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

When the lights go out, what do you feel?

Written by: on October 14, 2021

Simon Walker, the author of The Undefended Leader, challenges the readers to look up to the summit of the mountain where few extraordinary ‘undefended leaders’ can be found. He presents the idea of reaching our true potential to be an undefended leader – “These are the ones whose life and philosophy have involved deliberate acts of weakness and courageous self-sacrifices…who are associated with the greatest revolutions.”[1] He opens his discussions of undefended leadership by using an illustration of stage performing presentation. He explained that every leader goes back and forth between the pressures of performing front stage and dealing with the private life backstage. Then, the three-part book takes the readers to examine how leaders defend themselves, locating the roots of the defended self of leadership, and discusses perspectives in building a more vital undefended leadership.

Being on the spot to lead the followers involves a lot of pressure and stress because it involves navigating through unknown futures and resolving the most difficult challenges within the organization. In the past five years, I was heartbroken every time I heard about renowned pastors’ many moral and character failures. They were all significant and extraordinary leaders who have shaped and influenced evangelical Christian communities in our generation. This kind of failure and downfall demonstrates the truth that who you are inside will eventually be revealed over the years. Leading on the front stage requires a lot of energy and relational complexities that drain a leader’s life energy. Usually, backstage, if a leader is not careful and mindful, the habits, recharging, and refueling mechanisms may not bring an authentic, sanctifying, and holistic renewal to bring the fullness of the Holy Spirit in a leader. I experienced this kind of unhealthy rhythm of life in the first stage of my ministry phase. After graduating from college, I walked into a very high pace and fast ministry setting with college students. And after seven years of pacing back and forth between front and backstage, I was completely burned out. I didn’t know how to recharge and renew and after seven years of ministry, it left my mindset and my heart in a dark and depressing place where I was disconnecting from God and people and didn’t want to involve God in the future plans in my life. And in that first phase of ministry, so many life layers were added into my life – marriage and children and loss of clear vision for tomorrow. I decided to leave the ministry and take an academic sabbatical. And I thought to myself, if things don’t get better, I will walk away from full-time calling into ministry. I felt that I had served enough~

But by the grace of God, I was restored through the formative and restoring years in seminary. There were two significant lessons that God taught me during those restoring times. I had to learn to grow up and mature by introspecting my past and wrestle with resolving roots to internal issues. Also, another lesson was learning to distinguish between the expectations of a general audience and one audience. I discovered that I have to be discerning and wise about being driven by people’s expectations in ministry. It’s easier to try to live like a superman, where you try to go and fix the felt need as fast as you can. People will be happy and cheer you on, but in the long run, the expectations and influences from others can impact you in a very negative and exhaustive way. I had to learn to sit down, think things through, tackle things a lot slower, and ultimately ask myself, is this glorifying my one true audience – my Lord Jesus Christ. Walker described this kind of a refined leader as a “person who is secure against the loss of all things can be truly undefended, truly free.”[2] The very essence of success before one audience of God is to practice brokenness before God and always asking for guidance and wisdom. The temptation to project leadership who never fails will ultimately set up the failure we try to avoid in our lives. The power of the truly undefended and free leadership is drawn from experiencing the Messiah who exhibited as the wounded healer. “They are called to the wounded healer, the ones who must not only look after their wounds, but at the same time be prepared to heal the wounds of others.”[3]

[1] Simon P. Walker, Leading Out of Who You Are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership. (UK: Piquant Editions, 2013), 4.


[2] Walker, Leading Out of Who You Are, 103.

[3] Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society. 1st edition. (New York, NY: Image, 1979), 88.


About the Author


Jonathan Lee

President of Streamside Ministry Lead Pastor of EM @ San Jose Korean Presbyterian Church in Sunnyvale, CA

8 responses to “When the lights go out, what do you feel?”

  1. mm Troy Rappold says:

    I resonate with your thoughts on Walker’s discussion of the front stage and the back stage. For the leader, front stage can be exhaustive and if the leader isn’t careful it can be draining. The back stage can be a time of rest and refueling. It is an apt metaphor and I find it relatable. Your description of the struggles you went through were helpful.

  2. mm Andy Hale says:

    Thank you for transparently sharing your journey. Dealing with our stuff is so complex, which is why most avoid it.

    What were some of the helpful practices that helped you reflect and process your inner stuff?

  3. mm Henry Gwani says:

    Wow!! Jonathan your journey of changed perspectives after burn-out, focusing on an audience of One, and restoration resonates so deeply with me. I assume this is an important path to brokenness and deep reliance on God as we seek to lead ourselves and others in these very disruptive times

  4. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Jonathan, I am so glad you are still engaged in ministry after the struggles you faced. Thank you for your transparency in detailing a “dark” time for you. I don’t believe I ever came as close as you did to exiting ministry, but I sure did think about it, and I fantasized about other career directions. Like you, Henri Nouwen helped me to understand my inner world and combat some of my own brokenness. I share you heartbreak over the fall of leaders. Each time it happens, it feels like the bride of Christ gets another black eye. May we do what we can to show Jesus in all the best ways in these challenging days.

  5. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Jonathan, I can appreciate the struggle with the expectations of others while engaging in the ministry. Although, I had always participated in lay leadership and I had always seen my secular job as a ministry, I really struggled with those haunting expectations when I plant a church. Similar to you I felt I lost sight of myself as I “attempted” to fulfill what I perceived to be the expectation of what church is. It essentially squashed my identity to fit the mold.
    You are so right that it is in the embrace of meeting the expectations of the audience of The One that we can begin to walk in true freedom.
    May we all remain firmly grounded as we sit at the feet of the only One who is worthy of our full attention and embrace of His expectations.

  6. mm Eric Basye says:

    Great thoughts Jonathan. I also appreciated his distinction of the front stage vs the back stage. I too am saddened by the fall of many leaders. However, they also serve as humble reminder and warning for me. What measures can I put in place to ensure this does not happen to me? What measures can WE put in place to ensure this doesn’t happen to us, or other leaders we are investing in?

  7. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Jonathan, First let me say your title of this blog is a great reflection question! And I fully appreciate that it a perfect metaphor for the stage and the connection you made to the book!
    And WOW I appreciate your vulnerability by sharing your journey and reflecting on your awareness of the movement between the front and back stage of leadership. That awareness is GOLD!!!
    Your reference to Henry Nouwen’s book is profound. You clearly understand wounds…I wonder how you utilize your wounds intentionally as you minster to others? What part of the stage would Walker say that aspect of ministry plays on?

  8. Elmarie Parker says:

    Dear Jonathan, thank you so very much for your thoughtful and vulnerable reflection on Walker’s book and its intersections with your own journey. I found myself filled with gratitude for the bountiful table set before you as you stepped back from the exhaustion of those first years of ministry and added life responsibilities and sank into the gifts of your time in seminary. What a grace that your time in seminary offered you both invitation and space to become renewed in your life with Christ, your audience of One, and to discover tools to heal and recover from life’s earlier wounds. Nouwen’s book has also been instrumental in my own journey of restoration, healing, and renewed sense of call to serve Christ’s church. Regarding Walker’s book, did any of the ego shapes resonate more deeply with you? And if so, what additional insights does that bring to your current journey of moving between front- and back-stage dimensions of your leadership work?

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