The Church Must Not Consume Its Own
One of the most striking metaphors in all of Holy Scripture describes the sworn enemy of our souls. St Peter likens the devil to a “roaring lion” constantly on the prowl, “looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). It is an apt description, and should bring to mind the horror of unseen, encircling beasts that stalk their prey in the darkest hours between midnight and dawn.
There is another danger we face, just as fearsome but since it involves a very slow death it often goes largely unnoticed. Here we are sucked dry from within, so appreciated for our gifts and so surrounded by need that we simply use ourselves up in an insatiable attempt to do what needs to be done.
If we have eyes to see, this broken world is awash with emptied-out human beings, burnt out by being used up. And sadly, far too many are leaders that have been consumed by the demands and expectations of the church.
I am not pointing fingers here. I have at times misused people made in God’s image, drawing on their life and presence with no regard to how draining my demands might be. I’ve been willing to use them, to call upon them to perform regardless of their circumstances because it is in their job description. I have made unspoken assumptions about their time and energy that immediately becomes a weight on their ability to choose what they should do. I’ve wondered why they weren’t at the meeting I called (never imagining other meetings might be of higher priority) and not honored their times of rest (since my issues are always important enough to warrant an interruption). I’ve been quick to say something positive about something they have done but far more rarely have inquired about whether they have adequate opportunity to rest, to learn, to be refreshed, to be away, to be alone.
Here is the essence of the issue: the demands on the church in the 21st century will suck pastor/teachers dry unless very intentional and practical steps are taken to assure it doesn’t happen. Few churches are taking such steps and fewer still know what steps to take. Thankfully, help is now available.
The authors of Resilient Ministry undertook a seven-year study to answer a single question: “What does it take for pastors not only to survive but to thrive in fruitful ministry over the long haul?” All three authors are educators who are passionately committed to the church; two teach at Covenant Theological Seminary and the third is at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. They are friends who I respect deeply, who have used their gifts well in doing this important work.
Resilient Ministry focuses on five themes that are essential factors impinging on the life, time, energy, and flourishing of pastors: spiritual formation, self-care, emotional & cultural intelligence, marriage & family, and leadership & management. Each is carefully defined and rooted in wise biblical reflection, with practical suggestions given that churches can use to bring needed grace into the lives and ministry of pastoral leaders. This book is accessible to both church leaders and lay Christians, and is must-reading for every believer who is willing to faithfully care for the pastors God has called to shepherd them. One of the book’s strengths is the stories and quotes from pastors who participated in the seven-years of research. They not only make the ideas comes alive, they remind us that all who minister the word and sacraments are human beings who need the grace of the gospel just like the rest of us do.