In Junior High I ran cross country. Most people hated it, not me. Running through the woods, over creeks, up and down hills, well you get it, it was fun! However, as in most sports practice is supposed to be harder and more grueling than the event. So to make practice hard we had this particular drill called "Mush." It's where the entire cross country team ran the course in a single file line but stayed together. Every so often the lead would yell, "Mush!!" At that moment the person in the rear would sprint up to the front to take the lead, all while maintaining the pace set by the previous leader. If the best guy on the Cross Country team started "mush" we were in trouble!!
What an amazing picture of the pastoral life. Run and set the pace. As the week goes we slip to the back, only to get to the end of the week and hear it yell, "Mush!!" Where you, the pastor, sprint to the front for every to see you. Then you help them set the pace spiritually.
But, this didn't happen once. It happened the entire length of the cross country distance. Over, and over, and over, and over. and over, and.....you get the idea.
So how do we ensure we can make it to the end? Here are six key things you can do for yourself to ensure the longevity of your ministry.
1. FIGHT IN A GARDEN
That's right you need a garden!! Not a garden with carrots and cabbages but a garden like Gethsemane where Jesus met his Father. Where Jesus wrestled with his mission and purpose. He wrestled with God emotionally and mentally. We should wrestle with God daily. Think of Jacob in Genesis 32:22-32, here Jacob wrestles with God and he refuses to let God go even thought his hip is broken. God not only breaks his hip but changes his name. The result? Jacobs walks with a limp the rest of his life but is known differently. We, pastors, should so wrestle with God each day that something in us breaks and that a piece of us changes. So that when we walk before our congregations we walk with a holy limp. Or we so wrestle with God that we can take the Judas kiss of congregation members and know it's going to bring salvation and hope to others.
Also, notice were this wrestling occurs, in a garden (Jesus) and next to a stream (Jacob). Do you have someplace you can go? For me it's nature, preferably no internet or cell phone service. Perhaps for you it's working in the garage? Where is your garden where you feel at peace enough to wrestle with God?
2. GET INSPIRED
I grew up an Elvis fan and recently my wife and I took a trip to Graceland. While there I came across something I'd known but forgot, that Elvis' motto was "Take Care of Business in a flash." Typically this is TCB over the top of a lightning bolt. So you know what I bought? I bought a TCB sign to hang in my home office. Why? Each time I feel like "I'll put it off until tomorrow." I look up and see "TCB in a flash." In other words this speaks to and deals with my inherit desire to procrastinate.
Another thing I enjoy is military fighter jets. Why? Because to me they represent grace and power. Grace as they soar through a bright blue sky but they can serve up a lot of destructive power to the enemy. So as a pastor and as a Christ follower I should be operating in the grace of Jesus but in the power of the Holy Spirit dealing damage to the enemy. As I go to air shows or military bases I talk to pilots and I ask for a flight patch, (they're always happy to oblige). I take these flight patches and hang them around my office, inside my car, etc. These serve as a reminder that I should act in grace and power.
What inspires you? What motivates you to push on and go forward for God? It can be natural or man made things. God uses multiple things to speak to each of us and that's ok. So put them all around you to remind yourself.
Powerful too right here. What is it? It's a Personal Retreat Day (PRD). Wayne Cordeiro in his book, "Leading on Empty" says this is extremely helpful. One day each month I get away from everything. It's a day with no interruptions. For me it's the last Thursday of each month. No phone calls. No church emergencies (that's why you have elders). No spending time with the family. Just a day solely focused on me, God, and ministry. So what do I do on a PRD? First, your agenda cannot be full. I spend extra time with God. My time with God does NOT involve studying for sermons. I don't read books on how to preach better, or church systems. If I read a book it's to grow spiritually. After spending extra time with God I do something that recharges my spiritual batteries for me it's either hiking or playing video games. I then look at preaching topics and schedules with a clear head. Next I go blank. That's right. I block out time to set in silence and let my head wonder about the church, my family and my life. When quality ideas come I write them down and explore them in more thought detail.
4. FIND A NON-MINISTRY FRIEND
Pastoring is a lonely job. In fact being the leader of any organization is lonely. You have pressures and concerns that no one else will face. It's very difficult to find people in your organization that will understand. Find a friend outside your church or organization that you can unwind with. Do not find another pastor. Do not find another person of leadership in a church. Find someone who has the same spiritual convictions, sure, but someone with whom you can let your hair down and not have to be a "pastor" with. You can really be yourself and no pretentious walls. This person is NOT your spouse.
I have a few of these in my life and honestly time with them is like a life raft in the sea of spiritual need. We laugh about the dumbest things. We talk about stuff that people might think, "A pastor talks about that?!?!" Yes!! It's not perverted or anything but it might be along the lines of bathroom humor or something gross or pondering why that show plot is the way it is, or a pro sports team traded a player or something like that.
Do you have a friend with whom you can just be yourself? You do know you are not a pastor right? Pastoring is what you do NOT who you are (that's another topic). When was the last time you were just you?
5. GROUP THERAPY
Yes!! You need to find a group of people who will challenge you, comfort you, and most importantly support you. I paid to be a part of a group that met weekly and virtually because we were from all around the country. Each month that group of people had 1 person on what is known in coaching circles as a "hot seat." What does that mean? That meant you brought your issue, struggle, etc. to the group. Then they brought all their brain power and expertise to bear on your problem. It was amazing. Find a group of pastors that meet regularly and meet up preferably one with a "hot seat" it's worth the amount you'll pay.
6. DO NOTHING
Yes!! Do nothing. Find time in your crazy hectic schedule to do absolutely nothing. The sooner you realize that doing nothing IS doing something the sooner you'll likely do it.
What does this day of nothing look like? For me it's a weekly Sabbath. In Lance Witts book "Replenish" he says, "If we take seriously God's commands about adultery, coveting, stealing, lying and idolatry, we also should take Him seriously when it comes to practicing Sabbath." Ouch!! Even God had a day of "nothing."
Your Sabbath should NOT be a day where you are exhausted. For me, my Sabbath is Friday. NOT Monday. Monday I've found can be used to do administrative tasks that require very little emotional energy. By the time Friday roles around I'm much more emotionally and mentally fit and ready for a break. So I take that full mental and emotional tank and spend it on my family. My elders and other church leaders take the calls if there are any.
What do you do on a Sabbatical? You STOP all productivity for twenty-four hours. You DELIGHT in what makes you happy. Is it a hobby? Is it family? Go do it!! Finally, DEVELOP your relationship with God. You study scripture. Not for a sermon or even to gain knowledge. You study scripture as a way to spend time with God. You pray, meditate, musically worship, and read. Focus solely on your personal relationship with God.
These six steps have helped me "mush" and stay the course during this marathon we call ministry. Remember, if we are in this for the "long haul" then we must pace ourselves. Work in spurts when you have to but find time for yourself and family.
If you would like help or coaching with creating and following a schedule that will help you be a marathon ministry be sure to contact me.