Soul Care requires a long, careful, and wise look at our capacity. The myth says, “Capacity doesn’t matter. Just keep going full steam and in fifth gear!” The lie says, “You don’t matter.”
When we are not aware of our capacity, then we neglect our whole life. We forfeit our soul. We breathlessly run our lives on empty. We become doers, which is fine and good—but not at the expense of our souls.
When we don’t think about capacity—when we don’t think about our output as well as our input, how much we give out on a daily and weekly basis, then we are living in an unwise way and an unsustainable manner. We can become machine-like; we lose touch with our soul and we give out more than we take in. We cannot run our life on empty and call it a life.
When I was a younger man, there was no talk or discussion about capacity. I was shaped, like many of you, with the inner mantra that says, “Get ‘ur done!” My identity was shaped by what I did, how much I did and how well I did it. Some of you can easily identify.
That kind of mindless and soul-less ethos blends into missions, the life of the Church, and remains the cadence for many market leaders today. This on-going stress has disrupted our health with blow outs in our body, mind, and heart. It’s sad and it ought not be this way. What we’ve done is soak in a culture that has shaped us in unhealthy ways. Many of us live out our days over-committed, over stimulated, addicted to adrenalin, and bankrupt in our souls and relationships. Sadly, we never thought much about capacity.
A personal study on how much we work:
Recently, Gwen and I traveled to five different countries. We led retreats for global leaders. While traveling and interacting with staff, business owners and mission leaders, I was intentional to ask nearly everyone I worked with: “How many hours a week do you work?” It was like a grand research experiment—collecting this data on nearly everyone we interacted with during our trip.
In reflecting on all the hundreds of conversations, the hours spent in counseling, and in addition all of our interactions with taxi drivers, wait staff, and managers of small businesses that we visited; I do not recall any person telling me that they worked less than 55 hours a week. The vast majority confessed they worked about 70 hours a week.
During our trip, Gwen and I spent three days with a university professor in Turkey who shared with us that he had never heard of a Sabbath—had no idea what that meant. His marriage was in trouble. He knew he worked too much to try to make life work for him. On our last day of being together, he asked for our help. We laid out a new paradigm—a paradigm we offer through Potter’s Inn—a sustainable rhythm.
While traveling and seeking to maintain our own sustainable rhythm, we took a break from our intense work and went to a little island off the coast of Turkey called Samos. Gwen and I visited a coffee shop each morning to get our morning coffee and became friends of the owner of the coffee shop, which interestingly enough, was named, “The Good Life.” He told us that he works over 80 hours a week, never has a day off and has never heard of Sabbath. When I asked him if he was living a “good life” he looked down and said, “No. I am not living a good life at all.”
I truly think that we have abandoned any notion that a good life is possible. But friends, it is! This is the core and central teaching of Jesus when he offered us the paradigm of a life marked by inner abundance, resilience, service, and resting. Many of us have adopted a paradigm of a church life or a work life; but the only thing that has ever helped me was finding the way Jesus Way did his life. I write about this in THE JESUS LIFE.
What is our capacity?
The word “capacity” means the maximum amount that something can contain; the amount that something can produce. It means how much work can a person actually do without going crazy or having a break-down or blow out.
A few years ago, the term “high capacity leader” was coined. This term was used to designate the kind of people who could accomplish a lot of work, get things done, and bring about results. We wanted to hire these kinds of people, and many of us were trained how. We paid money to try to become a high capacity leader. It became something of a status designation. Entire conferences, churches, businesses, and mission leaders swallowed this definition without scrutinizing the term more closely. We did not own the negative feelings that rose up when one was told: “You are not a ‘high-capacity’ leader.” People were diminished into shame and guilt at their annual reviews. It still goes on today. It helped create an entire sub-set of people who were left feeling like they didn’t matter, that they were second class, that they were not important. Others were celebrated, invited to special meetings with other high-profile leaders to meet and greet. Leadership became so celebrated. We were motivated to lead but we were not coached how to live with margin. Everything about leadership mattered—all but the leader’s capacity.
Let me be clear. Given the above definition, Jesus himself could not be designated a “high capacity leader.” He made chairs and stools for nearly three decades and his entire ministry was only a 36 month, “short term mission.” He was betrayed, denied, and executed. Yet, look at what he accomplished—all while living in a sustainable rhythm. Leadership, when rightly understood, is about something much more important, more eternally significant than getting your numbers up and being ranked among peers.
Capacity needs to be re-thought. Capacity needs to be re-examined. In my forty years guiding “high capacity leaders,” I have seen a precious few who live with courageous margin—who lived with a cadence of life in a Sabbath rhythm—who took all their vacations, stopped their work when the day was done and did not check emails, texts and social media after they came home from the office. The results of this kind of work ethos is a slow and steady erosion of one’s humanity.
I, for one, never thought about capacity. I thought about results. I thought about everything going up, not down. All of that resulted in a very sad and long chapter of implosion. I am not alone in being a crash and burn statistic. It certainly eroded my sense of myself, value of my wife’s soul, and little to no awareness of the soul of a leader.
We shape ourselves into thinking we are indispensable, that “it” all rests on our shoulders. A false sense of urgency shapes our understanding of time and self. All of this insanity results in shallow relationships while living in a survival mode—which we smugly call the “abundant life.” We applaud busy and important people. But do we look at the under-belly of what it has actually cost us to ascend to our position? I think we should.
Two years ago, I sat with a team of leaders and pastors at a mega-church—one of our nation’s most recognized churches. The new senior pastor announced on a white board his new vision to plant 100 churches in their city. I was in the room and vividly recall everyone taking notes. No one questioned anything this new leader was saying. Somehow I mustered up some courage and said, “What is it going to cost you and this church to “do” this vision in terms of staff burnout, staff turn-over and staff implosions?” That question seemed unwelcomed. It was not discussed. I felt like I threw cold water on his vision. Less than two years later, the senior pastor and the executive pastor resigned in disgrace over moral implosions. That vision was not sustainable. A vision which has no understanding of capacity, rest and Sabbath can never be sustained.
The Exhausted Life is Not the Abundant Life
How can this be? How have we come to a place where we live this way and call our life—abundant?
When I ask people to describe their life in five simple words, I have never yet heard anyone list “abundant” as one of the descriptor words. I find that fascinating. Jesus himself said that this word “abundant” is the one, clear, and single marker that should describe the people that followed him. Yet, when we stop and take a close look at our lives, so many of us feel like it’s a race to survive, not to thrive. We live breathless. We live with a low-grade sense of exhaustion and emptiness.
It’s a problem.
Several years ago, I led the staff of Potter’s Inn in an examination of our capacity as Soul Care Providers. We were flooded with people wanting help. Inquiries were being received every week; and we all wanted to help everyone. It was not sustainable. After founding the ministry of Potter’s Inn, I was about to repeat a mistake that nearly toppled my marriage, my work and my inner sense of having abundant life. I was doing too much and so was our staff. I asked them to take the word C-A-P-A-C-I-T-Y and write it vertically as an acrostic. Use each letter of the word to describe a synonym for capacity. It was fascinating how important this exercise was. It opened our eyes and sobered us. It gave us courage and fodder for the fire to re-define what we thought was actually doable, while living with margin and protecting our very souls, living in a false sense of urgency and burning out.
Why don’t you try it? Could you do this with your team or staff? Get a piece of paper or your journal and actually do what I’ve described here. Explore a similar word or synonym for each of the letters of C-A-P-A-C-I-T-Y. This will help you break it down and unpack what capacity means and looks like for you and your team. If you are over-extended, if you are running on empty, if you’re giving out more than you are taking in, then this can help you. Let this be an invitation to re-examine your pace, all that you are doing and all that you may want to re-do in light of this one exercise. It does not require a PhD to live the abundant life; it does require courage and honesty.
The apostle Paul reminds us: “Watch your life and doctrine closely.” (1 Timothy 4:16) Sadly, many church leaders major on watching their doctrine closely while their life and their lifestyle runs amuck. I like the King James version which boldly says, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine.” Take heed. When we take heed, we are looking at our capacity. When we take heed, we are conscious that our output cannot exceed our input. It’s that simple. It’s that core. It’s that important.