Zombies, Vampires and Other Things That Kill a Leader’s Dreams


Today’s post is from Josh Gagnon. Josh is the founding and lead pastor of Next Level Church, an extremely fast-growing multisite church with locations throughout the East Coast.

By Josh Gagnon,

If you have been a leader for any amount of time, you have surely been tempted to settle for something less than the ambitious hopes and dreams that fired you up when you first took on that leadership role.

You probably started out leading something with passion, energy, and confidence. But inevitably you’ve faced moments when you wonder if what you’re leading is worth it or even attainable any more.

So many leaders today feel discouraged, frustrated, burned out, or otherwise without purpose and enthusiasm.

The question is why.

There are 4 major reasons why a leader’s hopes and dreams often shrink into a mundane (or worse) leadership journey.

I hope that by exposing those pitfalls today, you will rediscover hope and resume chasing after whatever God-given dream you’ve been called to.

1. You Allow The Wrong Voices To Become Your Primary Influencers.

“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

How in the world did that become such a popular saying? That’s one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard, let alone said.

And trust me, I’ve said some stupid things.

Within our leadership journey, there will be many voices shouting in our direction and it’s important to be able to categorize each voice properly in order to balance the weight of their words.

Here’s how I breakdown the various voices I encounter:


So what do we know about zombies?

Number one, they are destructive. They don’t care about anything except attacking and eating and smashing whatever gets in their path.

Number two, they are fundamentally opposed to life and joy and happiness. What a zombie wants most is to make the rest of the world like itself—uncaring and unfeeling and motivated by consumption.

So whenever a zombie sees anything alive or bright or exceptional, it tries to kill it. To consume it. To turn it into just another zombie.

In our leadership, zombies are those people who try to drag us down to their level. They push us to cross boundaries—to watch things we wouldn’t normally watch, say things we wouldn’t normally say, and do things we wouldn’t normally do.

It’s the person who constantly reminds us that we’re not good enough, smart enough, and talented enough to fulfill our dreams.

These zombies are people we interact with on a regular basis, which means they have access to our dreams and leadership, so it’s critical to recognize these voices in our lives and build guardrails around their influence.


Vampires are much more subtle and much less obvious. Where zombies do nothing but bring death and destruction, vampires are more interested in slowly sucking the life out of us. They constantly take rather than give.

Vampires often use words to bring death to those around them. They are the people who always seem negative and miserable. They complain about everything.

At the same time, vampires are subtle in their influence. They aren’t typically mean people that don’t get along with anyone; it’s usually the opposite. They are good people who are emotionally immature.

Vampires have a unique ability to bring to life the insecurities you’re already battling.

Whatever pain, drama, or challenge you have managed to keep lingering just below the surface, they find a way to dig it up.

On a practical level, vampires are that friend who always leaves you feeling kind of down after a conversation. It’s the person in the congregation you try avoiding because you know it will be a life-sucking conversion. It’s the relative who has a way of consistently pointing out the flaws in your plans, or the peer that always reminds you of all the gossip.

As leaders, it is critical that we protect ourselves from the slow drain of vampires surrounding us.

Vampires often use words to bring death to those around them. - @joshgagnon Click To Tweet


“Holy Zeppelin!” “Holy birthday cake!” “Holy headache!” “Holy smoke!” What do these phrases have in common? They are just a few of the many exclamations used by Batman’s trusty sidekick, Robin.

Sure, Robin may not be as cool or as tough as Batman, and his suit leaves much to be desired. But he’s a true friend and a critical part of the Caped Crusader’s crime-fighting success.

We all need a Robin by our side—someone reliable who will fight with us to defeat the villains who come our way. The Bible describes the role of a Robin, or what I like to call a sidekick, this way: “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Prov. 27:17).

We all need sidekicks in our lives.

These are people who believe in our dreams and with whom we share a common purpose.

They see our potential, speak life into our situations, and challenge us to grow. Sidekicks aren’t yes-men. They don’t always tell us what we want to hear, but they encourage us to become a better version of ourselves.

One rule I try to live by is I don’t let anyone speak into my dreams who haven’t yet poured sweat and tears into those dreams alongside me. You shouldn’t either.

I don’t let anyone speak into my dreams who haven’t yet poured sweat and tears into those dreams alongside me. You shouldn’t either. - @joshgagnon Click To Tweet


Whereas sidekicks walk beside us, heroes go before us. They are the examples we follow. Heroes are people we admire because they are living the kind of life we desire.

It’s been said that “everyone will end up somewhere, but not everyone gets there on purpose.” I like that. And I want the time I spend with my heroes to help me end up somewhere on purpose.

Heroes are people living their current lives in our desired tomorrow. They are accomplishing what we hope to someday accomplish. Heroes serve as targets for us to aim our lives at.

That’s important because we’ll never arrive at our desired destination if we are unclear of where the bull’s-eye is.

There’s no better way to end up where you want to be than to spend time with people who can show you how to get there.

That’s why everyone needs heroes in their lives, especially as they desire to grow in their leadership journey.

So what else kills your dreams? It’s not just external voices. Sometimes what kills your dreams lives inside you.

We’ll never arrive at our desired destination if we are unclear of where the bull’s-eye is. - @joshgagnon Click To Tweet

2. You Allow Resistance To Ground You Instead Of Help You Soar

It’s not the absence of resistance that we should long for as leaders, but instead the faith and courage to face resistance, and in doing so, the ability to grow, learn and soar to higher heights than ever before.

I was recently at a zoo and noticed a bald eagle sitting inside of an exhibit with no roof or walls. At first glance, it caught me off guard. Eagles are supposed to fly, they were created to soar.

As I walked over to this once fierce and feared king of the sky I noticed a sign that read, “The birds in this exhibit have sustained permanent injuries in the wild and cannot fly.” A bird that was created to soar now spends every day grounded due to the injuries it had encountered in the past.

The same is true for many of us as leaders.

We encounter resistance, pain, and injuries on the journey toward seeing our God-given dreams come true and we are constantly faced with the decision of whether to allow the pain of leadership to ground us or to grow us.

Remember, the very thing an eagle or a plane is built for – flying – requires resistance. Resistance is the force that takes us to the new heights our wings are built for.

So, don’t give up. Don’t settle for a life stuck sitting on a stump when you were meant to fly. Keep fighting through the resistance and allow your wings to make you soar.

3. You Compare Your Normal To Other People’s Highlights

Social media and technology are powerful tools with great potential to further the Kingdom of God, but they come with a cost. This cost isn’t financial, but rather emotional and spiritual.

If these tools are not stewarded well they can do major harm.

I can’t even count the number of times when I’ve felt like the work that God was doing through me was insignificant compared to the work I perceived He was doing through others.

One thing God has shown me repeatedly is that the outside perspective of another’s success is a limited view, showing only their neatly curated highlight reel.

Nobody goes on Instagram to post about the hardest days, challenging decisions, or discouraging moments, which leaves us feeling like we are the only ones who ever struggle. This is simply not true!

It’s hard to admit, but I’ve spent far too many days staring at the green lawn in my neighbor’s yard instead of watering the lawn God has called me to tend to.

In recent years, each time I begin lusting after someone else’s work, assignment, or fruit, I’m quick to remind myself that my responsibility is faithfulness, not fruitfulness.

If I can lay my head down each night and know I was faithful to my God, my family, my friends, and to the ministry He has entrusted me with, I’m winning at what matters most, even on days when social media makes me feel like a loser.

Each time I begin lusting after someone else's work, assignment, or fruit, I’m quick to remind myself that my responsibility is faithfulness, not fruitfulness. - @joshgagnon Click To Tweet

4. The Dream You See In Your Heart Is More Complete Than The Dream Before Your Eyes

My sons love Legos. They are mesmerized by the pictures on the outside of the boxes.

When we are shopping for a new Lego set, they scan the boxes looking for the perfect set to build using the images of what each finished set will look like.

On our last journey through the store, they picked out a set with 4,124 pieces in it. I tried to talk them out of it, but they convinced me they were expert level Lego builders.

When we got home, they opened the Lego box and dumped all 4,124 pieces out onto the table. That’s when reality hit them.

The outside of the box experience is much different than the inside of the box experience.

When God gives a leader a dream, it comes in the form of an outside-of-the-box vision. You can see that ministry reaching hundreds or even thousands, you can see that business being profitable, you can see that dream in your heart. It’s almost as clear as the picture on the outside of the Lego box.

But then, God scatters before us all of the pieces that need to be assembled to see that vision completed and we become overwhelmed and discouraged at the enormous task before us.

We are even tempted to ask God if heaven has a return policy on dreams because we would like to exchange ours for one with less pieces.

Let me encourage you to remember that the dream you see in your heart wasn’t meant to be built in a day.

We are responsible for daily picking up the pieces and putting our dreams together.

Some pieces will come together quickly. Other pieces will take grit, long-suffering, and an extra portion of God’s grace.

Pick up the next piece and keep building. I know you don’t yet see the dream in your heart – you’re not supposed to; you’re still building it.

Remember that the dream you see in your heart wasn't meant to be built in a day. - @joshgagnon Click To Tweet

Don’t Give Up

I don’t know how your experiences line up with mine, but maybe even today you’ve been tempted to settle for less than God’s best in whatever God has called you to lead.

Maybe you’re feeling discouraged and you’d like to give up chasing after your big dreams. Maybe you know exactly what I am talking about, because your leadership journey feels hopeless right now.

If any of those are true, don’t give up!

I want to leave you with one last thing: you are capable of pursuing your God-given dreams.

You’ve been uniquely fashioned and lovingly crafted in the image of God, the Creator of the universe.

You are designed for greatness. You have been created to soar, not settle.

No matter what you’ve been through, no matter what wounds you’ve suffered, no matter what defeats you’ve experienced, I want to challenge you today…right here…here now…to walk in hope and to believe that your best days are ahead.

God isn’t finished writing His story through you!

If you want to drill down deeper about chasing your dreams, Josh just released his brand new book called: It’s Not Over: Leaving Behind Disappointment and Learning to Dream Again. 

Need more time to chase your dreams? 

the high impact leader

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Here’s one of the challenges with time management.

Nobody’s making any more time. Everybody gets 24 equal hours in a day.

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The High Impact Leader course teaches you the system that I’ve used to manage my time now for almost 15 years.

I couldn’t believe the difference this approach has made for me. Before I created the system, I was leading a fraction of what I’m leading today. I also worked more hours and I was busy exhausted. My old approach led me to into burn out.

On the way out of burnout, I realized I had to live differently.

So I started reprioritizing my time, managing my energy, figuring out how to stop getting my priorities hijacked by other people, and in the process (by accident), I became far more productive, so now I can write books, I lead a new company. I speak all over the world, host a podcast, and still actually have time for my family and for myself. I even get seven to eight hours of sleep every night.

How do you do that? I’d love to show you how to do that, in the online, on-demand High Impact Leader Course.

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What about you?

What dreams do you need to pick back up today?

Leave a comment below!

Zombies, Vampires and Other Things That Kill a Leader’s Dreams


  1. Cliff Rutter on February 27, 2020 at 4:49 am

    Great article! Very informative and many of the scenarios I can relate to, having planted our church 20 years ago. Greatly encouraged by “God isn’t finished writing His story through you!”

  2. Billy Starkweather on February 26, 2020 at 3:56 pm

    Hey Carey. Thanks for your podcast with Josh Gagnon. I listen to your podcast on my weekly drive (about an hour) to our staff meeting. I was wondering if the transcript for this particular podcast was available? I haven’t found a link to it if there was. Once again I so appreciate you and the podcast.

  3. Drew A Wilkerson on February 26, 2020 at 1:20 pm

    Carey, I have some questions about your material and courses. I tried the number listed in the website questions, but it said it wasn’t valid. How can I contact someone for more information?



    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 26, 2020 at 1:57 pm

      Hey Drew,

      So sorry that wasn’t working!

      feel free to email support@careynieuwhof.com to get all of your questions answered about my courses.

      Cheering for you!

  4. Eric Sun on February 26, 2020 at 12:37 pm

    “One rule I try to live by is I don’t let anyone speak into my dreams who haven’t yet poured sweat and tears into those dreams alongside me. You shouldn’t either.” Right on!

    Brene Brown said something similar:
    “If you are not in the arena (with me) also getting your butt kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback,”

    Too, I have met many leaders who are vampires, good people with emotional immaturity that hampers their growth and the growth of the people under them and the movements that are very good and true.

  5. Joyce on February 26, 2020 at 10:48 am

    Thank you! Very helpful.

  6. CV on February 26, 2020 at 9:00 am

    Do you have any advice for selecting your leadership team when planting a church, and those who potentially want to be part of that team are immature family members or long time friends that you suspect are susceptible to engaging in gossip and undermining your leadership. So my husband’s (senior pastor) has 1 sibling, a sister, that had caused conflict in our family to the point that we haven’t seen her in 2yrs and now that we are about to start the ministry, she wants to come back and be apart but I am skeptical about being her involved because I believe that she still eventually introduce division as her brother (pastor) is of course, sympathetic to her and doesn’t see her manipulative ways. She hides behind the Christian lover mask, but her actions concern me. Even though I forgive and want to move on, I don’t trust that I can turn my back and she not take a stab. Due to the potential closeness she could have to our hearts, I’m not comfortable with net even as member and I believe the most important thing is that our family relationship which had suffered extremely. My husband is a great person and somewhat of a people pleaser so I often will end up looking like the bad person if he puts me in the position to have to say how I really feel because I see the future and should prefer she find another church to attend while we keep our focus on those we’ve been called to. I know they’re will be other situations that arise with others, but should we knowingly go into this with baggage that is eventually going to cause some type of distraction based on past track record. What should, I do to get my husband to see that we have been called to specific people and this could be a huge distraction so it’s probably not worth it to bring her along in ministry, yet we can still develop our relationship from the family standpoint. We were “supposedly” close at one point but eventually that blew apart due basically to jealousies that we never knew existed. My husband attributes it to ther influence of her husband but I don’t believe that she is innocent in this matter. I actually believe that the Lord has allowed us to see this side of them before ministry so that we don’t try to bring them along, and the same thing happened with once of his best friends, whi had shown that he is not really for us and eventually his wife convinced him to come back but although I love and forgives them and his sister, I feel it would be a somewhat detrimental to being them along. The problem is we expect maturity and make excuses when we see them behaving in ways that bring division and strife. Do you have any advice i6n dealing with family members in ministry south goy, or who attend your church? I don’t want to br offensive but I honestly want to all them both to find another church. My husband wants them nece he loves them and is hoping they will mature and follow his leadership. I think they put on a mask long enough for you to let down your guards and trust them again only to be disappointed. I, as wife and associate pastor, don’t want God’s people to suffer due to future divisions or issues they might create based on their track record. Bottom line. What would you do?

  7. Gary W Whittaker on February 26, 2020 at 8:31 am

    Extremely helpful! The big picture vision comes together one Lego at a time. I’ll just work on that piece; Lord willing another after that.

  8. Kenneth Gray on February 26, 2020 at 12:28 am

    My dream will not be possible until God answers my prayers. I don’t have any abilities, skills, talents to use to make the money needed. I don’t have the money needed to get any kind of education, courses to learn what to do to get the money needed. So unless God answers my prayers I’ll never be able to afford it. My dream is to start a charity that takes homeless people off the streets, train them to get new skills so they can get a decent job. House them while they get the training, feed them , until they get back on their own feet. This will cost millions of dollars to accomplish.
    Thanks for “listening” and God Bless You.

    • Eric Sun on February 26, 2020 at 12:46 pm

      Kenneth, Just help the person in front of you. And, then talk to people about what you’re doing to help that person. You might be surprised that some of the people you share with want to support you, or even join you.

      I know a man like that that started with one homeless person and met them where they were at. Not all of them got off the streets (there’s huge psychological issues : fear of success is the major one that causes many to self-destruct), but there’s a thriving ministry. It’s called Yonge Street Mission in Toronto.

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