Ministry Musings: Keep Watch Over Yourself

     Institutions in decline increase the pressure on leaders to “produce” and “succeed.”  This is the sociological equivalent to the natural survival instinct.  I see it across the board in North American Christianity, but especially among church-planting pastors and those appointed or invited to implement turnaround-strategies in congregations.  The only way to survive in this environment is to be proactive in your spiritual formation.  I offer these suggestions.
     First, tend your soul.  Give it time and means to grow.  Your holiness and abundant life is the well into which you drop your ministry bucket to draw the Water if Life, for yourself and those you serve.  Nothing can take the place of your own spiritual formation.
     Second, maintain your marriage and/or friendships.  There is a great temptation to neglect the people closest to us when we are under pressure, choosing instead to pour ourselves into our work.  Do not do this, because your spouse, children, and friends provide you with with the love, realism, and support you must have.
     Third, have a life larger than your ministry.  This is an expansion of the previous point.  Cultivate a hobby.  Include non-church activities in your schedule.  Mix and mingle in the community.  You can be a pastoral presence apart from “church work.”  Put enjoyable things into your life that don’t directly relate to you being a clergyperson.
     Fourth, make yourself deliberately unavailable.  Omni-availability can suffocate your spirit, and it is the seedbed for growing an egoic false sense of indispensability.  Delegate.  Defer. Schedule your day off and stick to it.  Don’t run from one task to the next.  Stop at Starbucks and chill before you move on.  Cultivate the pace of grace.  This is the ancient discipline of stasis.  Practice it.
     Fifth, schedule a monthly retreat day.  This is not a day off, it is “sabbath”–a day to rest in God.  It is a time to revisit your vocation and get out from under a concentration on your activities.  It is a day to breathe deep and regain perspective.  It is a John 15 experience.
    Sixth, have a soul friend, someone who can be on the journey with you, love you, listen to you, and offer wiise counsel.  Do not try to go it alone.  Do not become isolated. The devil shoots with a rifle, and can pick us off one at a time.  Most clergy who go into burnout or get into trouble have gone into secrecy and/or seclusion.
     Finally, stay healthy.  Eat right.  Exercise.  Get enough sleep (which many doctors say includes a short mid-day nap).  Ministry is enhanced when the body/spirit connection is honored.  As St. Francis said, “The soul rides on Brother Donkey.”  So, keep your donkey in good shape.
     When you already feel stressed, these suggestions may seem like “more tasks,” but the truth is, they are life-givers and life-savers.  We get tired and sick because our life system is not ordered and nurtured to supply us with what we need to survive and thrive.  More than we realize or admit, we clergy have more control over our time and schedule than many of our laity do.  Be wise and proactive.  Order your world to give you life.  No one else will do it for you.

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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3 Responses to Ministry Musings: Keep Watch Over Yourself

  1. Patrick says:

    I figure as long I am hanging around on this side of things a post such as this will have value beyond measure. Thanks Steve for reaching in there, pulling it out, and sharing it with us.

  2. Russell says:

    Looking back over the years, I recognize several of these thoughts at work. Thanks Steve, although much is hindsight! Russ

  3. kellisorg says:

    Kelli Sorg + www.

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