In Part 1, we discussed three issues of importance in caring for ourselves as those who are called to care for others. Learning the importance of self-care, especially in terms of our soul, is an integral aspect of being Christian, but is even more important for those of us in the helping professions, especially those of us who are in full-time Christian ministry.
Of course, in our efforts to be whole, we recognize that there are obstacles, hazards if you will, that can keep us from doing this. Let’s examine several that I’ve discovered over the years of which we need to be aware.
1. Equating busyness with significance.
Ministers are busy people, but of course, you already know that. But maybe what you didn’t know, or at least chose to avoid thinking about, is that our busyness can not only keep us from seeking God, it can also keep us from accomplishing what’s really important. There are always things to do in ministry: prepare the next sermon or lesson, work on the board agenda, plan the next activity, visit folk in the hospital, answer email, return phone calls, write letters, etc. We see that our calendar is full to the brim with activities and meetings, and so we assume we are doing good ministry.
While these things can be good and important, more often than not they can also so fill our lives that end up neglecting the truly important aspects of ministry. As author and theologian Dallas Willard has said, “God will, generally speaking, not compete for our attention. If we will not withdraw from things that obsess and exhaust us into solitude and silence, He will usually leave us to our own devices.”
In order to keep this from happening, we need to figure out what is most important in our ministry and major on those issues. Everything else is secondary. As my grandma used to say, “If the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.”
2. Taking the glory to feed our own egos rather than acknowledging God’s work.
In my over 20 years of ministry, I’ve been to more pastor and youth pastor gatherings than I care to count. And while each has been unique in its own way, I can always count on at least one thing at each one—pastors and youth pastors talking about the good things that are happening in their churches/youth groups. And while I want to applaud this, most of the time I can’t, for one simple reason: because these pastors and youth pastors talk as if all the good that happened was a direct result of their ingenuity, their creativity, their excellent planning, or their vision for ministry. Rarely do I hear these folk give God the credit He deserves for bringing this about in their churches and youth ministries.
And the truth is, it’s really easy to do this. After all pastors receive both more praise and more blame than almost any other employee of any other institution. When something goes wrong, people are quick to point our way and assume, rightly or wrongly, that we had a part in the debacle.
Therefore, when things go right, we assume that it is only fair that we should also receive the credit for that as well. And while that’s certainly understandable, the problem more often than not is that we take ALL of the credit, and somehow forget about God’s role in the process.
Learning to step back and discern with God’s eyes where He was already at work long before we arrived on the scene is incredibly important in keeping our eyes focused on God and less on ourselves.
3. Following the latest trends, fads, etc. rather than allowing God, through the Holy Spirit, to give us vision and shape our destiny.
All of us are tempted to do this, if for no other reason than it is easier to follow someone else’s vision rather than our own. And in the ministry world, there are tons of publishers, start-ups and local churches that are creating more and more resources, tied to a particular vision, that are being pitched as the next great savior for our ministries.
However, the reality is that when we do this, we often end up with a ministry that has no congruence to it, and is shakily put together. Take the extra time to dream, to vision, what God wants your ministry to become. Be willing to buck the current trends, if necessary, if they don’t fit into your theology and philosophy of ministry. And always consider the long-range implications of adopting the latest trend and fad, as there will surely be some issues that will emerge which we didn’t see initially.
In the final installment of this 3-part series, we will look at the final 4 hazards of ministry and how we can address them in order to ensure our own self-care.
James Hampton is a member of the Soul Care Collective Steering Committee.
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