Even if you never close leadership gaps or take your pastor life up a notch, God’s love for you remains full, like a gas tank that never empties.
By Ben Mandrell
As you’re reading this, you probably have a commitment hanging over your head or a relentless deadline that won’t stop nagging you. Chances are, you’re tired. You’re a human being, not a human doing. And the Father loves your being more than your doing.
Some recent findings from Lifeway Research’s Greatest Needs of Pastors study show half of U.S. Protestant pastors say they need to focus on time management. Slightly more (55%) believe over-commitment is an issue they need to address.
Based on these findings, most of us in ministry need this reminder: Even if you never close another gap in your leadership, if you never take your game up a notch, God’s love for you remains full, like a gas tank that never empties no matter how far you drive. Former Lifeway president Jimmy Draper said, “God did not call us first to His service, He called us first to Himself.”“God did not call us first to His service, He called us first to Himself.” — Jimmy Draper Click To Tweet
Of all the lessons we must learn as children of God, this one feels like swallowing horse pills. It’s hard to choke this one down. You have been saved by grace and not by performance. Your relationship with Jesus is rock-solid secure, because of what He has done. We are the ones who make it about what we’re doing.
Live by the Spirit
Adam Mason, a brilliant counselor I’ve come to know, explained to me the difference between life in the Spirit and life in the flesh. When we are living in the flesh, we’ve switched back to functional atheism: “There is no God, and it’s all riding on me.”
When we fall into this mindset we resort to four strategies, as Adam outlines:
- Where should I do more?
- Where should I do less?
- What should I do differently?
- What should I do better?
This is the never-ending self-improvement plan. When we allow this switch to flip, we move from resting in God’s power to trying to change the world by our own power. Unless the Lord builds the house, those who labor, labor in vain (Psalm 127:1). The battle belongs to the Lord.
What does this mean? It means we can “be,” and we can let Him “do.” It means we can stop pretending we have all the answers, we can take on one more thing, and we can solve the puzzle without help. In our weakness, we are strong.“The greatest gift you bring your church is your growth in godliness.” — @benmandrell Click To Tweet
The greatest gift you bring your church is your growth in godliness. Much like many parents use a marker to measure their kids’ heights and see how much they’ve grown, we need to look at the line over the past few years and ask: “Have I grown?”
Is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, as described in Galatians 5:22-23, plentiful on my branches? If not, what parts of me are empty or unhealthy?
5 buckets of life
I try to think about my life as the filling of five buckets:
And I actually think about them in that order. Health and hobbies are related to self-care. Family and friendship describe the two categories of relationships where I have the greatest risk of deathbed regret. When I get to the finish line, those relationships are what matter most to me. But these first four buckets need to be filled in order for me to live out my calling to the church.
Let’s unpack these five areas of life pastors can’t afford to ignore.
This may go without saying, but when I use the word “health,” I’m thinking beyond the physical sense (though it’s important). Here are some important questions we must ask ourselves:
Am I spiritually healthy? How am I growing in godliness, pursuing humility, and enjoying prayer?
Am I emotionally healthy? When am I taking on more than I can tackle? Am I being vulnerable with others? Do I have accountability with others? Am I willing to forgive others?
How am I staying physically healthy? Am I weight training? Getting enough fresh air? Eating balanced meals? When my wife looks at me, does she see a guy who gave up or is going down fighting?
Nearly half (49%) of the pastors in the study I referenced earlier said eating right is a challenge for them, and even more (59%) say they need to focus on consistently exercising. The truth is, none of us is alone in these struggles.
Am I an interesting person? Am I fun to be around? When the conversation runs thin, do I have some fresh things to talk about? Do I have some subjects I want to learn more about? These are a few things that make me a better person and prevent me from becoming a work machine:
- Good documentaries (I suggest Ken Burns’s “Country Music”)
- Live music with my family
- Reading a Kindle book in my favorite chair
- Post-season baseball
In the Greatest Needs of Pastors study, nearly half (47%) of pastors said they find it challenging to take time for hobbies and interests apart from the job.
Last year I read a book called The CEO Next Door. One of the chapters involved the danger of “identity theft,” allowing your job to steal your identity. The author told the story about a CEO named Dom meeting another, far more successful, CEO named Ted to go to a high-level VIP meeting. Dom was astounded when Ted showed up in a bright red Hawaiian shirt. He said, “Ted, you can’t go into this meeting wearing a shirt like that?”
Here’s the rest of that story:
“Ted cut him off: ‘Let me ask you a rhetorical question: Are you an interesting person? The answer is: no, you’re not. In fact, I think you are the most boring person I have ever met. I know you had hobbies when you joined the firm, but your employer sucked it all out of you. That’s a problem. I’m a musician. I play the French horn. I like to sail in my sailboat. What have you done that isn’t work-related? Why should people want to be around you?’”Don't let the work of the ministry steal your identity. Click To Tweet
The author goes on to make this point:
“If you become a hollow husk of a human, you burn out fast—but that’s not the worst of it. You can’t lead effectively if people don’t see signs there’s a person behind the title. Protect your identity from theft. Invest time in nurturing aspects of yourself that are unrelated to your job or status.”
Do I take full ownership of my family? Where am I skirting responsibility? Am I in the room but gone? Where am I getting involved where there’s hurt? Am I praying with my family, and initiating spiritual conversations?
When I evaluated these questions, they revealed the biggest regret of my pastoral ministry—preaching too often. Yes, you read that correctly. Pastors have this pervasive fear if they step away from the pulpit for one weekend, they’ll lose traction in their ministries. This is likely the reason 43% of pastors say the balance between work and home is something that begs their attention.“There’s more to lose than to be gained by not taking time away from ministry work to enjoy your family.” — @benmandrell Click To Tweet
I’ve found there’s more to lose than to be gained by not taking time away to enjoy the family. Go on a vacation, or even simply enjoy a weekend without frantic sermon prep so you can conserve your Sunday afternoon energy for those who know you best and love you most.
Every person needs one or two friends who would celebrate the day you quit your job because they would hopefully get more time with you. Enjoy your work friends, but build friendships with people “off the clock.” This is a real need for the pastor. More than two-thirds of U.S. Protestant pastors (69%) indicate they need to invest in friendship and fellowship with others.
Years ago, I saw a short article by Chuck Swindoll, in which he was sharing a few words of wisdom for a well-lived life. There were several things that moved me, but the one sentence that stuck out to me was this: “Cultivate a few lifelong friendships.” Maybe it’s one, maybe it’s two people who you’ve committed to going the distance with.
To the church leader, this bucket might be the most obvious, but I saved it for last for a reason. Unless the first four buckets are full, we can’t succeed in our calling to the church. Our work in ministry is an overflow of the work we do in these other areas.
Health. Hobbies. Family. Friendships. Church. Which one of those buckets is most empty? Most full?
Ben is the president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources.