Two spiritual practices have allowed me to stay in ministry for 17 years and still enjoy it. They won’t be found among the spiritual classics, other than through application of “classic” disciplines. However, ideas like “prayer,” “love”, “sabbath,” etc., still must be applied. It’s one thing to say “I should pray more.” It’s another to craft a doable plan for cultivating a more prayerful life. Here are two tangible ministry practices that have helped me weather even extreme ministry storms.
Practice One: I take an annual personal retreat. I’ve written about this in the past, and I can’t tell you how essential it has been for me over the years. By the time I get to November/December, I’m usually on fumes physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I’ll talk in the next post about what exactly I do. Some of my friends in ministry are far better than I am at this. Some take one month, some, like myself, take 6 or 7 days. Some take a shorter time quarterly. There is an undeniable correlation between tenure and pace. I’m sure there are some, but I don’t know anyone in ministry personally who does this that has burned out or quit the ministry. The burn rate for those who ignore this practice is far higher.
Some in churches that don’t care much about the overall health of their ministers or like to draw comparisons between their own vocation (I don’t get to do it, so why should you?) and ministry fail to understand core differences between ministry and other professions. Not only are the challenges different, so is the collateral damage of a personal implosion by a pastor. It also fails to acknowledge the church should probably set a higher bar for treatment of people than the typical secular American company. Be that as it may, I’ve never found such comparisons very helpful. It tends to cause everyone to victimize themselves (ministers are masters at this as well), and what gets lost is the overall goal of long-term, abundant ministry that leads to long-term growth and health of the congregation. The single greatest gift a pastor can give their church is a healthy, on fire pastor for a long time. That’s what I want to offer New Vintage Church. That will require strong self-management on my part, and a church that supports me as I do that.
Practice two: I still date my wife. There have been seasons where I haven’t done this as well as others, but in general, Emily and I spend quality time together, alone (with no friends or children present), every week. When money is tight, we might put the kids down early and sit around the fondue pot with a bottle of wine and enjoy a good meal together. Other times, it might be dinner and a movie. We also try to get away overnight a few times a year. Sometimes, we will stay in town. But, we’re out of the house, we do something fun, without kiddos.
This practice is akin to the one above. It’s maintaining what matters most. If all I do is keep my spiritual life strong and my marriage strong–I’ve done a lot right. I’ve also given a lot for my children, and I’ve given the church what they need most from me–not just strong preaching or leadership–a strong (though not perfect) person as a leader. The preaching and the leadership need to be honed, but they will follow. They come from God, who give His “Well Done” to those who pastor themselves and their families well.
Question: What personal practices have you found helpful to you over the years?