I am new to ministry leadership, but not to ministry itself. Growing up in the church, I served in a variety of ways. I was an offering usher, a role I may have taken a little too seriously. I stood with my pastor/dad in the front of the church and shook hands as people were leaving. When in youth group, I learned guitar and began leading worship. My youth pastor poured into me and discipled me, and God began calling me to the ministry.
While in college I worked in youth ministry while getting my feet wet and learning how to preach and share the gospel with others. In seminary I grew very involved in the church and was mentored by professors, pastors, and leaders, doing ministry alongside them. I saw some of the hardships they faced, but for the most part, it was pure excitement!
Fast forward three years later, and I am daily doing the work of ministry. As an AMS, my ministry is unique. I have the opportunity to work with wonderful churches in our area and help out in a variety of ways. While there are some differences, pastors and AMS leaders have a lot in common. We have partnerships, opportunities to serve, discipleship with those around us, involvement with other entities, sermon preparation, vision-casting, leadership development, and so much more.
We also both experience the crippling depression, anxiety, and fear that comes when we are overwhelmed, because we’ve put too much on our plate. In an effort to hold the fort down, please others, and prove ourselves, we took on too much. And from time to time, we have to take a step back and see if we are leading from a healthy place, or if we are operating in PANIC mode!
Early on in ministry, I shared Paul’s passion when he wrote, “Woe to me, if I do not preach the gospel!” But I was wary to relate to him when he wrote, “we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.” As time went on, I’ve noticed the hardships of ministry in my own life. I learned from Brian Croft and others, that ministry is a slow and painful, yet joyful death. It’s the reality of ministry, and we are called by God to experience it at its fullness (in both joy and in pain).
In episode 172 of the podcast, Jimbo and Bob talked about a recent lecture given by Lance Witt, author of the book Replenish. I read this book about 6 months ago after talking about some hardships with my father. Some of the principles in this book were life-changing, and did more to help my leadership style than anything I had read before. But now, six months later, I must look back and remind myself of those principles, because the anxiety from an overwhelmed plate has crept up once again.
In a spoken commentary of Psalm 23, Lance Witt pulls out a few principles that are so helpful as we think together about leading from a healthy place in the year 2023.
It is consistent for our character as human beings, that even in our effort to please God by our works, we would miss out on actually spending time with him. God does not want our busy and hurried ministry activities that are devoid of time with him. We can run ourselves through the mail with everything we want to do for God, and at the same time, we can fail to spend time with God. Jesus would often retreat, and spend time by himself with the father. He did not do this to make up for lost time after doing ministry. He did this so that he would be fueled and strengthened to do the work of ministry. We should do the same.
When we have too much on our plate, we tend to lose focus on the things that are important. As a result, we struggle to pay attention to the things that matter most. Ask yourself, “what pulls my attention away?” If work interferes and overwhelms you even when you’re around your family, it helps to try and let it go and put your full focus on your family. Sometimes this has to do with where our priorities lie. Healthy leaders will keep their focus strong and their priorities intact. Different distractions can get in the way of the focus right in front of us, such as our phone or social media. Thankfully, we have tools like Screen Time and Do Not Disturb that can help us unplug and focus.
One of the biggest struggle for ministry leaders is finding out how to rest well. Resting is not always sitting down and doing nothing. We are all created differently, and find rest in different things. For some, it’s a hobby or activity. For some others, it’s spending time with our family. If we operate in panic mode, always busy with the next project, we will find it difficult to rest, even if we have downtime. Finding rest is one of the most important things we can do as ministry leaders. You know that you are well-rested when you look forward to going back to work, but if you dread your ministry, you may not be rested enough.
We are very forgetful. If I don’t put things down in my calendar, I can quickly forget. Even if it’s important! One of the best tools you can use is Google calendar or something similar. Every time I create a task, I get reminders throughout the day, both through my phone and email. Not all pastors or leaders have the privilege of having a secretary that manages calendar dates. Make sure when you work with your calendar you schedule time to rest, and schedule time for people who are close to you. As ministry leaders, we should be excellent stewards of our time, so schedule out your calendar with wisdom and consistency.
Self-care is different than self- medication. When we self-medicate, we look for joy and rest in things that will not satisfy. Self-medication is the reason for sin in our lives. Each and every one of us has stress in this life. We all have busy lives. But self- care means that we choose to find that rest and joy in healthy things. For some, self-care is opening up our Bible and journal and spending time in prayer. For others, self-care is going to the gym and getting a good workout in as a way to relieve stress. Self-medication is like covering up a wound with a Band-Aid, but not using any antibiotic ointment to help heal the wound. Self-care should lead us to a place where we are spiritually, emotionally, and mentally healthier.
When God rested on the seventh day, he set a pattern and a model for us to also rest. The principle that he is teaching is important: we should rest from our work.
If we aren’t taking a day to replenish and rest, we will become quickly exhausted, and wear out in this ministry. Taking a Sabbath means taking a day or a significant amount of time to restore your soul. And since God created rest and modeled rest, he will give us the strength to rest when we need.
In Psalm 23, David says that he would fear no evil, for God’s rod and staff comforted him. When we are close to the Lord, he gives us great confidence and courage. It’s easy to fall into a habit of meeting with God without meeting with God. In other words, we sit down to do a quiet time or have some prayer time, but we are on auto-pilot. We may be talking to God, but God isn’t talking to us. Our time with God can begin to feel like a ritual. I pray that every day when I spend time with God, I would get up encouraged, strengthened, and emboldened with courage. If I get up from my time with God still worried, still angry, still fearful, then I most likely did not spend enough time with God.
At the end of psalm 23, David recognized that it was God‘s blessings that were being poured out on him. He acknowledged that his cup ran over, and he would look forward to dwelling in the house of the Lord forever. Do you feel unworthy? Do you feel like ministry cannot afford you any blessings from God? My friend, God is pleased with your efforts. If he chooses to bless you for the work you are doing, receive that blessing with joy and gladness. Thank him. And if someone else blesses you, receive it with joy and gladness. While you may feel undeserving, to someone else, that blessing may seem well deserved. Keep on serving, keep on working, and keep on putting your heart into this ministry.
I highly recommend Lance Witt’s book Replenish, and a newer book by Brian Croft called The Pastor’s Soul. If you need pastoral retreat, there are several different ministries. But if you live anywhere in the panhandle, I have some great friends of a ministry called Promised Land Retreat. Don’t ever hesitate to reach out to our team at the Replant Bootcamp for encouragement and help as you minister for the glory of God.