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.”
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
When Passion is Low…Burnout May be Near
Leadership can be hard, and one of the first casualties is your health.
Take this free burnout quiz and find out how far away from burnout you are.
Passion Level Need Some Help?
If your passion level needs a boost (or you want to test out its limit), my new book Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That Nobody Expects and Everyone Experiences is all about spotting the things that suck the passion and joy out of your life and leadership.
Didn’t See It Coming tackles the seven core issues that take people out: cynicism, compromise, disconnectedness, irrelevance, pride, burnout, and the emptiness of success and provides strategies on how to combat each.
I wrote the book because no 18 year old sets out to be cynical, disconnected or burned out by age 35. Yet it happens all the time.
The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Here’s what top leaders are saying about Didn’t See It Coming:
“Seriously, this may be the most important book you read this year.” Jud Wilhite, Lead Pastor, Central Church
“Powerful, personal, and highly readable. ” Brian Houston, Global Senior Pastor, Hillsong
“Whatever challenge you’re facing, whatever obstacle you’re hoping to overcome, whatever future you dream or imagine, there is something powerful for you here.” Andy Stanley, Founder, North Point Ministries
“Uncommonly perceptive and generous…You have to read this book.” Ann Voskamp, NYT bestselling author
“Masterful.” Reggie Joiner, CEO Orange
“Deep biblical insight, straightforward truth, and practical wisdom to help you grow.” Craig Groeschel, Pastor and NYT bestselling author
“This book is sure to help you.” Daniel H. Pink, NYT bestselling author
Over the years, one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about being a public speaker is having opportunities to hang out with Carey…It’s not a matter of if you’ll run into these challenges; it’s a matter of when. Be prepared by spending a little time with a leader who has already been there.” Jon Acuff, NYT best-selling author
“Nieuwhof’s book provides expert guidance…with an accuracy that pierces the heart.” Nancy Duarte, CEO Duarte Inc.
“A refreshingly transparent guide for all leaders in a wide variety of industries.” Bryan Miles, Co-Founder and CEO, BELAY
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!