This fall I’m celebrating my 15th year in fulltime ministry and my 10th year at my current church.
I am proud of 15 good years.
It’s been a good run but I deeply desire to stay in pastoral ministry all my life and so, I feel like I have a long way to go.
I’m guessing that ministry is a calling and desire that many of you feel as well.
And even if working in a church is only a temporary gig for you, I’m sure that you’d like it to be a healthy short-term gig.
Something that I’m beginning to realize is that pastoral ministry is incredibly challenging. It was difficult in my first year and it still is 15 years in.
And, even more startling, my senior pastor, a guy who has been preaching and leading for 35 years, announced to me after our worship service this past weekend,
“Preaching is really hard!”
On the one hand I was like,
“Phew! I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks that!”
But, on the other hand I was thinking,
“Well, shoot! I was hoping it got a lot easier!”
Maybe some vocations get easier with time, I’m not sure ministry is one of them.
I’m sure some aspects do get easier with more experience but discipleship, preaching, counseling, all of these and more are incredibly difficult work and always will be.
So, the question I’m mulling over these days is this: How do we stay healthy?
I’ve come to see that staying healthy in ministry isn’t automatic. It takes work. It requires discipline.
And so, let’s talk about how to stay healthy in ministry.
Most of what I want to share in this post are lessons I’ve learned either from mistakes or mentors. I hope you find it helpful.
1. Your Faith is Not Your Work
One of my primary gifts is teaching.
Because of this, I spend the majority of my time preparing to teach and preach.
This means I spend hours and hours in the scriptures.
Something that has taken me too long to learn is that sermon prep study is not the same thing as pursuing a relationship with God.
In other words, my work – however spiritual it feels, is not the same as relationally connecting with God.
I’ve experienced seasons of spiritual deadness in which I was spending hours each day reading the Bible.
The trouble is that I was reading it for others and not for myself.
If we want to stay healthy in ministry, the most important thing we can do is cultivate a heart that is alive to God every day.
Our congregation needs us in the scriptures for them but they also need us in the scriptures for us.
2. Your Value is Not Your Work
Alright, I’ll be honest…This point is entirely for me.
If you find something here, then it’s a bonus.
I don’t know how you’re wired but I’m wired for affirmation.
I crave it. I need it. It’s my love language.
Whether I like it or not, I have trouble with value and identity.
I care deeply about what people think and say.
By nature, I’m a performer and because of this, it is incredibly easy for me to find my sense of identity, value and worth in what people think and say.
Without a redeemed identity as a child of God, I’m in real trouble!
This is challenging space for someone who regularly spends hours and hours a week preparing to speak in front of hundreds of people.
I’m guessing that you can relate.
There are two prayers that are on repeat in my prayer journal, and I’m talking like every day.
I need to be reminded of this over and over again.
I am realizing that when my desire to be liked and esteemed gets out of whack, I’m in dangerous territory.
If we want to remain healthy in ministry, we must cultivate a sense of identity that is rooted in Christ and not in performance or accomplishment.
3. Rhythms of Rest
Here’s a phrase that I believe in with all my heart:
Tired makes you dumb.
I know, sounds dumb.
I’ll never get a book published with a line like that, but hey…I still think it’s true.
We forget important details when we are tired.
Our emails are full of misspellings and bad grammar when we send messages late at night.
We are worse drivers when we’re tired.
When we’re tired, we make honest mistakes.
And, let’s be real for a minute…When we are weary, we are capable of terrible life decisions.
I’m convinced that ministry leaders don’t make catastrophic choices because they are terrible people.
I think that we are all capable of terrible decisions when we are exhausted and empty.
Now, here’s the real danger here: Ministry, by nature, is pouring yourself out for other people.
We empty ourselves in counseling others.
We empty ourselves when we preach.
We empty ourselves when we encourage the broken.
We empty ourselves when we sit with those who are mourning.
It is important, good, and life-giving work but it is exhausting and leaves us empty and tired.
And, as we already said, “tired makes you dumb.”
Here’s a question: When do you rest? What are your rhythms of rest? Do you practice Sabbath?
My senior pastor recently challenged me to find a way to take 48 straight hours off on a regular basis.
Of course we work on the weekends, so I was skeptical.
So, he said, “Thursday 3pm to Saturday 3pm.”
Then he said,
“even if you can only do it 60% of the time…do it 60% of the time.”
This is a guy who has been leading the same church for 35 years. So, I listened.
Another important question: How do you rest?
I’ve noticed that some activities recharge and refill me while other activities do not.
And, I’m talking about restful activities.
Let me explain:
Do you see what I mean?
There are ways of spending a day off that actually refill my tank and others that leave me as empty as before.
My recharging activities are probably not your recharging activities.
You may find video games and Netflix to be life-giving.
My point is simply to know and be intentional.
If we want to stay healthy in ministry, we need to be growing in our faith, we need to root our sense of identity in the right place and we need to rest.
I really want you to stay healthy. Our churches need leaders who stay faithful, stay committed and lead with passion.
We’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below.
Thanks for reading.