My wife and I married before our senior year in college. To survive that year, and the next four years while we both attended seminary, we had to figure out how much money needed to be earned to cover the essentials of rent, utilities, groceries, books, and tuition. The phrase “pay the rent” has since become synonymous with those essential priorities that, no matter what else is happening, cannot be neglected. There are three critical areas that pay the rent in a pastor’s life.
Personal Times of Prayer and Bible Reading
Personal times of prayer and Bible reading are essential and often the easiest to neglect. Schedules fill up, the morning rush becomes the morning hurricane. Before you know it days, maybe even weeks pass by and the only prayer and Bible reading you have had were during the Sunday morning service. Life and ministry can easily get so busy that prayer is at worse neglected, and at best reduced to a moment at the stoplight. Perhaps one reason Paul continually called the church to pray because of the great temptation to neglect prayer.
Unfortunately there is no magic pill to make more time for personal prayer and Bible reading. Prayer and Bible reading is a discipline that you just have to choose to make time for. Get up earlier or go to bed on time. Get to your office and shut the door and take the phone off the hook (or silence it). Make your lunch break your time for prayer and Bible reading. The issue is not not having enough time in the day. The issue is making the most of the limited commodity of time we have.
Times of personal prayer and Bible study are absolutely essential to the Christian life let alone the pastoral ministry. If your prayer and Bible reading have been neglected, confess to the Lord your own negligence. Receive his forgiveness and begin again. Perhaps seek a pastor or friend to hold you accountable for a season. Engage in the battle for your soul before you pour your life into another.
Taking Time Off
One critical piece of paying the rent that seems counterintuitive is the priority of taking time off. Whether you serve as a bi-vocational or full-time pastoral role you must divert daily, withdraw weekly, and abandon annually. Taking time off reminds yourself that while you were called to this ministry you are created in the image of God. You are not chattel making bricks without straw.
Pastoral ministry is a tremendous calling and a privilege. It is an honor to pour into the lives of your congregation. It can also wear you down. Taking time to regularly rest and engage in activities that recharge you is critical to a lifetime of ministry.
Finding Your Identity in Christ
Many gain much of their identity from what they do. Add the personal calling of God to the pastoral ministry into the mix and it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish “who the pastor is” from “what the pastor does.” Far too easily a pastor equates who they are with the condition of their church and ministry. If the church is doing well, then the pastor is doing well. If the church is struggling, so is the pastor.
Pastors, while we must certainly engage with healthy and invigorating practices of ministry to lead well we must also learn how to separate who we are in Christ with what we do for his bride. Your identity must be found in Christ, not in your title. I am not advocating for split personalities or for pastors to be one way with the church and another way when no one is looking. What I am encouraging is learning how to nurture who you are. To be comfortable with whom God is creating you to be. To know that if today God called you out of ministry your identity will not implode.
A godly man who spent most of his life pastoring one church and is now staring into fewer and fewer days this side of eternity once shared with me, “the church will forget you as soon as you are gone, but your family will not.” You must choose your priorities well.
At the end of the day, we will each have more on our to do list than could ever get done. We will always have one more phone call we could make, one more Bible study to lead, one more sermon to write, one more meeting to chair. This side of eternity there will always be more we can do than could be done.
For lifelong ministry, we must not neglect times of personal prayer and Bible reading, taking time away, and finding our identity in Christ not in what we do. Certainly, there are other areas we must not neglect but these three activities enable us to pay the rent for a lifetime of ministry.