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Soul Care for the Leader

by Mike Smith • January 24, 2020

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The book More Lessons from the Nonprofit Boardroom, authored by Dan Busby and John Pearson, contains 40 brief chapters that each address a specific need or problem that boards encounter.

Dan is president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), and John has served 30 years on boards. ECFA was founded in 1979. At that time, prompted by irregularities that had occurred in some visible ministries, Congress was looking into holding hearings on religious organizations’ integrity in how they handled donations. A group of evangelical leaders convinced Congress to let the organizations police themselves. (Membership is not mandatory for any organization, but it’s a good idea for groups that can afford the fees.)

Chapter 4 of More Lessons from the Nonprofit Boardroom addresses a subject that can be easily neglected, but is critical for the success of any nonprofit organization: the souls of the CEO and board members. (Even if your group is small or doesn’t have a board, this advice applies to you, too! So keep reading.)

By “the soul,” we are referring to the inner being of a person, sometimes called the heart. It’s really the core of a person—so it’s important that it receive care and attention. If we don’t attend to our souls, catastrophe can result.

How much of our board activity is devoted to discussions and action items about our souls? Many boards have never discussed the subject of soul care.

Most board members of religious organizations agree to a statement of faith, and some boards may have a statement of actions expected of board members (such as minimum giving amounts and number of board meetings attended). But the subject of the soul is not normally addressed until crisis occurs—a staff member complains of a leader’s verbal, emotional, or physical abuse, outbursts of anger, or any other behavior that indicates an abnormal desire for power and control.

Nourish, don’t neglect

Although we may have good intentions about nourishing our souls, the biggest deterrent to doing this is the tyranny of the urgent. Everything else is screaming out for our time and attention, while the soul can always wait for tomorrow. Neglect of the soul is not intentional. Little by little, the cares of the world and the temptations of life take over without us realizing it. When a catastrophic event occurs, we discover that something is wrong with our mind, will, and emotions—our soul.

Dan and John recommend these activities to counteract our natural bent for not regularly nourishing our souls:

  • Make provision each week for rest.
  • Put our family over work. If possible, try to spend more time with our family than we do working!
  • Take all allotted vacation time each year.
  • Cultivate healthy friendships, both inside and outside our organization.
  • Spend regular time in the Word, prayer, and meditation (Psalms 1–2).
  • Take time for spiritual retreats and time alone with our spouse.
  • Disclose spiritual struggles to our spouse, and form a close accountability group.

Leaders who serve on boards should not only apply this list to themselves, but also encourage their fellow board members and CEO to follow it.

The potential consequence of failure in caring for our souls is devastation to our organizations if we as leaders fall. (We have all seen how the media loves to publicize the failures of ministry leaders!) One failure could be too much to overcome—especially for organizations that depend on donations for their support.

This warning and advice are appropriate for groups of all sizes, from major organizations with multiple layers of leadership to much smaller groups. Let’s consistently nourish our own souls and invite our fellow leaders to do the same. As the effects ripple outward, we will see our groups become healthier, too.