Middle School

Kurt Johnston leads the student ministries team at Saddleback Church in Southern California. His ministry of choice, however, is junior high, where he spends approximately 83.4% of his time.

I’ve noodled on this quite a bit, and feel like there’s much more to it than a blog post, but I will toss this out there in a less-than-thought-out form.

On one hand, I believe that every leader has a “terminal velocity” to their leadership capacity and abilities. In other words, we each have a speed, pace of life, maximum capacity, maximum level of influence etc. that we reach and we simply can’t go any faster, do more stuff etc. Like a bowling ball falling from the sky, at some point we max out. Your “terminal velocity” may be different than mine, but we all have it….at least I tend to think that’s the case.

But, on the other hand, when the power of Christ is moving in us we are capable of far more than our natural skills would ever allow. Think about Peter…certainly in the flesh, his terminal velocity was limited. He was an un-educated fisherman. Then Christ entered his life.

But we all know of Godly leaders who seem to “max out”. Don’t confuse “max out” with “burn out”. I’m talking about Godly men and women who are spiritually and emotionally fresh, with tons of vision and ideas etc. that simply reach a limit to what they can accomplish….their leadership and ministry terminal velocity can’t do more.

But, I can do ALL things through Christ, right?

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  • Chris S. says:

    That’s right, it certainly is a conundrum!

  • Adam says:

    i think we do come to terminal velocity, but i think God is continually changing our paces. I think there are times when God may have our steps slow very very slowly and other times where we find ourselves “doing” more than we ever thought possible.

    If one looks at Jesus’ life, we see times of increadible “victory” and an amazing “pace” of ministry. But then we see times of incredible unproductivity and moments that many today would deam as “missed opportunities” (i’m reminded of Jesus’ silence before the courts just before his death).

    so yes, there is probably a maximum pace we can opporate at, but there is also probably times when we’re not to be uber-productive….

    (ps. kurt i’ve silently stood in the distance and admired your blog. thanks for sharing. i promise to be more involved as time goes on)

  • getvision says:

    I agree with the velocity, but here’s my question: What is the ratio of burnout vs. it not really being your thing, or what you really feel God moving you to do in your life? Is there something to be said for that being a sign for you to get out?

  • joeldaniel says:

    part of the problem, i think, is that we (myself included) tend to associate “power” with “more.” therefore, if we’re really open to the Spirit, we’ll be able to do more/accomplish more/be more. but what if God’s patterns are wholly different. i mean, he is the one who created Sabbath, when he didn’t need rest, did he? maybe we have the wrong concept of what “more” would be…maybe it’d be less?

  • Aaron says:

    i have experienced this first hand. I was 20 years old, incredibly introverted, and scared to death of public speaking. 4 years later and God has used me in ways that I would have laughed about prior to the start.

    However, I truly feel I have come to the max. I feel like things have become stale and my run is over.

    Your post has reminded me of what God has done in my life, while at the same time questioning whether I should really be done or not.

  • Kurt Johnston says:

    I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying (my fault, not yours)but certainly burn out COULD be a sign that one needs a break from ministry. I also believe strongly that God changes his call on people’s lives and any of us could, at any time, feel like God is moving us on regardless of our “velocity”.

    Aaron, I will pray for you today. It sounds like you have some fairly large decisions in front of you.

  • GOCGO Youth says:

    Everything has a natural, terminal limit. The key is what does it take to unlock it? Would a TV show like the bachelor work if no one could watch it remotely? Think about what getting car meant to us as teens. We were enabled (for better and for worse).

    Christ utilizes us for His purposes and we in turn need the help of others, tools (the Internet for example) and grace.

    Are there hard stops? I would guess that yes there are and discerning that is something that has to be prayerfully considered. The “hand” can’t spite the “foot” and try to do things not in its nature.

  • Jonathan says:

    John Maxwell talked a little bit about this when wrote about the “law of the lid.” Everyone will max out at some point, but that’s when its most important to lead through others. When you involve others you can allow them to make up for your weaknesses. When you combine all that with God’s anointing – watch out! Ordinary people can do amazing things through the power of an extraordinary God.

  • Ken says:

    Couple of thoughts here…

    1. Not sure I’m comfortable with the idea of Jesus as a “super booster.” And maybe that’s not what you are saying. I kind of think about it more like a matrix kind of thing that with Jesus, he opens your eyes to what really exists and then you are able to navigate in a whole new way.

    probably just semantics.

    2. Whose to say that Peter was at his Terminal Velocity as a fisherman? We are both making assumptions about Peter and I know you were just throwing it out there.

    3. I think context has a big role in that. Sometimes a leader reaches terminal velocity in a certain situation becuase of the barriers preventing him from reaching the max. (think of a bowling ball tied to 10 helium balloons).

    What if the bowling ball doesn’t even realize that it is being tethered to something that is holding it back?

    What if it likes the balloons?

    What if it’s not ready to let go of the balloons?

    What if it’s afraid of life wihtout the balloons?

    What if it can’t get rid of the balloons?

    How sad that many leaders go throughout life never knowing the speeds they could have reached because..
    ~they weren’t brave enough to cut the ties
    ~they became enamored by the ties
    ~they were never given the opportunity to try something new
    ~they became disenfranchised and quit the church, or worse, became senior pastors! ;^)

  • Kurt Johnston says:

    Wow, some really great thoughts, here.
    Ken, thanks for the wise insight. We are on the same page. I agree that Jesus isn’t a “Super Booster”, but I have to acknowledge the power his presence (and that of the holy spirit) plays in the life of the believer. Of course growing up in a pentecostal youth ministry I had that drilled into my skull every single wednesday night at youth group.

  • Ken says:

    I figured bro.

  • David Malouf -- says:

    I’m a little late to the game, but I felt compelled to throw some more into the mix…

    I’m thinking there is something askew in the use of the ‘accomplish’ terminology. Seems to be giving too much weight to the human aspect.

    In one sense, my current ‘job’ is to help people figure out how to get to their terminal velocity. But I’m finding that this model of thinking leaves God out of more than He should be left out of. Take a “one plants, one waters, but God causes the growth” idea and two things become differentiated: 1) my ability/capacity/activity is secondary and (2) ‘level of influence’ (as a sample of the overall idea being presented) is not up to my skills, velocity, etc. The ‘influence’ that is to be desired is the Spirit’s influence.

    It’s not outside of God’s history to use people way beyond their terminal velocity because the human’s velocity isn’t very relevant. Or, God ‘under’-using someone.

    Again, I write this perhaps more from my experience than my study of Scripture… seeking God’s direction, results, etc. puts my speed, expected sphere of influence, impact ‘on the bench’ (and it may not get called up at all).

    One of the things I think (?) I have seen in you over the years, Kirk, is your humility. I’m suggesting taking ‘all things through Christ’ (a good humility, to be sure) and combining it with seeking God’s effects, as God wills, in His timing.

    I’m pretty sure I’m not writing something you haven’t thought, wrote, said, whatever. I think I’m more reminding you that a human-first perspective can lead to some unnecessary (theological) tension (cf. blog title).

    Case in point, the people God changes by means of you – yet you don’t know about it. Is that frictionless leadership velocity 😉

    David Malouf

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