When the Well Runs Dry (Part One)

Dry Well

Pastors are unusually dependent on “the well.” All people are to one degree or another, but pastors are more dependent on “the well” than others—in part because they participate first-hand in helping replenish the wells of others. When we dry up, the results are felt by others. Pastors are also involved in a number of drought-inducing endeavors (i.e., high conflict, criticism, the emotional/spiritual pain of others, high expectations for both professional/personal life). God has a way of replenishing us…but Satan is also doing his best to create cracks and leaks. When it comes to the water of the soul, God loves floods, Satan loves droughts.

It’s raining a lot now in California, which has been in severe drought for several years. One by one, the implications have been felt: uglier lawns and golf courses, high water rates, water rationing, etc. I don’t know that I’ve done a lot to create the situation. The problem is way upstream (pardon the pun). If it doesn’t rain in the Sierras for a long time, I feel it several hundred miles away in my everyday life. In the same way—we pastors need to understand our “well” impacts others in very real ways—and God would want us to steward our spiritual/emotional water supply responsibly.

Those of us who lead in God’s church must understand while we may not be pastoring out of the overflow all the time, we bear some responsibility to make sure we don’t fall into prolonged, severe drought. By “the well,” I’m referring to that place of mind and spirit we draw from to not only complete the rudimentary, but also create new opportunities and experience joy in the here and now. The “well” is a way we can talk about our soul, psyche, and “sweet spot” of mind and spirit. It’s not just being tired or having a couple of busy weeks strung together—that’s life. The well is different. The well is what allows us to survive and thrive in life and ministry. No reservoir or well is always filled to the brim—but drought must be avoided and taken seriously.

The “well” is sometimes easiest to identify when it is dry. When the well runs dry, we have less energy. We don’t sleep as well—even as we want to sleep more often. We feel more stressed out. We lack the ability to create new things, and often lack the motivation to do much of anything…so we focus on the few things we can motivate ourselves to do—especially busy work. We don’t laugh much. When the well is dry, we say, “I’m in a funk,” or at least feel it—for a while—not just a morning or two.

In his book Leading on Empty, Wayne Cordeiro talks of his own experience, and gives a few symptoms of what I’m referring to as the well being dry:

  • Ministry became more arduous.
  • Daily tasks seemed unending.
  • Decisions—even small ones—seemed to paralyze him.
  • Creativity began to flag and he found it easier to imitate rather than innovate.
  • People he deeply cared about became problems to be avoided.
  • Casting vision no longer stirred his soul.
  • What started as a joy, had become a drain.

Pastors need to pay close attention to well levels. We all do. This doesn’t mean we always have to feel perky or happy at all times, but we should have hearts humble enough to admit we aren’t superheroes—and act on it for the sake of God, our families, and His church.

Throughout my nearly twenty years of ministry I’ve had at least two of these prolonged seasons (6 months or more), and several other mini-seasons like this. If anything good came from them, it was experience I gained in how to replenish the well after it had gone dry.

In the next post, I’ll describe some of the way to replenish when the well runs dry.

Question: How do you know when your well is dry? Are you able to admit when the well is dry?

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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