Missionaries often find themselves navigating a world that demands urgency and intensity. Like ER doctors, they’re expected to provide care and guidance, even during times of chaos and uncertainty. In a recent interview with well-known leadership expert Carey Nieuwhof on the Modern Day Missionaries podcast, he shared his journey from burnout to a healthier, more purposeful approach. From that interview, here are eight key insights Carey shared for Christian missionaries to live their best lives in any time, place, or season.
1. Recognize Your Limitations
We can live with this illusion that if we just push harder and work longer hours, we can get it all done. Not only is that a lie, it’s not a scalable solution. It might work temporarily, but if you’ve tried it, you know it leads to burnout. Burnout is the result of trying to meet increasing demands by sacrificing personal well-being. The first step toward sustainable growth is recognizing that you are a human living in a very human body that has limits, and more hours and work are not the answer .
2. Give Your Full Focus
Doesn’t it feel wonderful when you know you have someone’s full attention? Great leaders are fully present when interacting with others. They prioritize relationships over distractions like phones and emails. Being early for meetings and respecting allotted time is another way you can show others you value them and their time.
3. Tell the Truth About Your Time
We’ve got to be honest with ourselves and stop making excuses about not having time. Instead, evaluate how you spend your time. If something isn’t a priority, just admit it rather than pretend you don’t have the time. We all have the same amount of hours in a day, and only we can decide how we will use those. What is most important to you? How you spend your time will tell you. You don’t ‘need more time; you need to spend your time more strategically.
4. Observe Your Role Models
Reflect on the lives of people you admire. They also had 24 hours in a day, yet they achieved remarkable things. Learn from their choices and strategies for managing time effectively. If you stop to think about it, even Jesus had the same amount of hours in his day as we do. God didn’t give him more hours, just a clear calling––and he’s done the same for us. Quality leadership doesn’t require endless hours; it requires focused and strategic use of your time. How are people you respect managing their time most effectively? If you know them, ask them. If you don’t know them, study them and learn from what they do.
5. Prioritize Your Unique Gifts
Identify what you’re genuinely good at and passionate about. Focus on those areas and delegate tasks that don’t align with your strengths. This empowers others to contribute and multiplies your impact. This doesn’t mean you never do anything you don’t enjoy doing, but it does mean you are minimizing work that drains you and pouring yourself into what you are best and uniquely wired by God to do. If you don’t have someone to delegate tasks to, make it a priority to find those people, develop them, and sow into them with care and attention.
6. Establish Boundaries
Understand that someone else’s emergency doesn’t automatically make it your emergency. Set specific slots in your calendar to address crises, ensuring you can give focused attention rather than immediate responses. Even a surgeon has to put down her scalpel at a certain point or she will go from healing someone to hurting them. Emergencies will never stop coming, and it can feel overwhelming. Like Jesus, be led by the Holy Spirit so you know when God is leading you to meet an urgent need. In other moments, teach people how to treat you and to not be dependent on you in an unhealthy way by setting boundaries.
7. Remember Who the Real Savior Is
Find security in God’s love and approval. Recognize that saying no and establishing boundaries don’t diminish your value; it’s a sign of wisdom and stewardship. Sometimes, let’s be honest, we need to be needed. In those moments, it becomes more about us than who we are serving. When that happens, we can become addicted to the pleasure of rescuing others or being the person who saved them. Let’s never forget who our true Savior is, and let’s never let others forget either, by not trying to take Christ’s place in their lives. Our value must come from our identity as God’s beloved child. When we can rest in that love, we can serve people from a place of peace, not dependent on their response to us and what we do for them. Embrace the reality that sometimes, stepping back is the best way to empower others.
8. Make Kingdom Culture Your Goal
God has called us to his kingdom culture above all others––above our own culture and the new cultures he calls us to live and work in. When you enter a new cultural context, first seek to learn before making commentary or suggesting any changes. With that learner mindset and determination to value differences, look for what you can seek that is beautiful or unique in the culture. From there, once relationships have been established and those around you see how you value them and their culture, you can suggest healthier approaches to things that directly oppose God’s kingdom culture, when the time and situation is right. Remember that your preference does not mean something is better. What can you learn from the new culture that can reveal more of God’s heart to you?
It may seem impossible, but by implementing these strategies, missionaries can learn to live their best lives, serving effectively without compromising their own well-being. It’s a call to redefine leadership, prioritize relationships, and embrace restorative practices. By valuing their own time, focusing on their unique strengths, and empowering others, leaders can navigate the chaos with purpose and impact.
When missionaries and ministry leaders operate from a place of authenticity, integrity, and love, their impact can be transformative. It’s not about doing everything—it’s about doing what truly matters, both for themselves and the people they serve. With these principles in place, leaders can navigate the challenges of their roles while thriving and making a lasting impact on the communities they serve.