Pastoral Ponderings – A Sound Heart

“In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.” – Titus 2:7-8

A while ago, when I was fresh into PIR’s work of caring for pastors, I decided it would be a good idea to read back through the Pastoral Epistles. I wanted to refresh my memory regarding Paul’s directives to Timothy and Titus, who were new to the role of leadership in the church. It was important to me to remember what the core principles of pastoral work looked like as I began to talk with, and minister to, pastors. It had been a while since I had sat in while Paul shared his own heart about serving the Church as a leader.

It was in the course of that brief study that I came across an intriguing section in Paul’s encouragement to Titus. In chapter two, verses one through eight, Paul introduces the concept of “soundness,” as something Titus was to both have in himself and teach to others. My first question was: “How do you teach soundness?” It must be something one possesses first, obviously. But, if so, what IS it?

The word itself means to have the properties of being healthy, robust, in good condition, reliable and of substantial or enduring character. A good start – but not enough to be compelling and really flesh out what Paul was talking about.

Then, the idea of soundness rang a bell with me. I have had a passing fancy with boats over the course of my life. (My one claim to actually being a sailor was in a Sears JetWind on a shallow inland lake!) I remembered reading and hearing about the importance of soundness when it comes to a ship’s hull – especially those constructed of wood. Doing a little digging, I came across the following, which helped shed some light on what Paul was trying to communicate to Titus, and perhaps to pastors today:

“There is one example of aging wooden structures that I can give that nearly everyone is familiar and can relate to. That is driving through the countryside and seeing a very old barn that is starting to fall in upon itself – the kind with the swayback roof and bulging sides. If you would like to understand what happens to old boats, all you have to do is look at that old barn which is subject to nothing more than wind, rain and gravity.

Because boats are subject to much greater stresses, old boats rarely ever get to that point without breaking apart first. Even so, aging boats will reveal the same signs of age. The first sign is open seams that just won’t stay closed no matter how much caulking the owner does. As the wood weakens and the fasteners corrode, the entire hull structure just keeps getting looser and looser. Eventually it reaches the point where the whole thing is working every time it goes to sea and it then becomes just a question of time before something pops loose and an accident happens. Or if the owner is lucky, it just quietly sinks at the dock, as most do.“Surveying Wood Hulls by David H. Pascoe, Marine Surveyor

While this passage describes soundness in a negative way, it serves to illustrate that one cannot simply assume that all is well and ignore the means to preserve the soundness of the vessel. The author above goes on to point out that the only sure way to determine the true health of a boat’s hull was through an internal examination, not an external one! If a ship’s hull is given the care it needs – working from the inside out – it will remain sound and seaworthy. Without that intentional care, the character of the construction will begin to deteriorate.

How does this help us understand Paul’s admonishment to Titus? The key to a healthy life and ministry – one that is robust and of enduring character – is the intentional and constant care of our own heart and soul. One of the most significant contributors to pastors being ‘at-risk’ is the lack of their own personal soul care. If the interior places are not maintained by a living, breathing relationship with Christ, the hull will eventually pop and come loose. And no amount of external “caulk” can save it.

This is a theme I will likely come back to over and over again. In the busyness of a pastor’s life, it is far too easy to bypass the time and effort to care for one’s own heart. And yet, the consequences are there for all to see in the ghostly remains of lives and ministries that broke apart and sank.

Pastors: do we believe what we teach? Are we maintaining the interior? This goes beyond the “catch as catch can” approach of devotionals and prayers. Here are three suggestions that I have seen make a difference in my life:

Silence – the opportunity to press down through all the noise and the multitude of voices we are subjected to every day in order to hear the One Voice that matters.

Sharing– not “ministry” or superficial information, but the communication of our own true needs, frustrations, desires and hopes with one or two people who will listen with grace.

Sabbath – rest, the cessation of work, the pursuit of our humanness; where we can remember that God is quite sufficient to take care of His flock and we are not the center of the universe. It is a time to renew our own sense of being loved for who we are, not what we do.

I like the way The Message translates verses 7 and 8.

“But mostly, show them all this by doing it yourself, incorruptible in your teaching, your words solid and sane. Then anyone who is dead set against us, when he finds nothing weird or misguided, might eventually come around.”

A sound heart keeps us from presenting a misshaped Gospel and gives us a sure foundation from which to lead God’s people.

5 thoughts on “Pastoral Ponderings – A Sound Heart

  1. Thanks, Roy. I’ve been challenged along a similar line through the book “Pursuing God’s Will Together” by Ruth Haley Barton. More than once my attention has been drawn to the old discipline of “praying the offices.” It’s happened again with this book and this time I downloaded an aid to my Kindle app. I’m trying to start a midday discipline. Your blog reminded me of the long-term purpose of that discipline – soundness.

  2. Roy
    great thoughts. we can think we are sound, until we put into the water. and then the boat begins to leak. This is a great illustration as well, since i have been struggling to fix our ‘old wood boat’ and realized that you need to keep the wood moist or the boat won’t keep the water out!
    how difficult it is for pastors to be self aware enough to see how sound they actually are.
    charley blom

  3. Such a good word, Roy (via Paul and God). As one outside the pastor ranks, I received this message in behalf of pastors I care about (DW, DR, ML) and brothers (not pastors) for whom the lessons also apply. Unfortunately, it seems the church corpus, pastors and “non” pastors alike, fail to heed this word. From where I sit, the tension seems enormous both in and especially outside of the church to dismiss this lesson Paul left for us. Even if I/we should happen to “get it,” the tides are so strong to pull me/us away from the center of this idea – which is, abide in Me (capital M). To take it on: 1) dive into the Word like you did; 2) allow the Spirit to infuse/enable us; 3) An empathic brother in the Lord would be really, really nice as well! Part 3 seems extraordinarily important but may be the most missing ingredient for most of us…?

    1. Caring for one’s own soul is a difficult task when busy pastors and people fill all of our days and time with frenetic activity. I like your exhortation, like Paul’s, to care for our own souls. If we don’t, no matter whether clergy or laity, then how can we truly help and care for others. The maxim: “Physician, heal thyself.” comes to mind. Certainly there is a spiritual principle at work here: “Nothing happens through us that is not first happening to us.” I am a Methodist, and one of the hallmarks of “The Methodists” as instructed by our founder, John Wesley, was to meet regularly with other Christians and ask the question: “How is it with your soul?” Your three prescriptions, Silence, Sharing and Sabbath, are good spiritual practices that each of us as Christians need to make habits in our lives if we are to heed God’s words in order to be fully mature in Christ and fully prepared to lead others. Pastors, in particular, and Christians, in general, need to learn and relearn what it means to take care of our own souls as well as the precious souls of those to whom we have been given responsibility and authority from the Lord, starting with our own families and friends.

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