Adrenaline vs. Holy Spirit

Our American ministry landscape is filled with strong, competent, visionary pastors and leaders who have an unending passion to build and equip the local church and subsequently the Kingdom of God. There is no shortage of ideas, dreams, plans, strategies, and innovations. What is missing or what is being missed, in some cases, is a sustainable fuel source.

It is hard for many Type A, driver personalities to distinguish between competitive adrenaline and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Most of the leaders of “successful” ministries were once either competitive athletes or high academic achievers who were driven to succeed by sometimes overworked adrenal glands. I was doing some research on this topic for a message to pastors at our upcoming New Life Leadership Conference. Here are some of my findings:

You may be experiencing adrenal fatigue if you regularly notice one or more of the following:

  1. You feel tired for no reason.
  2. You have trouble getting up in the morning, even when you go to bed at a reasonable hour.
  3. You are feeling rundown or overwhelmed.
  4. You have difficulty bouncing back from stress or illness.
  5. You crave salty and sweet snacks.
  6. You feel more awake, alert and energetic after 6PM than you do all day.
This sounds like a lot of pastors and church leaders, doesn’t it? I wonder how many of us are running on the wrong batteries. Our bodies will simply stop working if we continue to abuse our adrenaline glands with unnecessary stress. That is a medical fact.
There is good news, though. If we will lean solely on the Holy Spirit to empower us for ministry, we can all cross the finish line with our bodies, our marriages and our families in thriving, good health.
There are some signs that point to an unhealthy dependence on adrenaline:
1. We long for the applause of the crowds and therefore we crave the attention of the stage. Can we sit in the audience and let others teach and speak without a compulsion to take over?
2. We have to be super excited about every Sunday gathering, as if it were the spiritual Super Bowl. Every. Single. Week.
3. We cannot take a day off without feeling some guilt and missing a Sunday is almost unthinkable. We really believe the church cannot survive without us being there.
Adrenaline is available in only limited quantities but the Holy Spirit is like a well that overflows and never runs dry. Let’s all take a long look at what is fueling our mission and our work. Let’s lean into the right source so we don’t run out of steam just as we head down the home stretch.
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  1. Those six symptoms of adrenal fatigue sound like they’d fit most Americans I know, but it seems like pastors take it to another level! Adrenaline addiction, maybe?

    I think leaning on the Holy Spirit is a key way to reduce stress and, therefore, the amount of adrenaline released into our bodies every day. But I also think most Americans could use some serious changes to what we eat and how we move our bodies so that our bodies don’t have to abuse our adrenal glands for energy.

  2. This is real easy to fix. We laity just need to follow those who lead out of gentle humility and genuine compassion and let the former and current adrenaline junkies pump themselves up in front of their mirrors or something. I wonder if many today–in this globalized, pluralistic world after the era of Christian cultural dominance–are looking toward a kind of spiritual leadership sincerely different from what has seemed to work in generations past. Perhaps the ax is already at the root of the tree. Times are a changing. And Hillary, you make me wonder about the roles of diet and exercise as they relate to spiritual disciplines, especially if this faith is not a gnostic one, but one significantly centered on the presence of the Incarnation in our real world.

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