In my mind, whenever I read something written for “young pastors” I still think they’re talking to me but life keeps me giving me reminders that I’m older than I realize. (My latest reminder was hearing Seinfeld aired its final episode 20 years ago.)
So, I’m not young but God willing, I have some years left to serve the Lord. Though I pray for visible fruit in this day, I increasingly find myself asking God for the grace to finish well. My motivations are partly based on stories I hear of pastors who do not end well. One story is too many. Maybe it’s our current multimedia age, but I feel like I hear about these things in growing frequency.
I don’t look on these pastors with any sort of judgment. Rather, I recognize that apart from the grace of God in my life, I am fully capable of experiencing the same things that cause others not to finish well.
Along with depending on God’s grace, I want to be wise in recognizing certain warning signs in my life. I’ve found it helpful to have a periodic checklist to gauge my health in different areas. Based on past experience, God has shown me that it’s beneficial for me to give attention to these areas because when I don’t, I usually experience the results.
Here’s how I break it down (recognizing that as a holistic being, these things often bleed into one another):
How do I find myself processing life? Am I experiencing the renewing of my mind or is there an unhealthy pattern to my thought life?
In one aspect, this involves the nourishing of my mind. Is my intellect becoming dull with too many late-night Netflix binges? Then I probably need to read more books.
When I think about my mind, I also consider my mental health. As I wrote about in a previous post, I suffer from depression. I need to recognize some of the common warning signs I’ve experienced in the past and actively seek out life-giving responses. For me, this includes the wisdom of mental health professionals.
I have learned that my effectiveness and joy as a pastor is directly tied to my physical health. It means giving proper attention to:
Exercise: As busy as I sometimes feel, I feel even more stressed and tired if I eliminate work outs. I do cardio and strength training.
Diet: When I’m stressed, I eat. A lot and poorly. As I look back, many of the lowest seasons of my life were tied to poor dietary habits. I do better when I eat better. Even including kale.
Sleep: As a young knuckleheaded pastor, I remember priding myself on how much I could accomplish on as little sleep as possible. Sleep is critical to my well-being and it forces me to ask whether watching that movie late into the night is worth the sacrifice to my overall health.
By soul, I mean my relationship with God. I know it’s not very cool in some circles to talk about a relationship with God but it works for me. How is my walk with Him? Am I experiencing intimacy and dwelling in fellowship with the Lord?
In my life, that starts with looking at my time in the Word and prayer. Obviously, that can be a really shallow reflection of genuine relationship and I’m not suggesting a simplistic “Just read your Bible and pray” formula to spiritual maturity. But at least for me, I can always tie back my soul health to communicating with God through His revealed word and in prayer.
It is also helpful to incorporate various expressions of seeking God. Extended seasons of fasting have always proven to be a powerful time of knowing God. Personal retreats throughout the year have also been invaluable. Basically, find whatever works for you to walk in communion with the Lord and give yourself the means to do it to the best of your ability.
Isolation is deadly. The challenge as pastors is to think we are relationally connected because we are around people all the time yet be lacking genuine communion. One of my warning signs is when I can see that I have become emotionally and physically distant from others. If I see that happening, I have a list of people I reconnect with.
My list of those important relationships obviously includes my spouse and my children. Yet, I have been convicted that my family can’t be the only ones who bear the brunt of my relational soul. That’s placing a big burden on them. I also need good friends who don’t think of me as “Pastor” but just “Dan.” It doesn’t have to be a big group. Whether they are from your church or outside of it, having a few people you can trust is a significant aspect of ministry longevity.
Obviously, having a checklist is no guarantee we finish well but I’m a believer that in His kindness, God gives us different items in our toolbox to help us do this journey well.
Remember: It’s for His own glory that we run and finish this race well. He wants you to do well. Use whatever you have or consider making some changes to give yourself the best chance of that.
I would love to hear what practices you have in your own life to help you finish strong. Please feel free to share in the comments.