Be With God, Don’t Just Do For God
One of the greatest temptations in ministry is to get so caught up doing ministry that you neglect to spend time in God’s presence. The expectations of other people, the demands of a weekly lesson or sermon, and the perpetual need to care for administrative details can easily push personal time with God to the back burner. In the book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazzero writes, “…work for God that is not nourished by a deep interior life with God will eventually be contaminated by other things such as ego, power, needing approval of and from others, and buying into the wrong ideas of success and the mistaken belief that we can’t fail.” Your ministry needs to flow out of the overflow of your time spent with God.
Personally, I am not legalistic about what this looks like. Reading Scripture and spending time in prayer are extremely important ways that we can connect with God, but they are not the only ways. Sometimes I go for a walk and talk with God casually. Sometimes I listen to worship music. Sometimes I journal, listen to a sermon podcast, or go for a run. Do things that renew your soul. Take a monthly D.A.W.G. days (Day Away With God). Take a yearly personal retreat. Whatever you do, be intentional about pursuing God’s presence in your life or else you will run dry and burn out, or worse fail out morally.
Love Your Bride
John Wesley was one of the most influential leaders of his day inspiring the growth of Methodism and the revival in England during the mid-18th century. For all the good that he contributed to the kingdom, John Wesley is not necessarily someone I would look up to for marriage advice. Part of why his marriage failed is because he was often traveling preaching and spending time discipling other women. While his relationship with these other women were not immoral, his investment in their lives stirred up jealousy with his wife. His wife seemed to have her own problems, but she in part felt justifiably neglected.
So often today pastors give themselves over to the ministry thinking it is noble and Christ-like. One of the best pieces of advice anyone ever gave me was this: “Love your bride and let Christ love His.” If you are married, you are called to love your wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25). Do not disobey this admonition. You would never encourage a congregant to neglect loving his wife or family by spending an inordinate amount of time at work. Why would you do it then?
Additionally, the family is one of the most fragmented components of our society. If we are ever to truly be countercultural—if we are ever to neglect the pattern of this world—then we need to start going against the grain with how we prioritize our families. We need to model what it looks like to love our spouses well and to disciple our children. Period. There is absolutely no room for exceptions in this area. Jesus called us to love people not to love productivity. The love of productivity is an American, protestant work ethic value, not a Kingdom value. Don’t sacrifice your family on the altar of ministry. If you can’t love your wife well and disciple your children, then are you not a hypocrite? If my family, those who know me best, cannot affirm my faithfulness on the home front then I don’t care how great or godly other people think I am. I will love my bride (and my son) and allow Christ to love his.
Determine Your Rhythm
Life has rhythms built into it: seasons, days, tides, years. We are wired to operate within a rhythm of work and rest. The Sabbath regulations in the Old Testament as well as the Sabbatical Year and the Year of Jubilee reveal a rhythm of work and rest. Some people are so addicted to productivity (probably because they have a misplaced sense of identity) that they neglect rest and healthy rhythms. Rest is a discipline that reminds us that the world does not revolve around us and is not sustained by our productivity. If you can’t take a Sabbath then you have either said “yes” to too many things or you have a Messiah complex. This rhythm of work and rest needs to be honored. If not, stress and exhaustion can begin to manifest physiologically. Your health may suffer.
My plan for honoring my rhythm involves pursuing health in these four areas: Sleep, Hobbies, Exercise, and Diet. I build my S.H.E.D. (I learned this from my professor and mentor Dr. Lenny Luchetti). I must confess that diet is the one that is lacking the most attention right now. However, I have talked with my wife and my lead pastor about my schedule and have determined a rhythm that allows me to get a healthy amount of rest, exercise, and enjoy some hobbies. My key advice: take at least one day off per week as a Sabbath day. This is not a day to get things done around the house. This is a day devoted to non-productivity. Remember, God instituted the Sabbath in the wilderness where resources were sparse. Why? Because the people of God were supposed to remember two things: 1.) They were God’s children not slaves like they were in Egypt and 2.) He was their provider. Take Sabbath pastor.
I oversee our care ministry at our church. Our strategy for care is to equip the saints for ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). Part of community life involves bearing with one another and caring for one another (Galatians 6:2). We love hearing stories of Life Group members visiting people in the hospital or showing up to help a family move or helping one another out when a car breaks down. The pastor is not the only one called and qualified to demonstrate care. There has been a lot written about how the pastor doing all the care stunts a church’s growth and inhibits discipleship.
That said, as a pastor, I still do some of the pastoral care directly. I often visit people in assisted living or in the nursing home who are suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s. I often walk into a hospital room to be with someone who is suffering from severe physical pain. I often pray with families who are unsure if their loved one will make it off the operating table.
If I were honest, I have never walked into one of those situations feeling fully adequate to offer hope. Almost every time I am confronted with the reality that I am a human being unable to control, manipulate or fix the situation these people are facing. I often carry with me the perception that these people I am seeking to care for expect me to have some special prayer line to God that will magically invoke a miracle. I feel the sense that they want me to fix it. This is not true. This is a false perception. My presence and my joining with them in prayer is enough to reflect God’s love to them.
There have been several times when families have told me that it meant so much that I was there. Just there. I have had people who were undergoing a procedure tell me they remembered me being there in the hospital room even though they were drugged up enough that they remembered little else. Presence matters. Don’t fall prey to the perception that people expect you to be the Messiah. Being present at the right time will go a long way in building relational credibility with your people. Being present all the time will go a long way in creating a false expectation that can lead to disappointment on their part and burnout on yours.
Own Your Own Development
I was listening to a leadership podcast the other day by Craig Groeschel during which he made this point: we are responsible to some extent for our own development. Sure, leaders should take the initiative to mentor others, but no one is void of the personal responsibility to develop themselves. Groeschel pointed out the reality that information is more available to us than ever. There are books, conferences, podcasts, blogs, and a host of other opportunities to pursue personal development. My number one piece of advice to any upcoming pastoral leader: read often and read widely. Read other books by pastors. Sometimes I have found that God seems to be stirring some of the same insights in a number of his leaders. Read theological works. In my opinion, our theological depth will determine whether we can connect God’s Word to the questions people are actually asking. Read leadership books, read other disciples, and read fiction. Leaders are readers. Secondly, I would encourage you to listen to leadership podcasts and other preachers. Learn from others, and never stop being a learner.
Odds and Ends
I used to think I could keep everything straight by storing it in my memory and writing a bunch of sticky notes. That is one way to do things, but probably not the best way. Find a system for scheduling your weeks and days. This is not just about keeping an appointment. Find a system that helps you honor your rhythms and intentionally layout your day. For those more tech savvy than I am, I am sure there is a great app for this. For me, I use an excel spreadsheet for my weekly planning. I also put meetings in my phone and I have a hard-copy planner. Find your own system for calendaring, but develop a system.
I would also encourage any newer leaders to find a rhythm for long-range planning. When I was leading the youth ministry I had a yearly idea of our calendar. When it came to solidifying details I found a quarterly rhythm was helpful. I sent out a quarterly Newsletter with a 3-month calendar (the quarterly newsletter and calendar were staggered—January I would send the newsletter with the spring events during March, April, and May). I used the newsletter deadline as an indicator that I needed to think about the details of the events included in the 3 month calendar.
Recently I have been developing a system for cataloguing sermon illustration, book quotes, and biblical study resources. Again, I am sure there is an app that makes this easier, but I am using OneNote right now. I have a section for the Old Testament and the New Testament. If I teach a sermon from Matthew, I will save any background study notes on the book of Matthew in the New Testament section. I have a section for book quotes and a section for illustrations. This works for me. Whatever you do, it is wise to start logging resources you may use for sermon preparation in the future. I wish I would have done this sooner.