What to Do When You’re Running On Empty

More days than we would like to admit, church leaders face the necessity of leading on an empty tank. The ever present needs of the body, the ongoing call to lead our families through challenging or exciting seasons, and the every day mechanics of ministry leadership compound to drain even the healthiest leader. In fact, the question is not will you ever lead from an empty tank, but HOW will you lead from an empty tank. More importantly, what should a Pastor do when that season emerges?

A pastor’s greatest leadership tool is a healthy soul. Our concentration on skill and technique and strategy has resulted in deemphasizing the interior life. The outcome is an increasing number of men and women leading our churches who are emotionally empty and spiritually dry. – Lance Witt

It is time to face the reality that no numeric or other measurable short-term success in ministry can ever offset the long-term consequences of leading from an unhealthy spirit. What do you do when your tank runs dry?


Solution: Make a pit stop to replenish and recalibrate.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Replenish, by Lance Witt

Every leader functions on two stages-the front stage or public world, and the back stage or private world. One cannot lead successfully front stage when one is completely depleted back stage. In a time when pastors are leaving the ministry in record numbers due to cynicism, disillusionment, weariness, health crises and personal scandals, there is an urgent need for soul care in the private lives of leaders.

Replenish helps leaders focus on the back stage, the interior life, in order to remain spiritually healthy. In a caring, encouraging tone, Lance Witt, former Executive Pastor at Saddleback Community Church shows pastors how to prioritize matters of the soul. Urging leaders to develop healthy spiritual practices and address problems that lead to burnout creates a healthy rhythm in their lives, improves their people skills and the spiritual climate of their team, develops better systems in their churches, and discovers how to lead an unhurried life.

For the many ministry leaders feeling alone, in over their heads, or simply worn out, this book will offer welcome relief and a healthy path forward.


In NASCAR, the race is won or lost in the pits. With a well-trained crew following the strategy of the crew chief (tasked with constantly adjusting to the realities of the race), a driver’s chances of being a winner are greatly enhanced.

Without a pit stop, though, it’s going to be a short race.

The same is true for leaders who think they can keep going and going, and going…

Instead of feeling constant pressure to be “on” all the time, leaders need to learn how to flow in a rhythm and pace themselves in between intensity and renewal. You really can’t balance the two, but you can work over a period of time to develop a rhythm where allowing for planned, intentional “pit stops” enables leaders to not only race strong, but finish well.

If you could plot the trajectory of your soul, where is it headed? Where you end up in ten or twenty years is largely determined by how well you manage what’s going on inside you now.

Leaders who stay spiritually healthy long term are those who learn the sacred rhythm of advance and retreat. There are times when we’re focused on the mission and taking the next hill for Christ’s kingdom. But you can’t stay on the front lines forever. You have to rest and regroup. In fact, the more fierce and intense the battle, the more you have to retreat.

Times of retreat have two powerful benefits:

Replenishing my soul. When I’m on retreat, something happens inside me that’s hard to explain. I have learned to slow my spirit, and I now realize the world can get along just fine without me for a little while. I am learning to “be” with my heavenly Father, and my soul is replenished in the process.

Recalibrating my perspective. As I ponder and pray, God regularly shifts my outlook by reminding me of what is really important. He regularly convicts me of getting so worked up over things that just aren’t that important. On retreat I have removed most of the white noise form my world, and I can be quiet enough to hear God’s voice.

– Lance Will, Replenish


How do you know when you need a pit stop?

People who dream big and execute well run into particular hazards that most people don’t encounter.  Will Mancini has discovered that it’s not uncommon for a true ministry visionary to be tired. He has developed five causes that block the future-minded leader from feeling 100%.

At your next team meeting, write the following “formulas” on a white board or flip chart:

  • #1 God’s Vision + Man’s agendas  = Too much work
  • #2 Personal Driven-ness + God’s Vision = Too much work
  • #3 God’s Vision – God’s Timetable = Too much work
  • #4 God’s Vision – Empowering Others = Too much work
  • #5 God’s Vision – Personal Growth = Too much work

Reflect on each formula individually and discuss together as a team the extent that each formula is sapping the healthy lifestyle, mental sanity or energy-filled style that faithfulness to God and his vision deserves.

Create action steps to help each team member rewrite the formula in their own life, producing replenished leaders and a team built to finish the race.

Closing Thoughts

Godly leadership is always inside out. God has and always will choose to smile on men and women who are healthy, holy, & humble. – Lance Witt

By making a pit stop to replenish and recalibrate, leaders will help themselves and their teams keep a “full” tank and be healthy emotionally, physically, and spiritually.


Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “summary” for church leaders. I’m going to peruse back issues of both SUMS and SUMS Remix and publish excerpts each Wednesday.

You can find out more information about SUMS Remix here. Subscribe to SUMS Remix here.


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