Is anyone else tired? Have you noticed that ministry is exhausting? Over the last year and a half, our church leadership has transitioned me from a high school small groups coordinator to leading our student ministry team of 13 staff. I love my job and my team is phenomenally talented and fun. However, the workload, responsibility and stress can be a overwhelming. In my most tired moments, I wonder how long I can last. Let’s be real, not many pastors are still thriving after a decade or more of ministry. That’s why when someone who has been in the game for decades still loves ministry and leads with passion and grace, speaks about thrive in ministry for the long haul, I listen up and take notes.
Last week, our senior teaching pastor, Jeff Manion, shared a few thoughts on how to keep yourself fresh and vibrant through years and years of ministry. He’s in his early 50s and still leading and teaching with passion. Jeff has been leading our church for somewhere around 30 years and he has he energy of a 25 year old. Here’s what he shared about thriving in ministry over the long-haul.
The overall image that Jeff shared was of being poured out. In ministry, the work, the conversations, the crises, and everything else, require that we pour ourselves out on a weekly basis. In order for us to pour ourselves out again, again and again, we need to refill ourselves. What Jeff shared are three practices that refill.
Sometimes, Sabbath seems like one of those Old Testament laws that doesn’t apply anymore. It was cool for Israel but this is America. Jeff disagrees. To him, the practice of Sabbath has been vital to his ability to stay fresh, vibrant and passionate about ministry. Sabbath is not a day off. It’s not a day when you exchange to-do lists. Instead, it’s a day in which you don’t have a to-do list. It’s not, “What do I need to do today.” It’s, “What do I want to do today?”
Is there a day in your weekly schedule in which you simply unplug and do things that give you life? If not, you may be in danger of pouring yourself out without a means to resupply.
I’ve blogged before about how ministry has a way of turning even the most die-hard extrovert into an introvert. Ministry is about people, and it should always remain that way, but the truth is that when your entire world revolves around serving, listening, speaking, and helping people, you find yourself in desperate need of getting away!
I’ve heard this argument many times but Jeff put a fresh spin on it. What he argued is that what is needed here is friends. In ministry we have a million acquaintances but what we are desperate for are deep friendships. One of the keys to thriving in ministry over the long haul is to identify the people in your life who are deeply enriching, life giving friends, and then organize your calendar around these life giving relationships–create space for them to grow. Invest in the friendships that give you life. Spend inordinate amounts of time with the people with whom you can be honest, real and raw.
When you have friendships in your life in which you can unplug, unwind and come unhinged, you are ready for ministry for the long haul.
I think Jeff’s most important statement in his conversation with us was this: “The best thing you bring as a leader is not your talents and abilities but a relationship with God that is worth having.” In the end, ministry is living out your relationship with God in front of and with other people. Said another way, you can’t lead people where you haven’t been.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that it’s all about God and our relationship with Him. Sometimes I get so caught up in the programs, numbers, issues, crises and events that I forget that eternal life is all about “knowing Jesus.”
So, if like me, you’re experiencing a season of exhaustion, I would plead with you to make sure you are refilling and recharging by focusing on sabbath, life-giving friendships, and the relationship that matters the most. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, particularly if you’ve uncovered other ways to thrive in ministry for the long haul.
road image credited to Mark Sebastian via Flickr
bench image credited to Oliver Kendal via Flickr
Bible image credited to Ryk Neethling via Flickr