Ministry might just be the perfect storm.
If you have a marketplace job, your life has some definable components: your work, your family and your personal life. You might get up, spend some time with God, head off to work, come home and hang out with your family.
In ministry, these worlds get fused. You wake up, spend time with God. Go to work, which in some ways is spending more time with God and serving God. Then you go home, and wait – you are a Christian family. And you attend work with your family. Or hang on, is that work or is that personal or is that family?
See what I mean. It gets confusing.
In my first year in ministry, I found I was tempted to combine my personal spiritual walk with sermon prep. If I was preaching Exodus anyway, why not hang out in the text during my quiet time?
I don’t know why, but early on that just struck me as unhealthy. So I decided to adopt a discipline of personal bible reading that had zero to do with "work". My plan the first year was just this: read through the Bible in a year. I did, and it revitalized my devotional life. Fourteen years later, I’m still reading through the Bible every year. I’d never say everyone should do it. But for me, it’s been awesome. For whatever reason, it’s liberating to be reading through 2 Chronicles and realizing you may never preach on it all year long.
Naturally, I find things in the Bible I end up preaching on. But the point is that that wasn’t the point.
I do pray for things that impact our ministry, but I try to spend a lot of time praying about things that I would pray about if I wasn’t in ministry. For me, it’s boiled down to a simple, haunting question:
If I stopped ministry tomorrow, what would be left of my spiritual life?
By cultivating a spiritual walk that has little do do with work, I hope I can answer that question with a resounding "quite a bit."
This principle has helped my family sort out the thorny question of what to participate in as well. The rule we adopted early on was that as a family, we would do those things we would normally do if we were just Christians and I wasn’t the pastor. It would be normal for our family to serve in some ministries, but not every ministry. Normal to be out at church a night or two a week, but not every night of the week. Normal to attend church, but not necessarily multiple services every Sunday just because we hold them. So my wife and kids serve because they are Christians, not because I’m the pastor. It’s been so healthy.
We’ve been fortunate to be part of a community that understands that principle, respects it and even thinks it’s healthy. So grateful for that!
This is the fourth practice that’s helped me stay alive and engaged in ministry more often than not over fifteen years: to cultivate a spiritual walk that has little to do with "work".
How about you? What helps you? If you stopped ministry tomorrow, what would be left of your spiritual life? If you stopped ministry tomorrow, what would that do to your family’s rhythm of service?