By Micah Fries
I remember moving to West Africa with my new wife, dragging our idealistic dreams in tow. We were going to change the world.
It didn’t take long to realize the problems in Africa were systemic and far-reaching. Living just south of the Sahara, it was easy to see physical and spiritual symbolism among the people and places we lived. The barren and dry ground was a reminder of the spiritual and physical conditions of the people we served. This beautiful continent could, at times, lack even the most basic necessities.
The lack of spiritual and physical sustenance was stark and often startling. Maybe the most visible indication was the vegetation, or the lack thereof, in the desert. We lived in a small village on the edge of the Sahara, which was a wasteland, as far as vegetation growth is concerned.
In the area we lived, the rainy season dictated everything the community could do. During the rainy season, everyone would abandon what they were doing and work in the fields, and the growth of the vegetation would indicate the combination of necessary rainfall and community effort. The desert could bloom, and sparse, dry areas would exhibit growth in unexpected ways. During the majority of the year, however, the dry conditions fostered a sparse and seemingly uninhabitable landscape.
I worry that too many pastors walk with a similar problem, though theirs is spiritual, not physical. The average person looking in sees a pastor who is seemingly strong, capable, intelligent and attune to the things of the Lord. Always ready with an answer at hand, they serve and care for others. They give off every external clue they are spiritually well fed, while they exhaust themselves on the altar of ministry.
If the truth were known, we would look inside the soul of many pastors and find exhaustion, depletion and spiritual malnourishment. With divinity school degrees, commentaries on the shelves and Bibles across their desks, they live in the midst of a spiritual feast, and yet they often refrain from partaking for their own benefit.
I worry because I have seen this among too many colleagues during my 15 years of ministry. More specifically, I worry about this, because I know it often has been true in my own experience with God.
Ministry is exhilarating and often life-giving. Serving others can even be intoxicating, and therein lies the problem.
Far too often, those of us who serve in ministry are fueled more by our responsibilities and the sense we are needed by others than we are fueled by Jesus. This creates codependency where the church is dependent upon the pastor and the pastor is dependent upon the church. Sadly, in this scenario, no one is dependent upon Jesus — the only source able to completely satisfy our needs.
God intends for us to drink deeply from the living water only Jesus can provide. Because this often seems elusive, how can we make time for Jesus? Are there specific steps pastors can take that will help them find satisfaction in Jesus and not in everything else crowding into their day? Consider these as some practical suggestions.
1. Ask God to restore your soul.
This seems simple, but it should probably stand out as your first option. Whether you find yourself satisfied or you are running on empty, the key to long-term satisfaction and fulfillment is found in Jesus. Take a moment and seek His care for your soul.
2. Check out and decompress.
You need a break. It really can be that easy. You need regular time where you are unavailable to the outside world. Put away ministry responsibilities, cell phones and social media. You need time to restore your soul—aside from when you are asleep. Find some quiet, even if it is just a few minutes, and find it on a regular basis.
3. Reproduce yourself.
Not only will this help you relax and be restored, but this also will serve as a means of fulfilling God’s design for your ministry. Too many pastors hold tightly to their responsibilities, only to end up burying themselves under that weight. God’s design for church leaders is that they develop others who can engage in ministry with them.
4. Find a hobby.
I am amazed at how many pastors do little else aside from their responsibilities as a pastor, and occasionally spending time with their family. Pastors are often so wrapped up in their vocation that their entire identity is driven by it. This doesn’t allow much time for things that could help reduce stress and restore body and soul. Finding a hobby could go a long way to help nourish the mind and soul.
5. Go on a date.
This is another one that surprises me. I find that, far too often, pastors rarely take time to go out on a date with their spouse. The Lord designed marriage to be a partnership that not only allows us to walk through life with another, but also allows us to enjoy life with one who is also our best friend. Pastor, go on a date with your wife. Get away and relax with the one God provided to encourage you.
Micah Fries (@micahfries) is director of ministry development at Lifeway.