Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Rare Leadership – Adding Joy to the Journey

Written by: on February 20, 2024

My purpose for telling you these things is so that the joy that I experience will fill your hearts with overflowing gladness!  (John 15:11, TPT)

Rare Leadership: 4 Uncommon Habits for Increasing Trust, Joy, and Engagement in the People You Lead by Marcus Warner and Jim Wilder calls leaders to develop “fast track” thinking, which governs with joy from a relational perspective. When I read Kahnemann’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, I came away believing that slow thinking was so much more needed as I grew in leadership.[1] However, after reading Rare Leadership, I see a whole other way of using fast thinking. He notes a vast difference between leading managerially (the slow-track system) which thinks through the ways and means to execute solutions and leading relationally (the fast-track system) which engages emotion, trust, joy, and one’s identity center. Though both are needed, the fast-track system is often left wanting in leadership circles as we delve into doing the work and executing outcomes. If “the brain is a joy-seeking machine and seeks joy above every other human experience,” I wonder if we have missed the mark in our church circles? Furthermore, have we as leaders suffered personally because there is so much to manage in ministry and we possibly often miss out on the joy that John 15:11 mentions?


In her book All There: How Attentiveness Shapes Authentic Leadership, Dr. Gail Johnsen shares that every time she begins a nine-month spiritual formation journey with ministry leaders, she asks participants to describe their spiritual life in one word. The words that are expressed every time are far from positive. Here are a few: “’obligatory,’ ‘unattainable,’ ‘demanding,’ ’empty,’ ‘going through the motions…’”  These were shared by very capable leaders who loved Christ and the church. However, after years of ministry, their descriptions do not express joy, but rather fatigue and discouragement. I, too, have expressed these sentiments as ministry continues to relentlessly demand more and more.[2]


Warner and Wilder give advice for leaders who find themselves burned out and fear-driven:

  1. Imitation: Find people who have the skills you are lacking and imitate them, interact with them, and learn from them.
  2. Intimacy – Develop intentional spiritual rhythms to experience God’s presence and hear his voice. This also translates in learning to listen to others and developing greater relational connections.
  3. Identity – Be committed to an identity group with a common goal.[3] Those that will stick with you through thick and thin giving you a safe place to be authentic.

These practices help build the ability to be a leader that people want to follow. According to Warner and Wilder, the RARE leader in the context of the workplace remains relational, acts like herself, returns to joy, and endures hardship well.[4] She “prioritizes group identity,” “promotes belonging,” “practices authentic appreciation” and “protects the weak.”[5]


As I continue to delve into my NPO addressing mid to late-career ministers and their need for relational frameworks, I find that as ambiguous and challenging as midlife can be, it is a time to apply Warner and Wilder’s principles with greater tenacity. Chip Conley calls it the “midlife edit” where what hasn’t served us well must be stripped away to allow for greater transformation for the most effective years to come. Relational networks become more strategic and intentional in this season.


Over eighty years ago a study called the Harvard Study of Adult Development began tracking the lives of 724 men, year after year, through all the stages of their life. Half of the men were Harvard students, while the other half were from the poorest area in Boston. The study continues even today. After tracking these men for 75-plus years, they found that it was not money or fame that promoted health and happiness, but instead, good relationships. Good relationships affected longevity, protected the brain, and aided well-being. Even as the men retired from the workforce, those who traded teammates for new playmates showed greater signs of health and vitality.[6] These findings play into the case for RARE leadership to be applied and taught with greater fervor in our leadership arenas. What would it look like if leaders would lead with greater joy, relational fortitude, and emotional maturity, even in difficult circumstances? It sure would make leading and following much more fun and enjoyable.



[1] Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow, 1st edition (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013).

[2] Gail Johnsen, All There: How Attentiveness Shapes Authentic Leadership (Gail Johnsen, 2020).

[3] Marcus Warner and Jim Wilder, Rare Leadership: 4 Uncommon Habits for Increasing Trust, Joy, and Engagement in the People You Lead (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016). Chapter 6.

[4] Marcus Warner and Jim Wilder.

[5] Marcus Warner and Jim Wilder, Rare Leadership in the Workplace: 4 Uncommon Habits That Improve Focus, Engagement, and Productivity (Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing, n.d.).

[6] The Good Life | Robert Waldinger | TEDxBeaconStreet, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-7zAkwAOYg.

About the Author

Esther Edwards

Esther has served in ministry leadership for over 35 years. She is an ordained minister, an ICF and CCLC certified coach, and licensed coach trainer. Her and her husband have launched their own coaching practice, Enjoy the Journey Leadership Coaching and seek to train ministry leaders in the powerful skill of coaching. Esther loves hiking, reading, and experiencing new coffee shops with friends and family. She enjoys the journey with her husband, Keith, their four daughters, sons-in-law, and their four, soon to be five, beautiful grandchildren.

13 responses to “Rare Leadership – Adding Joy to the Journey”

  1. mm Russell Chun says:

    Hi Esther,
    I have come against the issue of Managers versus Leaders in my development of a GoodSports Ukraine. The Managers of our programs in Hungary and Slovakia excel at SLOW thinking. A war zone requires faster thinking.

    Not running into a war zone, but seeking those Christians who are already working there, expanding the kingdom, and supporting their efforts.

    Unfortunately, I have not done a great job in team building with these American “managers” and may have burned some relational bridges. Sigh. Sometimes, one can go to FAST leaving the needed team behind. I have learned from this lesson and have been intentional in keeping the managers informed, while letting leaders (on the ground in Ukraine) loose to explore what God needs us to do in Ukraine.


    • Esther Edwards says:

      You bring so much to the table in how you see a wicked problem and launch headlong into meeting the need. Perhaps your fervor is what is needed. It seems that your humility shows as you ask forgiveness and continue to move on in rebuilding bridges. The ultimate saboteur is the judge who keeps bringing up our past failings and negates our current successes. Keep pressing on. Your NPO will make such a difference for the Kingdom.

  2. Jennifer Vernam says:

    Esther- Thanks for calling out these three helpful practices for leaders: Imitation, Intimacy and Identity. They seem like stabilizing forces in the midst of the uncertainty that we all experience from time to time. In fact, I think I can apply this idea right now! Like you, I am finding relational components are going to be key in working towards improvement in my area of research.

    • Esther Edwards says:

      Relational components do bring leadership to a whole new level. As I watch your NPO unfold, I can’t help but see how it seems like God is converging all your past training, experiences, and expertise for a whole new platform that will help churches brave hard conversations. I’m looking forward to buying your book!

  3. mm Kim Sanford says:

    Esther, I’m so glad you focused on joy in your post! Recently my husband has been talking a lot about delight in leadership and in life, so I’ve been thinking a lot about it too. Truly, when we lose the joy/delight factor, we can get stuck in an endless cycle of obligation and going through the motions, even when we genuinely love Christ, as you said. How would you coach someone, a leader suffering from midlife challenges perhaps, to identify what brings them true joy, especially if they feel stuck and empty? What would the first step be?

    • Esther Edwards says:

      Such a good question. I like to begin by having the client gain greater awareness of his or her strengths and giftings. Having them celebrate who they are is a great foundation. Often their role is what defines them. I usually use an assessment of some sort to coach them around and then move to their passions and values. In midlife and beyond, people are stuck because what has seemed to fit before no longer fits. Their passions begin to shift. There is a loss in the mix as to what was and no longer is. So a new beginning often begins with acknowledging the old endings. Processing in this season is crucial. Though it can be a confusing time, it eventually can give way to greater clarity, wisdom and greater Kingdom contribution.

  4. Jenny Dooley says:

    Hi Esther,
    I appreciate that you highlighted the tasks of RARE leaders in the workplace, “…prioritizes group identity,” “promotes belonging,” “practices authentic appreciation” and “protects the weak.” For me, taking these tasks as foundational to the workplace creates joy and establishes safety, which is vital for maintaining positive workplace relationships. In your opinion, how do ministry leaders in mid-life who are struggling with burnout establish or re-establish relational networks?

    • Esther Edwards says:

      Hi, Jenny,
      I hope I understand your question correctly. I am specifically using coaching as a relational processing tool, but it would be important for the ministry leader to gain awareness as to what relational networks are currently available to him/her and whether he/her would access them. Also, if their are broken networks, how could they be mended. Then it might be good to coach around what has not been thought of yet. What other relational networks might there be? What would the ideal relational network feel like?

      • Jenny Dooley says:

        Very insightful answer! Thank you. I like how you are wording the questions so that the leader can take ownership and establish change for themselves.

  5. mm John Fehlen says:

    Wow, we really are tackling very similar topics with our NPO’s!

    You said (among so many really good things)…”Furthermore, have we as leaders suffered personally because there is so much to manage in ministry and we possibly often miss out on the joy that John 15:11 mentions?”

    Pam asked me if I could recreate my pastoral role in such a way that joy is experienced more and more. I agreed that it could, and that I have tried many times, and failed often, or more accurately, allowed it to creep back to what it was. You nailed it: “manage the ministry.”

    I remember Eugene Peterson telling the story of an encounter he had with a deacon of his church. Eugene was bemoaning all the managing he had to do. The deacon said, “Pastor, let us manage the damn church!”

    Now, that’s aspirational for sure. But the point has merit, doesn’t it?!?

    • Esther Edwards says:

      Thanks for your response, John. Ha! Ha! I had thought about including a quote from Peterson’s “The Pastor.” I just read that book not too long ago and loved it because Peterson seems to understand how easy it is for pastors to miss what is most important. The way he wrote seemed so nostalgic for an era that doesn’t seem to exist anymore though I know he had his trials too. I believe his church was never very large, but he certainly loved the people he was given.

  6. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    I like that term “mid life edit”. It reminds me a little of Richard Rohr’s falling upward! I’m facinated by your NPO, as I am solidly in the early years of midlife? What are the ages of midlife? I feel like this doctorate is part of an editing process for me. Anyway, capturing or recapturing Joy is crucial. Thanks for your blog!

    • Esther Edwards says:

      I know I answered your question in class, but wanted to thank you for the response. One of the quotes I love about midlife that is now used by Chip Conley is “What if we saw midlife as a chrysalis and not a crisis.” It can be unpleasant and messy in the middle but can also bring great transformation, confidence, and convergence of all of life’s experiences in the process.

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