

And Christians, we GET to do this! God could have brought hope and forgiveness to people any way he wanted to, but he chose you.

Leadership is a privilege, not a burden.

Leadership is a privilege, not a burden. Passionate leaders lead like that's true. Click To Tweet



Yes, there’s a ton of change happening right now.

Some organizations will survive, some will thrive, and others won’t make it.

I’d love for you to be one of the thrivers.

Who will thrive in the new normal? The future belongs to the pivoters.

How well positioned are you for future pivots?

My brand new online training, the 30-Day Pivot, will show you how to develop your agility as a leader and as an organization to position yourself for growth.

The 30-Day Pivot is a simple 3-step process you and your team can utilize every as often as every 30 days to respond to the change around you and capitalize on it.

In the 30-Day Pivot, you’ll learn:
  • A simple 3-step process your team can use to arrive at your next pivot in 90 minutes or less.
  • An approach that fosters team-generated innovation.
  • An implementation and evaluation framework that will help your team move quickly and accurately.
I’ve led teams through multiple pivots, and in the 30 Day Pivot, I show you the strategy and framework you need to make quick, accurate and responsive moves that can position your organization for growth, even in the midst of deep uncertainty and change.

Some organizations and churches will thrive in the new normal.

Others won’t.

While the future is uncertain, yours doesn’t have to be.

You can learn more and gain instant access to the 30 Day Pivot here.

What do you think?

What are some signs you’ve seen that a leader’s passion is white-hot?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

Do You Have the Passion Level of a Successful Leader? How to Tell


  1. theartist on March 21, 2021 at 10:01 am

    On Number 4:

    I HOPE passionate Christian leaders don’t do yoga.

    • Martha Patton on March 22, 2021 at 12:27 am

      Sounds like you need some Yoga it might open your mind

  2. Tim Richardson on June 2, 2020 at 11:50 am

    Is it possible to develop your passion intensity level or does it just come naturally? If you aren’t experiencing these characteristics now or perhaps in any position you have ever held, does it mean you should keep looking until you find the job/ministry/project that creates this natural passion within? My struggle here is that some people seem to be “passionate” about everything they do, some people seem to be outwardly “unpassionate” (is that a word) about everything, and most people are somewhere in the middle. Can passion be cultivated? If so, how?

  3. Phillip Nash on May 25, 2020 at 5:04 pm

    I too am getting tired of the emphasis on balance which I think is a metaphor for focus on myself alone. Balance comes from doing what we are called and equipped to do. Passion always follows that.

  4. Bill Finch on May 25, 2020 at 8:56 am

    When people in ministry lose their passion for serving the Lord, one of the first signs is that they begin to complain, about their people, about their church’s circumstances (building, music, etc.) I always begin to wonder about their personal relationship with God, is it on auto-pilot, have the lost the passion in reading the Word and in praying to the Lord? No doubt, some pastor’s do have that particular Deacon who is a challenge or the church member who wants to correct an error that was made in the sermon. But even through that, we can depend on God to teach us humility and being a grateful servant.

  5. Cathy on May 24, 2020 at 10:58 am

    So many people who think they are watching out for me….say you need to slow down…..find balance…you’ll burn out…but ever since we cast our church’s vision…….I just want to do more to let it flow over the community. This makes me feel lots better……passion not necessarily balance. Thanks!

  6. Paul Noblin on July 6, 2019 at 7:19 am

    I want to say that Christianity is not a spectator sport. Christianity is a contact sport. A good leader should enjoy the “game.”
    I have always wanted to organize a co-ed touch football game, replacing the football with a paperback Bible wrapped in duct-tape.
    A Practicing Disciple of Jesus Christ never misses the opportunity to passionately move the Gospel down the field.
    The good Samaritan put himself at risk when he helped a man who had been robbed and beaten. He did not just put money into an offering plate.
    Good Church leaders get their congregations out of the stands and onto the field. This requires enthusiasm, passion, and risk. It is exciting to be a coach.
    God bless Carey, his family, and his ministry. God bless all true Christian leaders and their Churches. We pray for our Missionaries and Soldiers over seas, and at home. May our leaders consult you, dear Father, in every decision. We pray for the lost and the sick. Thy will be done.

  7. Dean on August 24, 2018 at 3:06 pm

    pretty good read think all read it a few more times.I know a few leaders like this total passion 110 percent

  8. Bev on August 16, 2018 at 7:48 pm

    Truly inspirational, the world view is so different from our Kingdom perspective. You have helped me read myself better from a Kingdom view.

    Thank you and keep leading others to greatness.


  9. Rich Lockette on August 16, 2018 at 1:18 pm

    I’ve gotten my copy of Didn’t See it Coming, and I’ve read it. This book is amazing and really helps with my ministry and my life in so many ways. I am learning so much about living out of who I truly are but adding the emphasis on what Carey offers in the book or on his daily messages. Thank you very much for your Sharing of your gifts.

  10. Broton Weah on August 16, 2018 at 12:52 pm

    So inspiring, and true to the point. This article has helped my understanding of myself and what I am called to do. Thanks Carey!

  11. Shawn M. Fouts on August 16, 2018 at 12:18 pm

    So good! Thanks Carey.

  12. Mike Duke on August 16, 2018 at 11:07 am

    Thanks Carey. I get the premise. The Wesley quote cannot be verifiably attributed to him. Craig Groeschel made the same mis-quote in a recent tweet.

  13. Dave on August 16, 2018 at 7:34 am

    Thank you for a great post. I always thought that passion was enough in the local church. I have found through working with others that passion alone — in the local church — isn’t enough. I have observed that individuals also need the spiritual gift of leadership to truly make a difference.
    What are your thoughts on that?
    Thank you again,

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