Many jokes make light of the heavy loads placed upon pastors. Many demands are placed on pastors as we have to be all things to all people, including members, ecclesiastical authorities, community, and family. Many of the things we find ourselves doing seem trivial and related to running a business or organization rather than moving God’s kingdom forward into the world. Administrative skills can be helpful in working out these so-called trivial matters, but our focus can become too much on earthly matters. When I was a pastor, I often made “to do” lists for the week and then systematically worked through them. As a bi-vocational pastor, working full-time or teaching full-time online classes, I had to be careful with my time lest the week go by too quickly without a Sunday sermon being ready. Then the sermon I did do was mechanical and a duty, rather than a message from the heart. All these time demands can be depressing, discouraging, and zap the energy from us.
I have been reminded over the past few months of what really matters in pastoral ministry. These are things I knew but somehow had become blinded to because of the busyness of the trivial. When we get trapped by the “doing” of ministry, we may find that our spiritual wells begin to run dry. We are in serious trouble when our wells do eventually run dry and we find ourselves spiritually depleted and in need of a fresh word from the Lord. A dry pastor will result in sermons that are a burden and job rather than a joy born from conviction. A dry pastor is also not far from burnout. Part of me does not like the so-called “spiritual disciplines” because they can become another law to bear and something else to feel discouraged about because I failed at them again. I want to be free in Christ and experience a sense of peace before him.
Prayer is one of my big personal challenges because I am always doing something and have a hard time slowing down to be quiet with God. Prayer will require that we listen and learn from God, not simply speak and push forward in our ideas. Prayer will cause us to be confronted by the conviction and guidance of the Holy Spirit. We cannot hide behind our thoughts or busy activities of church work. Our souls are laid bare. This may result in the pain of crucifixion, but from this death will come new life.
Studying the Bible beyond sermon preparation can be challenging also. I have found that doing a daily journal, which I post online, has engaged me with God’s word and filled me with many ideas. Although I do not preach as much as I used to as a full-time pastor, I find that my mind is filled with many messages. I am basically writing a small sermon every day. My daily blog does not use commentaries or other resources but is simply me, God, and the Bible. It has challenged me to go to the Bible first. For more serious study and deeper understanding, I could go see what others have said about the verse. This might answer some of my questions that emerge from my reading. But I find that my own skills and understanding grow when I simply force myself to listen and then respond in writing to what the Bible is saying to me.
Relationships matter. Spending time with God and in God’s word should compel us to be more engaged with the people of our churches. Visitation is uncomfortable to me and has been one of the biggest challenges for me in pastoral ministry. I would rather just sit in my library with the books. Being with the people of my church is what being a shepherd is about. Relationships can be messy at times but the rewards come when people share how God is using us as pastors to help them grow and face their challenges with faith and hope.
These are things that we all struggle with, if we are honest about our humanity. As pastors, we may need to refocus ourselves at times through stepping back from all the administrative and busy things of ministry. We may also find that we need to rethink what it means to be “church.” Church is not about reports, planning of activities, putting together worship encounters (a.k.a. weekly concerts), but about living and growing together into Christlikeness. Have we replaced the “being” of ministry with the “doing”?
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