You might want to read Pastor…Are You Reading Too Much of The Same Thing? before you go further.

In my office next to big comfortable chair I sit on when spending time with God is my stack of quiet time tools. I have a Bible, a notebook for journaling, and a notebook for writing my prayers. I have a small pad of paper to write things down that I don’t want to forget, things that might pop into my mind and distract me. In addition to these, I always have a book I am reading devotionally for spiritual formation. Some of these books are considered spiritual classics, and some of them have been written by contemporary authors who focus on the inner life. Francis Bacon wrote, “Some books are to be tasted, others are to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”

Over the years there have been many books that I have chewed and digested for the purpose of spiritual formation. Here are some examples:

  • A Monk’s Alphabet by Jeremy Driscoll
  • The Seeking Heart by François Fénelon
  • The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
  • Devotional Classics, Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups edited by Richard Foster and James Bryan Smith
  • Any volume from the Rekindling the Inner Fire series edited by David Hazard
  • Shepherds Balm by Richard Earl
  • The Wisdom of the Desert arranged by Thomas Merton
  • My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers
  • A Simple Path by Mother Teresa
  • The Essential Wisdom of the Saints edited by Carol Kelly-Gangi

For the really, really serious reader:

  • Interior Castle by Saint Teresa of Avila
  • Dark Night of the Soul by Saint John of the Cross
  • Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ by Jeanne Guyon

My two favorite books on the spiritual disciplines:

  • Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
  • The Life You’ve Always Wanted by John Ortberg

***

My favorite spiritual writer of all time is Thomas Merton. In all my years of reading, no single writer has had more influence on my spiritual formation than Thomas Merton. Merton said, “For there are people one meets—in books and in life—with whom a deep resonance is at once established” and their books “open up a new road” for you. For some reason, Merton has been one of those people for me. If you are unfamiliar with Merton, the book Seeds, edited by Robert Inchausti, is a great introduction to his writings, and is, in itself, a great book to use devotionally. I always recommend Seeds to those who want to start reading Merton. When Merton was alive he endorsed A Thomas Merton Reader for those interested in getting to know him and his work. Both are excellent introductions.

***

Here are some helpful questions to ask to determine if a book is a spiritual classic, or a spiritual-formation-focused book, that can serve the inspirational category of reading:

Does this book have anything to do with church growth, church management, pastoral skills, philosophy of ministry, biblical commentary, Greek or Hebrew word study, or leadership development? If so, it’s not what I’m talking about.

Does this book have an obvious focus on spiritual formation, spiritual disciplines, personal intimacy with God or going deeper in one’s relationship with God? If so, then it probably is what I’m talking about.

Is the book trying to make you more knowledgeable or more spiritual? If the focus is more on education than formation, then it’s not what I’m talking about.

Is the author still living? If so, then there’s a 50/50 chance it’s not a spiritual classic.

Questions for reflection:

  1. Do I read more for education, recreation, or inspiration?
  2. What type of input do I need more of: education, recreation, or inspiration?
  3. Which books on the recommended reading list have I read?
  4. Which books on the list would I be interested in reading?
  5. Which of these could I buy today?
  6. What’s stopping me from buying it?

***

The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.

images-1

Ellen’s closet is packed. Mine…not so much, especially during the winter months. I have four flannel shirts that I rotate through each week. Ellen threatens me that she is going to burn them. I threaten her that I will leave her if she does. Of course I’m joking. I’m not sure she is. A man shouldn’t have to put a lock on his closet door. Anyways…

Shirts remind me of the labels we put on people. Everybody has favorite shirts, or pants, or shoes, and everybody, or so it seems to me, has their favorite labels that they like to put on others.

Since we’re coming into a election year we’re going hear more and more about Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Obama-hating and Obama-loving people.

In the church world we have shirts we like to put on people. We’ve got Evangelicals vs. Liberals, Charismatic vs. non-Charismatic, Egalitarian vs. Complimentarian, Gay welcoming and affirming vs. Gay welcoming but not affirming, Calvinist vs. Arminian, Traditionalist vs. Progressive, pro-Flannel shirts vs. anti-Flannel shirts. This is just a partial list of the many labels we like to put on people. As I see it there are three problems with labels.

 

  1. With labels as with clothing, seldom does one size fit all. For example, many Evangelicals believe some things Progressives believe and vise versa. I know some Southern Baptists that are more Charismatic than some Charismatics.

 

  1. It is hard to label a person without there being contempt attached. Just listen to the next person you hear put a label on someone. They might not use these exact words but you can still hear “Those stupid…” tacked on to the beginning of their sentence, or, “…and I’m better than they are.” added to the end of their sentence.

 

  1. Finally, when I label a person I fail to see the person as a person and instead see them as a label. Labels limit. Labels limit my ability to love the person as God loves them and limits by ability to see the person as God sees them. The person I label, the person I have contempt for, is dearly beloved by our mutual Father in heaven. They might be wrong but first they are a child of God and loved just as much by God as God loves me.

 

When I was a kid I remember an advertisement at the back of a comic book for a pair of glasses that would enable you to have x-ray vision. They led you to believe that with them you could see under peoples clothes. Hot Dog! I ordered one. It didn’t work.

I want to see under the clothes, under the labels that I try to put on people. I want to see people naked.

 

 

reading

Fred Smith Sr. has been a mentor to some of the most well-known Christian leaders of our day. Fred popularized the phrase, “Leaders are readers,” and also said, “Make clear decisions about what you read and why.”1

Most pastors are readers, but they read too much of the same thing. By this I mean that pastors tend to gravitate toward books dealing with the ministry—reading for information rather than spiritual formation. I often wish they would read books other than the ones they take the time to read.

It is always somewhat exciting to start a new book—especially one you have reason to believe will be really good. Clean, stiff, untouched…soon it will be bent, written on, underlined, stained. I’m not nice to my books. And a good book will not be nice to me.

There is a place, I guess, for nice books, but the best books are never nice. Good books are intrusive, forceful, and inconsiderate of your feelings and comfort. A good book, unlike a nice book, confronts, challenges thought, and forces you to think, reconsider, or change. A good book will take you where you’ve never been before—often times kicking and screaming.

Most pastors read, but they read nice books. It’s a shame that with the little amount of time they do have to read that they bother to read the stuff they do: commentaries, church growth/management, books that develop their skills or give them new ways of doing the same old thing, all the while ignoring the books that deal with the pastor’s true self—his center or her soul.

Balanced people are balanced readers. There are three types of reading: educational, recreational, and inspirational.

1. Educational: For pastors this means books like commentaries, leadership development, church health/growth, etc.

2. Recreational: Fun stuff, reading just for the pleasure of it. Nothing work related.

3. Inspirational: Reading that stretches your soul. With this type of reading, you are not looking for information as much as inspiration—inspiration that deepens your intimacy (into-me-see) with Jesus.

All three are needed for balance. Most pastors are good at educational and recreational reading, but not so good at inspirational reading. What are you reading for inspiration?

I’ve never been able to confirm this quotation from Thomas à Kempis, so don’t quote me on it, but supposedly only one scrap of paper with his actual writing has survived and it reads: “For rest, respite, repose on this earth, I’ve looked high and low, but couldn’t find it, except perhaps in out-of-the-way nooks with out-of-the-ordinary books.”

The best books are out of the ordinary, they get your attention and transform your soul, and they form you more than inform you.

***

The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.

Unknown

A couple weeks ago on Facebook I said that the greatest obstacle to the spiritual life is a love of sleep. Quite a few responses were generated by that and I’m afraid that most of them missed my point and instead focused on the benefits of getting a good nights sleep, which, as someone who does not sleep well, I will not argue. But that was not my point. I didn’t state my point. I do that sometimes. I want some statements to make people think. So…I should not get too upset when they end up thinking things I did not intend. Anyways…

Here’s what I was getting at. In regards to spending time alone with God, any time other than first thing in the morning is risky. First thing is the only sure thing. I’m not saying that having a quiet time in the middle of the day or evening will not work. Times like this can be just as meaningful but they are twice as likely (maybe more so) to be interrupted or postponed. And what does this have to do with a love of sleep and a fear of feeling tired?

For most of us, if we are going to start our day with time alone with God, if we don’t want to be interrupted by the family or by morning appointments, we will have to get up earlier than we would like to. We will have to, oh forgive me for saying this, set our alarm clock earlier. A good alarm clock is the best devotional tool you will ever have.

Now, I can already hear the objections: “I’m not a morning person. If I get up earlier I’ll feel tired. It’s better for me to meet with God later in the day.” Okay, let’s look at these arguments one by one.

Objection #1: I’m not a morning person.

This could be true. Some people can pop out of bed with a smile on their face, a clear head, and a song on their lips. Others hold on to their pillows like a man clutching a life preserver after having been swept overboard. For some waking up is easy, for others it’s hard. But honestly, haven’t there been times in your life when you had to set your alarm clock either for work or something else? When you did, when you got up early, did it kill you?

I thought about drawing your attention to Mark 1:35 (“When it was early in the morning, before the sun came up, Jesus left the house and went off to a quiet and remote place where he prayed.”) but making a principle out of a single verse is poor hermeneutics, not to mention an attempt to motivate by guilt and shame, and even though we pastors are good at that, I will not go there.

So, while it’s true that you might not be a “morning person,” consider what is more important to you: to stay in bed and stay the way you are, or set your alarm a bit earlier to insure that you have time to cultivate intimacy with God?

Objection #2: If I get up earlier I’ll feel tired.

Yes, you probably will. But is feeling tired really that horrible? Think about it. Feeling tired isn’t pleasurable but it’s not like getting a stick in your eye. Now I realize if you are a bi-vocational pastor who has a day job as a brain surgeon, then maybe you don’t want to poke around gray matter if you’re tired and struggling to keep your eyes open. But other than that…you’ll be okay. Your body will adjust.

Maybe you need to go to bed earlier or plan for a short nap in the middle of your day. The bottom line is this: would you rather feel physically tired or spiritually empty?

Objection #3: It’s better for me to meet with God later in the day.

I hear this a lot. I usually respond by asking, “So how’s that working for you?” The typical answer is, “Well…not as well as I would like. Often something else interrupts me.” Exactly.

If you are able to maintain a meaningful, consistent quiet time with God in the middle of your day, one that is peaceful and unrushed, then more power to you. Keep it up. But if not, take this challenge.

Compare early morning quiet times with middle of the day quiet times. Set a goal of three to four days a week. Take one month and experiment with early morning quiet times and one month with middle of the day quiet times. At the end of the two months ask yourself which approach proved to be more consistent and meaningful. Do what works best for you. Just remember, your current devotional routine is perfectly designed to give you the results you are getting. If you want different results you will probably have to do something different.

***

The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.

hat

I wonder what effect it would have on our sermons if we spent as much time meditating on the scriptures for personal edification as we do studying the scriptures for sermon preparation? In other words, let’s say you meditate on the scriptures two hours a week for your own spiritual formation and study the scriptures six hours a week for your Sunday message. What would happen if you reversed that? Would your sermon be better, worse, or the same?

Don’t get me wrong. Ask anyone who has used me as a preaching coach and they will tell you how much I value sermon preparation. I believe that study can be a very spiritual experience. However, we must remind ourselves that the Bible wasn’t primarily given to us for our sermons but for our souls.

So which is best—studying the scriptures or meditating on the scriptures? It doesn’t have to be either/or. It can be both/and. The problem is…seldom is it both/and.

Many of the pastors I talk to admit that the only time they are consistently in the Bible is when they are preparing their sermons. This is not entirely without benefit as far as soul-care is concerned. Any time the word of God goes into our minds we profit, but when we study we tend to have our preacher-hat on.

When I have my preacher-hat on I approach my Bible to dissect it, tear it apart, exegete it. Commentaries, Greek and Hebrew aids, Bible dictionaries, and concordances surround me. I’m looking for the original intent of the author. I’m asking myself, “How might this passage preach?” With my preacher-hat on, I tend to read and study the Bible academically.

As pastors, most of us are good at this. We’ve been trained in hermeneutics and homiletics. We might even have degrees in Bible and theology. We’ve spent thousands of dollars on the books we’ve accumulated over the years that line our walls. An academic approach to the Bible can result in a solid sermon. However, there is no guarantee that it will be the method by which our relationship with Jesus is impassioned, our heart softened, our self-will broken, our eyes opened, or our life deepened.

I’m not suggesting we throw out our preacher-hat; it serves a very legitimate purpose. What we really need is to add to our hat collection one that will help us experience something different than the preacher-hat we typically wear when we come to the Bible. Might I suggest that we need a monk-hat as well?

Although monasticism has produced its fair share of scholars and theologians, monks typically approach the Bible as the very life and breath of God. The book of Hebrews tells us that the word of God is “living and active.” Those in monastic orders relate to scripture as the living thing it claims to be.

It is not unusual for monks to be called contemplatives or reflectives. When I open my Bible wearing my monk-hat, I read it in a contemplative, reflective way. My goal is not so much to gain information, as it is to gain spiritual formation. I am chewing on the words slowly, rolling them around in my mouth like a bite of truffle, and tasting the goodness of God for me the child of God…not for me the sermon-crafter.

***

The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.

Unknown

In my coaching practice I am often surprised to see some pastors actually avoid talking about their quiet times, or lack of quiet times, with God. Once I venture into this subject, the conversation often shifts from their soul to their church.

“So, Bob, tell me about your prayer life.”

“Could be better, but things are going really well at the church. Attendance is up a little.”

“I’m glad to hear that, but it sounds like your devotional life could use some improvement?”

“Well, it could always be better. I’ll tell you what really could use some improvement is our giving. Could we talk about developing a stewardship program?”

“Sure, Bob.”

***

Pastors, and the rest of us for that matter, want to be spiritual and yet resist being spiritual at the same time. Henri Nouwen says, “My resistance to solitude has proved as strong as my desire for it.”

We wish we were something we are not yet, but we resist the steps necessary to become who we wish we were.

I have found that most pastors don’t have a consistent and meaningful devotional life, and many have quit trying to have one. You might think I’m exaggerating but I’m not. Here are some theories I have as to why this is so.

If you haven’t read part one this might be a good time to do so.

Third, our constant “spiritual activities” can fool us into believing we are more spiritual than we really are. Many pastors give more of themselves to their church or ministry than they do to God. If I confuse my ministerial duties with time spent alone with God, I can draw just enough spiritual nutrients from my job to make it through another day but not enough to sustain a life infused with the power and presence of Jesus.

Fourth, we’re just too busy. In Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, Eugene Peterson tells us that “busyness is an illness of spirit, a rush from one thing to another because there is no ballast of vocational integrity and no confidence in the primacy of grace.”3

The busier our lives are, the harder it will be for us to take the time to sit quietly with God. When we do force ourselves to sit down we will be reminded of all the important things to be done today. Then the temptation is to give in to the distractions, cut our time short, and go on about our day.

Finally, in any discussion as to why we find it so difficult to cultivate our inner life, we must not forget the devil.

Certainly our adversary is content to find us any place other than in our prayer closet. The devil couldn’t care less about our ministry activities as long as our souls are shallow and Jesus seems like a distant cousin rather than our Savior-friend. The reproduction of intimacy with Jesus in the lives of those we minister to flows out of our own intimacy with Jesus. Our true identity, the beloved of God, takes root and grows as we spend time with our Father. If our enemy can keep us from that place then he will succeed, and we will only be able to reproduce a superficial spirituality in the people we’ve been called to pastor.

Thomas Merton said, “Those who cannot be alone cannot find their true being and they are less than themselves.” Haven’t you felt that there must be more to life than you are experiencing? Pay attention—that longing for more is your true being crying out for Jesus.

The restlessness and resistance we feel toward solitude with God is an indication of something we need to face and overcome. We need to be courageous enough to sit still and invite God to “into-me-see.” He will come. He will see. He will share with us what He has found. He will be gentle. He will help us overcome the resistance. Once we overcome the resistance, we will be overcome by Him.

***

The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.

avoidance

In my coaching practice I am often surprised to see some pastors actually avoid talking about their quiet times, or lack of quiet times, with God. Once I venture into this subject, the conversation often shifts from their soul to their church.

“So, Bob, tell me about your prayer life.”

“Could be better, but things are going really well at the church. Attendance is up a little.”

“I’m glad to hear that, but it sounds like your devotional life could use some improvement?”

“Well, it could always be better. I’ll tell you what really could use some improvement is our giving. Could we talk about developing a stewardship program?”

“Sure, Bob.”

***

Pastors, and the rest of us for that matter, want to be spiritual and yet resist being spiritual at the same time. Henri Nouwen says, “My resistance to solitude has proved as strong as my desire for it.”

We wish we were something we are not yet, but we resist the steps necessary to become who we wish we were.

I have found that most pastors don’t have a consistent and meaningful devotional life, and many have quit trying to have one. You might think I’m exaggerating but I’m not. Here are some theories I have as to why this is so.

First, it’s hard to develop a devotional life, especially if we don’t have much of one in the first place or if we have tried and failed repeatedly. It’s no wonder things like prayer, meditation, silence, and solitude are called spiritual disciplines. It takes discipline to engage in these practices and discipline is hard—and we tend to resist what is hard and favor what is easy.

Second, we’re afraid of what we might hear in the silence. There can actually be some anxiety surrounding the thought of being alone with God. Henri Nouwen put it this way:

We seem to have a fear of empty spaces. The philosopher Spinoza called this a horror vacui. We want to fill up what is empty. Our lives stay very full. And when we are not blinded by busyness, we fill our inner space with guilt about things of the past or worries about things to come. Perhaps part of our fear comes from the fact that an empty place means that something may happen to us that we cannot predict, that is new, that invites leads us to a place we might not want to go. I might not want to hear what God has to say.

For two years I met with a spiritual director, named Russ Ikeda, while transitioning from the pastorate to coaching. Russ gave me a helpful definition of the word intimacy: “Intimacy means ‘into-me-see.’” Isn’t that great?

When I sit quietly with God I am inviting Him to look into me and to share with me what He sees. Silence and solitude with God might make us uncomfortable at first, like looking into the mirror first thing in the morning before we’ve had a chance to tidy up a bit. If we persist, eventually our times of quiet with God will become the most peaceful and safe place we’ve ever experienced. Until we experience this, however, the horror vacui causes us to resist.

***

The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.

Unknown

As a noun, the word monk represents a discipline of life unattainable and undesirable for most of us. It’s doubtful that many of us are going to cloister ourselves away in a monastery, taking on a vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience. We love our possessions, sex, and independence too much. Like a pair of pants one size too small, monk as a noun just doesn’t fit us very comfortably.

If we’re Protestants we struggle with monks theologically. Our thoughts may run something like this: monks believe in purgatory, give homage to Mary, pray to the saints, and teach something called transubstantiation. If we’ve done any kind of study into early church history, we most certainly have run across stories of monks, and their even more radical friends, the hermits. Who wants to starve themselves to near-death, live in the desert, sleep on the ground, and go without any of the comforts we’ve grown accustomed to? (All of which, I might add, is an unfair caricature of most hermits.) To use monk as a noun, to be a monk, seems unnecessary if not unfortunate. When we see a monk on the street or in a movie, we might feel sorry for them. (The funny thing is, they often feel sorry for us.) Look at all they’re missing. But are they the ones missing out, or could we be the ones?

As I see it, the word monk must change from a noun to a verb or we will never learn to benefit from this ancient form of Christianity. We don’t have to believe everything a monk believes in order “to monk.” We can remain a Baptist, a Pentecostal, or a Lutheran, and still monk. And might I suggest that not only can we monk—but monk, we must. Why do I say such a thing?

“Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.” (Richard Foster)

Those who monk become deeper people. The spiritually shallow will never adorn the gospel enough to make it something attractive to those who need it.

Let’s face it. When people outside the church look at those of us inside the church, they often don’t see much of a difference. Our divorce rate is about the same, we struggle with the same addictions, and we can be just as prejudiced, self-righteous, unforgiving, and mean as the next person. Our “religion” has had little effect on our materialism, our consumerism, our fascination with celebrities, and all that we call entertainment. We are just as busy, stressed, and worried as those who make no profession of faith. Our children can be just as ill behaved, despite a steady exposure to a great children’s ministry at our church. We drive as fast, eat as much, and find humor in the same things everyone else does. When we invite those outside to join us, what are we asking them to join? We’ve already joined them! It’s hard to admit, but we’re not really all that different from those who don’t profess faith in Christ.

We’ve been brainwashed, bamboozled, tricked. Our culture, particularly if we live in a western society, has slowly infected us, and we are barely aware of it. In fact, pretty much all of the things we’ve had contact with from birth up to the present—our parents, our schools, our friends, mass-media, and sometimes even the church—have all played a part in making us less than who we were created to be. We are not whole. We are partial at best.

My true self—that part of me made in the image of God—has been suppressed, pushed down, and buried. That which is on the surface, what is seen by those around me, is my false self. In Seeds, an excellent compilation of the different themes found in the writings of Thomas Merton, editor Robert Inchausti says, “The world cultivates the false self, ignores the real one, and therein lies the great irony of human existence: The more we make of ourselves, the less we actually exist.”

If we are ever going to resurrect our true self we must monk.

***

The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.

Unknown

If you haven’t read part one and part two, you may want to. Here they are: pt. 1 pt. 2.

It’s hard to be content in the ministry because our culture narrowly defines success using three words: bigger, more, or new. Therefore, if your ministry or church seems smaller, less, or old, you are not viewed as successful. This cultural definition, of which few of us can escape, contributes to our discontent. It is ingrained in all of us to want to be successful.

I’ve recommended this book for years: Rethinking the Successful Church by Samuel D. Rima. This book isn’t on my “recommended” reading list, it’s on my “read this book or go to jail” list. Every pastor or future pastor who hasn’t already read Rima’s book should stop what they’re doing right now and find this book, order this book, beg, borrow, or steal this book.

Most pastors, if they’re really honest—really, really, really honest—would admit that they would love to be thought of as having a successful church. This isn’t necessarily bad if one’s definition of success is a pure one, unaffected by our western culture. But as Rima points out: “The task of redefining our understanding of success will not be an easy one. Over the course of a lifetime we have had drilled into us a cultural view of success that is not easy to shake.”

The word success has become so Americanized that it is hard to use it without thinking of words like size, numbers, big, popular, and influential. I’d like to throw out the word success, at least any connection between it and the local church, and replace it with the word value. “For me, success in ministry has become much more qualitative than it is quantitative. The reality is that it is entirely possible to manufacture phenomenal church growth and produce dramatic tangible indicators of success, while at the same time accomplish nothing of any genuine eternal value.”

I agree with Rima that we live in a culture of success, and I would add that today’s Christian culture tends to define success in the same way our secular culture does. Equating size with success has been drilled into us over the course of our life time. Let’s throw out the word ‘success’ and replace it with the word ‘value.’

You and your church may never be successful according to the world’s definition but that doesn’t mean you don’t have value. A church can have value whether it has only five, fifty, or a hundred members. “At some point on our ministry journey we have got to realize that we can build the biggest church in the world and actually see thousands of people coming to Christ, and still be an abysmal failure in the eyes of God. If our motives are impure, our methods dubious, and our personal character and spirituality seriously flawed, I do not believe God considers us successful.”

You have value when you remain faithful to your calling even when it would be easier to pull a Jonah and run in the opposite direction. You have value when you show up week after week to teach the Word. You have value when you love your people—especially those who are hard to love. You have value when you try to produce followers of Jesus, when you pray for people, when you counsel people, when you comfort people who are in pain. Your church might not have success, but it does have value when it loves those inside and outside its doors.

Throw out success. Replace it with value.

Paul said that it is required of ministers that we be found trustworthy, not successful (1 Cor. 4:2). Mother Teresa is reported to have said, “God has not called you to be successful. God has called you to be faithful.”

I know everyone has heard of the famous billionaire John D. Rockefeller. In an interview, when asked, “How many more dollars until you’re satisfied?” Mr. Rockefeller answered, “Just one more.”

We pastors aren’t much different: the pastor of twenty-five parishioners dreams of the day when he will have fifty; the pastor of fifty dreams of the day when she will have a hundred; the pastor of a hundred dreams of the day when the church membership will rise above two hundred . But once you pass two hundred, you dream of five hundred. The dreaming goes on and on and on. It’s all a dream: the dream that at some point, at some size, you will feel successful. You won’t. You will always dream of “just one more.”

Since we’ve been brainwashed into believing that success in the ministry means bigger, more, and new—and since there will always be a bigger, bigger; a more, more; and a newer new—it’s no wonder we find it hard to be content.

***

The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.

relaxed

If you haven’t read part one, you may want to. Here it is.

It’s hard to be content in the ministry because we’re worried that contentment will lead to complacency—or that those we serve will mistake our contentment for complacency. There is a false idea that contentment is synonymous with complacency.

Contentment is a state of peaceful happiness and satisfaction with a certain level of achievement. A content person is not always wishing for more.

Complacency often refers to a smugness or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s achievements. When I think of someone who is complacent I imagine them as someone who feels no need to “get off the couch” of life or ministry.

Paul told Timothy, “Godliness coupled with contentment is very beneficial” (1 Tim. 6:4).

God wants you to be content with the size of your church without becoming complacent in regards to discipleship and evangelism. I realize this is not an easy balance to achieve but it is one that must be achieved.

Would you describe your current attitude in regard to the size of your church as “a state of peaceful happiness?” Could you say you are “satisfied with a certain level of achievement, not wishing for more?” Remember, we’re talking about the size of your church, not how well your church is doing in reaching the lost, feeding the poor and making serious followers of Christ. Are you content in being the pastor of your church regardless of its size? Can you embrace contentedness without becoming complacent about all the other things the church is supposed to be and do? I hope so. I also know, from personal experience, how hard it is to be content with the size of your congregation.

Is it just me or does it seem like the church-related books pastors read, the conferences they go to, and the ministerial meetings they attend often end up causing them to feel more discontent than content?

There still exists in “Churchianity” far too much emphasis upon numbers and church growth. I’m not against numbers or church growth, but I am against anything that makes pastors feel like they don’t measure up.

A content pastor still cares about reaching people and fulfilling the Great Commission. A content pastor puts in a good day’s work but refuses to work more hours for the church than is healthy for his or her soul, marriage, and family. It takes courage to be a content pastor because occasionally you will have to dig in your heels and say no to members of your church that want to push you to do more and more and more. There must be some lazy pastors out there but I’ve never met one. We must find a way to be content without being complacent. It’s one thing to want your church to grow and another thing to need your church to grow in order to feel good about yourself and your church. The pastor who does not need his or her church to grow will experience peace, joy, freedom, and contentment.

It’s hard to be content in the ministry because the driven, type A personality (a temperament marked by excessive competitiveness and ambition, as well as an obsession with accomplishing tasks quickly) is rewarded in our culture. And, if you don’t have a type A personality you can feel like a slacker or someone destined for mediocrity.

Yes, you’ve got to have some drive or else nothing will ever get done. But, on the other hand, I know many pastors who are too driven, and they’re driving themselves to an early grave. It’s hard to be content with your pedal to the floor.

Questions for reflection:

On a scale of one to ten (ten being high), how would I score my current contentment in my life and ministry?

What one thing could I do to raise my score by one point?

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The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.

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