I was conducting a pastors’ retreat, and I was talking about self-care. One pastor spoke up genuinely concerned that I was advocating “selfishness.” In communicating his concern, he quoted the old statement I’d heard before: “I’d rather burn out for Jesus than rust out for Jesus.”
I responded by saying, “Where in the Bible does it say that our only options in ministry are to ‘burn out’ or ‘rust out’?” I still ask that question, and I do so against the backdrop of Jesus words, “I’ve come that you may have life and have it abundantly.” How have we come to believe that abundant living is what Christ wants for general Christians, but not for Christian leaders?
When we are talking about self-care, we are not talking about selfishness—we’re talking about survival. If ministry were a 100-yard dash, we would not need to be concerned about pacing ourselves, etc. But ministry is a marathon. You train differently for a marathon than you do for a sprint, and you run a marathon differently than you do a sprint. At the heart of ministry is not ability, but authenticity—not performance, but personhood. In the Christian life, our conduct flows from our character. As Jesus said it, “It is from the heart that the issues of life flow.” The same holds true for ministry.
Jesus never condones selfishness, but he does commend abundant living. We do ourselves and those we serve no favor when we “offer Christ” to others but fail to deal deeply with Him ourselves. It is not enough to say, “I don’t need to worry about my own formation because I am in ministry all day long.” That would be like a chef saying, “I don’t need to eat, because I work with food all day long.” It would only be a week or so before we would read that person’s obituary in the newspaper. Are we reading the ‘obituaries’ of clergy today because we, the ones called to feed others, are not being fed ourselves? This is not selfishness; it’s survival. It’s the only way we can sustain effective and genuine ministry for the long haul.