According to researchers, 72% of a sampling of American pastors report only spending time in the Bible when they had a sermon or lesson to prepare for. This suggests that only 28% read the Bible regularly for personal study and encouragement. This isn’t a big surprise to any of us if we are really honest. Anyone who has spent anytime leading a Church can attest that the demands for your time are huge. The pressures of other people's lives, committees, counseling, Church finances, preparation for Sundays, special services, leading bible studies, meetings (meetings and more meetings!), education, a spouse and family, all contribute to a hyper-paced vocation. Just typing it, I feel short of breath!
With such a busy life, it can be a challenge to carve out a small amount of personal time. But wait!? Shouldn’t we treasure that time? Aren't we fed and encouraged? Shouldn’t we make it a priority?
The short answer is - for sure! Spending time in scripture is a marvelous way for us to cultivate our own healthy relationship with Jesus and tend to our own soul care. No doubt we encourage the people we minister to "get in the word, know your Bible." Why? So they can be refreshed and grow in their faith. Shouldn't we do the same thing? This is all good stuff, but I often think as pastors, we think, we are in the “business” of the Bible, and sometimes, even the best of us fall into the malaise of rationalizing that we have done enough God stuff; preach, teach, pray, worship as a part of the job, why do we need to do more? Multitasking if you will!
For me, I need to spend time in the word because while I spend the majority of time doing Kingdom things and some of them very well, these are generally for other people, and it is easy to get in a giving mode while neglecting to care for my own need for spiritual nurture and care.
A secular example - As a hobby, I like to fly stunt kites. As life progressed, we found ourselves running a successful family business retailing kites online. A funny thing started to happen. As the company grew and prospered, I discovered I had less time to fly kites. I was so busy in the business of kites; I hardly had time to fly them! I think this is a danger for many folks, especially those of us in vocational ministry. We often end up sacrificing the very reason why we responded to our call to ministry - our personal relationship with God.
Sadly, this a slow slide into burnout! It is so easy to do. After all, we are doing God things all the time! We have a mission, and there is no shortage of need and our BIG hearts responding to the many needs, we soon realize we can’t possibly do it all, but that doesn’t keep us from trying! The next thing we know, we are letting our spiritual disciplines, quiet time, personal devotions time slip away. We let go of the personal times of refreshing and recharging, in a sense we become strangely removed from our source, the inspiration for our call of ministry.
I have mentored several dynamic and talented leaders, and I challenge them not to sacrifice the very things that created the conditions for their success on the altar of success itself. It was the personal time with God, prayer, feasting on scripture, the beauty, and intimacy of that relationship in which you were able to serve and find life in it! Protect that time at all costs for what does it gain a man to have a huge ministry and lose his own soul!
Jesus said there will always be needs, more than we can meet. If we truly want to help the most people, reach the most people, this demands that we take care of ourselves. By doing so, you dramatically reduce the likelihood of burnout. Research has illustrated that many pastors experience burnout in the first five years of ministry, but by taking care and tending to your personal soul needs with healthy boundaries and practices, you will find a vitality and fruitfulness in ministry that can be experienced well on to retirement.
Simple things, foundational things like regular time in the word, in personal prayer, retreat, family time and time for other hobbies can go a long way to a balanced - healthy life and ministry.
- Keeping Jesus in the Center - By being deliberate to keep our healthy relationship with Jesus at the center of our lives, we can rest assured Jesus is in the midst of everything else we do.
- Choose to take care of yourself - Don’t feel guilty, this happens to plenty of Pastors and ministry leaders. Resolve to look for life-giving ways of recapturing your personal devotional life. Start Today!
- Boundaries - Establish clear boundaries with your Church / Ministry team and that you have a non-negotiable time of personal prayer, retreat time and vacation. This time is to be protected by you and by those you are accountable to. It may be an opportunity to delegate some tasks to other leaders.
- Catalytic Actions - Choose times, settings and specific techniques that will facilitate your personal relationship with Jesus. What kinds of techniques will serve your personal soul care? What kinds of prayer, bible reading, etc., do you find life in and connect with God through? Start there and let the Father bring new ways to you.
- Quality and Focus of time Spent - ensure the time of prayer and study, retreats or conferences you attend for this purpose are, in fact, for personal soul care.
- Consider a Coach - It is often helpful to have someone to encourage and support you as you re-capture your personal time to help with tools, cheer-leading, a sounding board, an advocate and a safe source of accountability.
- Pray - Being a pastor is tough work. The demands on your time can be legion, and it can be difficult to even know how or where to start. Ask God for the grace to know where and how to find time for your relationship with Him. Ask for wisdom to know what things to delegate when to say no and the grace to use time more effectively. You will be very pleased to discover that Father LOVES to answer these kinds of prayer, and you will see opportunities for those personal devotional times.
- Father loves you - I know. It sounds elementary. The truth is the Father loves you for you and not what you do for Him. We all want to be good stewards of what God has given us, but I am reminded of Martha and Mary, and that Mary chose the best thing - sitting at the feet of Jesus.
An old mentor of mine used to encourage me regularly to ‘prepare the messenger and the message will come and take on a deeper authenticity and power.' The simple things we do such as prayer and reading the bible as a part of a healthy personal faith life, goes a long way in increasing our longevity as a minister. Our effectiveness and fruitfulness makes us a better leader, parent, and spouse, and the best part is we can enjoy vibrant relationship with our God and King.