In this fast-paced world, where all of us struggle to maintain balance while getting through our long “to do” lists, the need to define our priorities is increasingly essential. Pastors and all those in church leadership are no exception. Yet going about the task of establishing our priorities is more than merely reorganizing the demands on our time. The process really begins by asking the question, “What is the one thing that I cannot afford to miss, because it is the linchpin for all I am and all I do?”
In Acts 20:28, the apostle Paul established what I am coming to believe is the top priority for those in pastoral ministry. He states, unequivocally, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” The word used for “keep watch” in the original text has the sense of “take care of,” or “provide for,” and occurs (for those of you who are taking notes) in the 2nd person plural present imperative. (There will be a quiz!) All that means is that Paul thought the linchpin of the life and ministry of an overseer in God’s household was that person’s attention to their own needs – to care for their own soul first. Today’s busy pastor finds this hard to do. And even saying it seems a bit… selfish? But if our own life, behind the pastoral persona, is drying up or spinning out of control, then we will soon find the wheels coming off the wagon.
David Rohrer, in his new book entitled “The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry,” reminds us that “we must never forget that our ministry is as much about what God is doing in us as it is about what God is doing through us. Our work is to give witness to the grace in which we stand. A characterization of pastoral ministry that grows out of a perception of God as a distant king who gives us our marching orders and then expects not to have to be engaged again, a God who cares not so much for us but mainly about how we can be deployed for his mission, is a sure recipe for burnout and despair” (p.141).
The care of our own souls starts at the very place we would encourage any parishioner to start: with loving Jesus. This includes “face time” with the one who loves you, creating space for Him and His grace in your own life. The friends over at Internet Monk shared this quote from an old Puritan, Robert Murray McCheyne:
Learn much of the Lord Jesus.
For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.
He is altogether lovely …
Live much in the smiles of God.
Bask in his beams.
Feel his all-seeing eye settled on you in love.
And repose in his almighty arms.
I really like the effort that Peter Scazzero and the pastoral staff at New Life Fellowship have put into creating the atmosphere where this single most important priority can grow. In the most recent issue of Leadership (Summer 2012), Peter shared a “Rule of Life” they have implemented. In the preface, he noted that, “The following “Rule of Life” expresses our conscious guidelines to keep God at the center of everything we do — to seek the “love of Christ” above all else. In a culture that does not respect God’s rhythms for life, we seek to live out a balance of prayer, rest, work, and community. This “rule” provides guidelines for the kind of leadership we aim to embody, as well as a foundation for the relational culture we want to build and function within.” I strongly encourage you to check out the details of their effort at: http://www.emotionallyhealthy.org/index.php/resources/rule-of-life/