habits

Do you ever feel as if you are living life on fast-forward? Do you ever feel as if you are constantly bouncing from one project to the next, one message to the next, one app to the next, one meeting to the next?

In our fast-paced world we tend to value speed, intensity, and productivity. And recently I’ve tried to rethink how I can be more effective and productive in the various spheres of my life: husband, father, pastor, writer, professor, friend, disciple-maker. While away last week with my family, I received a reminder from the Lord about what’s truly important in life.

Here are the three lessons I believe the Lord was teaching me from my time away.

  1. Pause. Close your eyes. Take a nap. Go away. Guess what? The world will go on just fine when you are on pause. Yes, there are things God has assigned for you to do. Yes, you have a responsibility to be productive and faithful for the glory of God. But thank heavens you and I are not irreplaceable to God’s plans of redemption and salvation in the world. God gave us the gift of Sabbath (day of rest) to remind us of the importance of pausing and resting. When we pause and rest, we give ourselves the opportunity to exercise our trust muscles that the Lord has everything handled in life.
  2. Pray. I am naturally analytical and a people pleaser. It is my tendency to do. Maybe you’re like me. Or maybe you’re very different. However you and I are designed, we often find it easier to do than to pray. Unfortunately, we feel as if prayer is passive when we ought to be active. The opposite is true. To pray is to actively exhibit trust in God who is able to do far more than we can do.
  3. Pay Attention. In my quiet time yesterday, I read from Acts 20. When talking to the elders and leaders of the Ephesian church, Paul said this, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). You and I are responsible for our spiritual lives. When we get distracted from the importance of our walk with God, we have a tendency to lose sight of what matters most. Pastors are responsible to pay attention to their own spiritual lives as well as those they shepherd. This verse reminds us that we should take spiritual inventory of how we are doing in our walk with Christ.

So this week, make time for these spiritual disciplines.

Pause. Make time in your day to rest. Take a deep breath or a walk. Go for a hike or a swim. Get away from the hustle and bustle, and remember what is important.

Pray. Make time time in your day to pray and to think. Don’t go another minute without bringing your burden to the Lord. Talk to God. Listen to him speak through his Word. Trust him to handle that situation that’s bigger than you.

Pay Attention. Make time in your day to inventory your spiritual life. Are there sins you need to confess? Habits you need to break or add? Relationships you need restored? Be attentive to yourself and those around you.

Turn these actions into spiritual habits.

You are your habits.

So what are you doing regularly? What would your spouse, kids, and friends say about your habits and practices? Would they say you know how to pause, to pray, and to pay attention? Or would they have to say that you are bustling from one thing to the next constantly frazzled by the busyness of life?

Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

According to research shared from Barna Group, 29% of pastors thought about quitting during the pandemic. Our local paper, the Wilkes Journal Patriot, ran a national article reflecting on the difficulty of the pandemic year for pastors, and how some had stepped away. Anecdotally, I know of several pastors who have stepped away from ministry of their own accord or were encouraged to leave by their churches. Also anecdotally, the associate pastor at our church shared that 5 of the 7 close ministry friends he has worked with over the past 20 years are no longer in vocational ministry.

Personally, the past 15 months have been challenging and at times overwhelming. I understand the sentiment and concerns for many of these pastors who have stepped away. But I long for something more. I long to finish well.

In this post, I’m writing to pastors and church leaders. My aim is to encourage you to apply some of the strategies for finishing well. In a subsequent post, I’m going to write to churches and church members encouraging you to support and encourage your pastors and ministers on their journey.

In his book, The Making of a Leader, J. Robert Clinton reflected on several barriers to leaders finishing well. They are:

  1. Finances-their use and abuse
  2. Power-its abuse
  3. Pride-which leads to downfall
  4. Sex-illicit relationships
  5. Family-critical issues
  6. Plateauing

The strategies below will not specifically address each of these barriers. But they will help us as leaders to build habits and character traits into our lives that will help us finish well.

No leader plans not to finish well, but leaders who finish well make plans to finish well.

Leaders don’t finish well accidentally.

Strategy #1. Create spiritual habits that keep you close to Jesus. If you examine the barriers above, many of them relate to sin issues. Fame, flirtations, and finances have been the downfall of many pastors/leaders better than us. Avoiding sin issues that disqualify leaders requires spiritual habits that keep us close to Jesus. We need to read and study the Bible devotionally, to pray dependently, to preach the gospel to ourselves regularly, and to confess and repent consistently. When we drift from Jesus, we will drift into sin.

Strategy #2. Keep your family a priority. Some ministers are forced to step away from ministry because ministry itself became an idol and destroyed their families. The leader who wants to finish well must prioritize healthy family relationships and interactions. Eat meals together. Talk. Have a family devotional time. Do fun things together. Go on holidays and vacations.

Strategy #3. Stay physically active and healthy. Vocational ministry is largely sedentary. Sitting, writing, reading, counseling, and relational interactions are not physically active parts of the job. Physical activity helps me sleep better and encourages better eating habits. Physical sloth encourages poor health habits. Take walks. Go running or hiking. Play an active sport. Physical activity is a natural stress relief and longterm health benefit.

Strategy #4. Never stop learning/growing. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is 2 Timothy 4:13: “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.” Paul was in the latter days of his ministry, but he still wanted to read, study, learn, and grow. I was convicted by the reality referenced in Clinton’s book that many ministers don’t burn out of ministry, they plateau. Develop a reading and study plan. Write. Take a course. By continuing to grow and learn, we remain pliable and teachable as pastors/leaders.

Strategy #5. Develop friendships and accountability. I need people in my life to look me in the eye and call me out for folly or sin. God has graciously given me several people who will regularly speak truth into my life and ask the hard questions. If you don’t have these people in your life, pray that God will give them to you. Finishing well means that God has protected you from foolishness and sin, and often God protects us by using friends as our accountability. Get in a discipleship group. Find an accountability partner. Open up to your spouse.

Strategy #6. Ask for help. You can’t do everything you are responsible for. You need help whether that help comes in the form of staff members, assistants, or lay leaders. Pastors (leaders) that last are pastors (leaders) who don’t try to do it all. Delegate. Train others. Disciple fellow workers and leaders. Turn over key tasks and responsibilities. During the pandemic, our church has remained strong because we have so many key leaders (staff and lay) who have taken ownership of everything from technology to cleaning to other protocols.

Plan to finish well.

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash