by Mark Dance
We all want to have a growing walk with God.
But it’s far from automatic or easy—even in the ministry. Those of us who have served on church staff know how much more difficult it is to practice spiritual growth than it is to teach it.
So how do busy church leaders maintain a love for Jesus that’s stronger than our love for anyone else, including His bride? I believe ministers benefit from having a healthy degree of separation between our lives and our ministries.
Here are a few practical ideas that have helped to keep my walk with God fresh between Sundays.
1. Make Jesus the first appointment of your day.
Corporate weekend worship helps to fuel our love for God, but I dare say it’s not sufficient for the entire week. The more spiritual fuel you use, the more you’ll need. About seven years ago, God reminded me of the simplicity and priority found in the first and greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength,” (Mark 12:30).
I immediately began to rearrange my schedule so breakfast meetings, workouts, and social media interactions didn’t compete with my walk with God. Schedule a daily appointment with Jesus and consider it your most important meeting of the day—because it is.
2. Regularly change your routine.
Mix up your routine by walking or jogging with God, and exercise your body and soul at the same time. My cardio workouts are great for visiting with both of my best friends—Jesus and my wife, Janet. Prayer walking or running may even be preferable to prayer sitting, especially if you live in a constant state of attention deficiency like I do. For heaven’s sake, go outside.
King David wrote that his soul was often restored as he lay down in green pastures and beside still waters (Psalm 23:2-3). When winter’s frost blows in, I’ll change up my routine again by meeting with God in my favorite chair next to our fireplace.
3. Read Scripture you’re not teaching.
Your sermon or lesson text is not inferior to a devotional text, but it may be insufficient for your own soul’s nourishment. The longer I pastored, the harder it became to read Scripture as a love letter instead of a teaching tool. Prayer and Bible study are connected more to my walk with God than to my work for God, although there will be some inevitable overlap.
Try using a flexible reading plan to avoid becoming frustrated when you get behind on your reading . . . and you will. For several years, I have used the HCSB Study Bible app. It has one- and three-year reading plans, as well as a chronological option.
4. Read books you’re not teaching.
A Christian book can be a healthy supplement to your daily quiet time. Recently, I read one of A.W. Tozer’s books with a young pastor. Over lunch, we talked about some of the insights we gleaned from the book, which was very rewarding.
I suggest you read one book at time. And don’t rush. Instead my advice is to “chew slowly and enjoy your food.”
5. Join a small group you are not leading.
I was curious how many pastors attend a small group or Bible study they aren’t leading, so I sent a Twitter inquiry to some of my followers who are pastors. Few of them said they were in a group they didn’t lead.
That’s unfortunate. Be careful not to become so impressed with your spiritual wisdom that you forget to learn from other people. I genuinely look forward to being with my small group each Sunday and hearing someone else teach from the Scripture.
6. Write down your thoughts and prayers.
Prayer can be a multi-sensory conversation. Texts, emails, and social media are legitimate ways to stay connected with family and friends. The same can be true for your quiet time. Writing your prayers and thoughts in a journal can invigorate your relationship with God.
There will never be a more important thing for us to do than to love God. So reshuffle your schedule to reflect that priority.