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One Responsibility a Leader Can’t Delegate

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It seemed so utterly self-serving at first. And I suppose that it could degenerate into selfishness. Yet the more I reflected, the more convinced I became. It was wise. It was necessary. It wasn’t intuitive for me, but it was vital. Let me explain.

Like many of you, I’ve given my adult years to full-time ministry. I don’t remember ever receiving a clear call, although I have a bit of envy for those who did. Instead, the current of my life just seemed to flow in this direction. One day when I was in high school, my father, then superintendent of the Rocky Mountain District of the C&MA, informed me that he didn’t have anyone to preach in Glendive, Montana, the next Sunday. Would I be willing?

I had never preached a real sermon before, and I’m sure that the dear congregation in Glendive soon realized that, but I nervously stepped into the pulpit, not knowing that I was being swept into God’s plan for my life. By the time I was 20, I had preached in dozens of churches and was on staff as youth pastor at the Riverside (Minn.) Alliance Church.

There have been a few times in the 27 years that followed that I’ve tried to get out of the ministry. Discouragement, weariness, wanderlust and depression made me desire greener grass outside of the pastorate. But when I would arise from my knees again, it was with a sense that God had not released me from my calling. The current pulled me onward, and I would be wise to go with His flow.

The storyline of your ministry may be quite different from mine, but there is something we all share: We sense that ministry takes a toll on our souls. Whether our call is clear or cloudy, whether our ministry is thriving or shriveling, whether we’re in our second or forty-second year—we live with the awareness that ministry takes something out of us.

I’m not complaining. Ministry is an incredible privilege. We have the amazing honor of being with people during the most powerful moments of their lives. And I’m still astounded that I get to study God’s Word and pray as part of my employment. But I know that some personalities seem wired specifically for ministry. I just don’t feel like I’m one of them.

Yet, whether ministry is a natural or an awkward fit, I believe it is within its very nature—especially in our culture—to drain us. Although this is a great tool God uses to keep us dependent upon Him, I don’t believe He wants us to minister out of a continual sense of being “drained.” But something within me feels guilty if I’m not giving. Something within me drives me to serve even when it isn’t healthy. Something within me feels it is more “spiritual” to be spent.

I am grateful that the Lord seems to be revealing a more sustainable lifestyle for me. Follow the natural progression of these statements: The effectiveness of a ministry is significantly impacted by the health of the ministry. The health of the ministry is largely influenced by the health of its leadership. The health of the leadership is primarily the responsibility of the leaders themselves. Therefore, as a senior leader, one of the most important things I can do for our ministry is to take care of myself—physically, emotionally and spiritually.

I opened this article with the admission that it seemed so selfish to me at first. I’m called to serve others; how can I take time to take care of myself? Yet if healthy ministries are led by healthy leaders, then I have a responsibility to the ministry I serve to establish practices and routines that sustain personal soul health.

Let me state it clearly: Some of us are not living sustainable lives. The practices and routines we have set for ourselves are not replenishing. We cannot blame our churches. Yes, there are some congregations that understand these issues and work with pastors better than others. However, the fact remains that we in ministry are primarily responsible for our own health. Believing this, I’ve come to see adequate rest, regular exercise, genuine vacations, weekly Sabbaths and prioritized family times as not only valid but also essential. As a “type A” leader, I’m sadly able to ignore all of this and make a complete wreck of my schedule and myself. But I challenge you to join me in this journey of soul health, believing that we—and our ministries—will be the better for it.

And, is it possible that we even have His divine favor to do so? I believe we do. One of God’s greatest leaders, David, declared, “‘The LORD be exalted, who delights in the wellbeing of his servant’” (Ps. 35:27).

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