As a young boy, I (Jeff) experienced the social, psychological, and financial disadvantages that accompany having a father who was an alcoholic. My dad is the best guy on earth! He is loving, caring, and thinks the best about others. But alcohol robbed him of reaching his potential in life.
As a 40 year old man and father of four, he visited a young pastor, reaching out for help in his addiction to alcohol. This was likely one of the most difficult encounters of my father’s life. He had to admit weakness, admit he needed help. The pastor meant well, but he was bewildered as to how to help my dad. He talked with him, but never followed up, never figured out a way to reach out to the man who reached out to him. There was not a second conversation. Dad came up dry and never reached out to another “church person” again.
Four years later, that pastor was gone, and another was in his place. My family did not regularly attend church, and dad never did. We had just moved to another town, and did not yet have a phone installed. My mom’s mother died, and the pastor drove the 30 minutes to my home to tell us. He came into my bedroom, asked me to sit down, and then sat next to me. He told me my grandmother had died the day before. He put his arms around a 12-year-old boy who could not stop crying. I have never forgotten his kindness.
Both of those events in our family’s life, as our family’s story was intersected by the single act of a pastor, had profound implications on how we viewed God, the church, and ourselves. My father was disillusioned, and has never attended a church to this day. I was profoundly impacted by a pastor’s shepherding love, and that care has impacted my own pastoral ministry for the past 26 years.
On any given day, the actions we take can make a difference in someone’s life – for decades to come. We can, like Charlie Brown, be the hero, or the goat. If we are the goat, it doesn’t help much to rationalize away our actions by telling ourselves we were just having a bad day. We don’t get a mulligan, a do-over. The damage is done. If we are the hero, we can thank God that the events of the day are the reason we were born – to help people in their deepest times of need.
Bill Hybels says ministry is not a “life or death deal.” In fact, he says that it’s an “eternal life, or eternal death deal.” Ministry, and how we perform it in the actions, attitudes, and words of our day – well, the stakes are always extremely high!
With so much hanging on how we interpret scripture, how we counsel, the decisions we make, how we respond to both praise and criticism, how we handle an emotionally unstable person, an irate church member, or a grieving individual, and how we decide to spend our time, and on what priorities – all of these things are accompanied by what Paul described like this: “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” 2 Corinthians 11:28
Pastor, for these very reasons, your “job”, your calling, your vocation in life IS much harder, much more stressful, than other peoples’ jobs. Yes it is. If you goof it up, you might be the cause of two children in a family becoming disconnected from the body of Christ, and moving away from God and into the arms of the world. Yeah, that can happen, or any other negative consequence of careless ministry you can imagine! You say it is all up to God, but no, your dumb mistake, or careless word can cause lasting damage. The older you get, the more weight you will carry (sometimes literally!) with people, and the more important your words and actions become. That is very stressful, and a heavy burden we carry every day, even when we are not consciously thinking about it.
So, you have to take care of yourself. How are you doing? Are you healthy, rested, in shape, and ready for the long haul? Again, how are YOU doing?
This week on episode 44 of the 200churches Podcast, we talk with Dave Jacobs, who for seven years has been a life coach for dozens of pastors. He spent almost thirty years in ministry, and then transitioned to helping primarily pastors of smaller churches – 200church pastors! He lives and works at www.smallchurchpastor.com.
We have a great conversation with him, and one of the major themes is how the pastor needs to care for herself or himself.
He uses the oxygen mask illustration and reminds us that we can only care for others, after we’ve first cared for ourselves.
Pastor, when it comes to your own personal physical, spiritual, and emotional health, the question is: Do you care?
What are some ways that you care for yourself in the rigors of ministry?
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