NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE, USA. Last month, I took a class at Asbury Theological Seminary called “Habits that Sustain Ministry.” It seems like the longer I’m in ministry, the more important I realize this is. The truth is that alongside the many privileges and joys of vocational ministry, there is also a weight of ministry that over time can become extremely heavy. While doing their best to do the work of ministry and carry the weight of ministry, many good leaders burn out, foul out, or drop out.
Two weeks after my Asbury class I was in Manila talking to our core leaders about spiritual formation and we came up with three essential habits we wanted all Victory pastors to master.
1. PUBLIC WORSHIP: If you’re a pastor of a church, this may seem like an odd suggestion. As a pastor, it’s likely that no one spends more time in church (and preparing for church) than you. But here’s the question: do you actively participate in public worship? You may have picked the set list, but do you sing the songs with all your heart? You may have preached the sermon, but have you applied it to your own life? You may have distributed the communion elements, but have you examined your own soul as you take the bread and the wine? Do you participate in public worship, or do you give yourself excuses not to? I know that Sundays can be an exhausting work day for a pastor—especially if you run multiple services. But I would strongly encourage you to find ways to participate in the worship gathering that you and your staff have worked so hard to prepare for your church community. They need it, and so do you.
2. PERSONAL DEVOTION: One of the great ironies of preaching and teaching the Bible for a living is that we as pastors can sometimes lose sight of the how the Bible applies to our own lives. How often do we sit down for our devotional time and end up preparing our Sunday sermons instead? How often do we find our own prayer time interrupted by emails and phone calls and texts related to work and ministry? How often do we take a Sabbath—and end up working the whole day to solve a church “emergency?” Sermons must be prepared and crises must be managed, but we cannot allow the responsibilities of ministry to crowd out our own personal devotional time. If we are not reading and meditating on God’s word for ourselves, then we will not be able to preach with the conviction and power God’s word deserves. If we are not praying in private, we will not have the wisdom, peace, and clarity to deal with the day-to-day demands of ministry. And if we are not following God’s command to rest, then sooner or later, we will burn out.
3. PRIVATE SERVICE: “Service?” you may ask yourself. “My entire job is about serving other people!” But here’s the question: how often do you do works of service simply because you are a Christian (and not because you’re a pastor)? If you have a family, then much of your “off-duty” serving can (and should) happen at home. But ask yourself, when is the last time I served the poor—and didn’t tweet or blog about it? When is the last time I served my neighbor in a practical way—simply because Jesus calls us to love our neighbors? When is the last time I served my community by participating in the local parent teacher association or serving as a baseball or soccer coach? As pastors, it’s important to find small opportunities to serve in secret. Why? Because most of our service—preaching, teaching, and leading—happens in public and it can be easy to become addicted to public praise. But as Jesus reminds us, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them… But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matt. 6:1, 3-4)
Whether you’re a rookie church-planter or you’re a veteran cross-cultural missionary, you will never outgrow these habits that sustain ministry. When we actively engage in public worship, when we consistently prioritize personal devotion, and when we secretly participate in private service, we’ll find, like the psalmist, that our “cup runs over” (Psalm 23:5)–and our ministry will simply be out of the overflow.