Have you ever thought that you had it really rough in ministry? If so, consider the
following folk who give new definitions to the words “tough ministry.”
• Methodist minister, John Dickens, who died while choosing to pastor victims of yellow fever in 1797
• Walter Rauschenbusch, who pastored the notorious Hell’s Kitchen section of New York City
• Francis Asbury, founder of American Methodism, who traveled approximately 250,000 miles on horseback between 1771 and 1816.
• Pastor Martin Rinkhart, who in 1636 preached 5,000 funerals because of the ongoing 30 years war with Germany.
• The average person in your church will work more hours per week than you and then also contribute to ministry.
Working Toward Wholeness
We have to admit that none of us are perfectly whole. We all have our deficiencies, our weaknesses, and our lack of talents in certain areas. We recognize that some areas of our lives are far more developed than others, and that some of the areas are still under construction. Yet, even with this knowledge, we also know that we are called to breathe wholeness into the sickness of the human condition. To say that this is not easy is a tremendous understatement. Yet, it is part of our call as ministers of the Gospel.
This requires us to be intentional in our walk with God, spending more time working on our own souls than in reading the latest book on preaching, attending the next great seminar, or leading another meeting. To be blunt, if we don’t focus on this area of soul care, we will soon find ourselves burned out, or worse, finding ourselves going through the motions of ministry without really caring anymore.
Think about your own life right now. Do you consider yourself to be whole? By whole, I refer to a sense that everything in your life is awakened to the presence of God and you’re willing to be used by Him in whatever capacity He chooses. Wholeness also means that even those areas of your life that aren’t yet up to snuff are given over to God for Him to do with as He will. Wholeness does not imply perfection of action, but it does definitely imply perfection of intent.
Now think about your life as a minister in relation to the world around you. As ministers, we are called to be prophets and priests who question the world’s definition of success and blessedness, and model Kingdom living. What exactly does this mean, especially in terms of being whole people? Well, it means many things, but let me suggest three areas as a starting point.
1. Relationships are more important than accomplishments.
Ministry is about people, not things. This is an important maxim for anyone involved in ministry. People need to know that you care about them as people made in the image of God, not just as objects. They need to have a sense that you know them personally, not just as a number in the group. This can be hard to quantify in order to help others see how we are using our time and justifying what we are doing. However, without the living out of this truth, we succumb to doing lots of good things in the name of ministry without actually building the relationships necessary for transformation to occur.
2. Community takes precedent over individualism.
We are not isolated individuals, even though individualism runs rampant in our culture. We are members of the body of Christ. We understand, as such, that each of us is accountable to the others, and we each have a special responsibility to each of the other members of the community. This means that we, by choice, allow the community to have sway over our lives rather than allowing our own self-centered choices to dictate. Is it easy? Far from it, for the community is still comprised of individuals, many of whom are not seeking perfection. And yet, without this choice to allow the community to hold authority in our lives, we eventually succumb to our own desires and wants, which often pull us away from the Kingdom.
3. Families (including our own) demand a significant invest of time and energy.
Because the needs of the community are so great, it is easy to find ourselves caught up in taking care of their needs, and discovering in the process that we are neglecting our own families’ needs. Whether you are married with kids or single, you still have a family that needs your care and concern. This family is more than a place of refuge from the world—it is a microcosm of God’s love displayed for all to see. If you’re not taking care of your family and its needs, then any caretaking you do for others is tainted.
Learning to take care of ourselves seems to run counter to what we, who are caregivers, think should be the norm. After all, we were called by God to meet the needs of others, right? And yet, if we don’t learn to address our own needs in the context of community, we will soon find that we will be unable to meet the needs of others.
In parts 2 and 3, we will explore some of the more common hazards of ministry that can keep us from practicing self-care.
James Hampton is a member of the Soul Care Collective Steering Committee.
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