You can’t give to others what you don’t have yourself. That’s true in lots of areas but it’s definitely true in terms of our ministry health. In fact I’d go further, I don’t think we can give to others unless we are enjoying Christ ourselves.
I know many of us feel guilty about our spiritual lives. We always feel we could pray more, read the Bible more, take more time to think about what God is teaching us and applying it. I think that guilt is magnified for those who are in ministry, after all we’re set aside to minister – to pray, prepare and preach.
And yet amidst all the busyness and pressures what are the first things to go? What are the things we sacrifice in order to master the new technology or do alongside the upload without ever fully concentrating because the upload bar seems to be stuck again!!! It’s so often the very things that give us spiritual health, vitality and joy.
Just as we’re quick to cut exercise we’re quick to cut devotional time. So how do we maintain this?
Remember who we are. How do you answer the question; who am I? Too often we answer it with our role, our job title. Maybe you’re a step ahead of me and have answered with a child of God, whilst thinking Minister. When our job title becomes our identity we have a problem. So how do you answer that question? Because how you answer it will determine how you feel, how you work, how you study. It will also impact how we pastor our churches.
Review. I remember a couple of years ago being offered a performance management review by one of our elders, needless to say “Keen” was not my first response. However, I do think we need to programme in times of spiritual health review. Where we ask the big questions? You may do this on your own or with others, but it can be helpful in spotting signs of potential spiritual burnout early on, or just in getting to know yourself, and helping others support you in ministry.
Plan to be fed. So often as ministers we spend time feeding others. But the Bible is clear that we’re sheep as well as shepherds. We need to be fed or our souls will wither away and shrivel up from spiritual malnourishment. We need to plan to be fed. We’re incredibly fortunate to be set aside to study the Bible. I love that fact that just this week I’ve been studying the Christian Hope, Isaiah 9v2, Deuteronomy, Discipleship and 1 Kings. What a joy. All at various stages of gestation and development and teaching. Our preparation ought to feed our souls not just be for others – we need to plan time to pray and reflect on what we will teach others so we have enjoyed the spiritual feast and can then show others what there is to feed on. But we also need to plan to be fed by others. What conferences do you go to? Whose preaching do you listen to? Whose spiritual care do we sit under?
You are a son not a slave. How does God feel about you? Too many of us are spiritually driven because of a sense of responsibility and duty. They are good things but not when they become warped by failing to understand how God feels about us. God loves his children. We are not slaves, he is not a tyrant, hard to appease or please. He’s not comparing and contrasting our ministry with others. He is a loving Father who in love has rescued and adopted us and brought us into the family business that we might enjoy him and help others come to know the Father whose company we enjoy.
Kick over the pedestal. I’m convinced spiritual factors are a significant reason for pastoral burnout. Being a minister sets up unique dangers. But it helps to kick over the pastoral pedestal early. We all, even ministers, have struggles. We all wrestle with the Bible, with doctrines we know are true and wrestle with but would love to be other than God’s word reveals them to be. We all have struggles with relationships, lapses of patience, failures of care. It is helpful if, as leaders, you can share these, even share them with members of your congregation at the right time and in the right way. It helps remove impossible expectations we may feel we have to pretend to live up to, setting spiritual snares for us.
So how are you doing spiritually?