You rarely hear of a minister “going postal.” We don’t take an Uzi and shoot up a deacons meeting…….we think about it, but we don’t do it! But, we do get depressed, cheat on our spouses, become addicted, emotionally hurt those we lead, and burn out to the point we do something so stupid they have to fire us. Like bankruptcy, it appears sudden, when actually it happened slowly, one day at a time, one decision at a time…..to take that next phone call, to stay at the church for another evening meeting, to accept a Saturday wedding, to attend to the needs of others before one’s own family.
Many a minister and pastor can testify to the allurements of serving in positions of church leadership. In fact, the church will tempt, trap, seduce, court, betray, reward, and deplete you into self-destruction. She will then fire you and go out and find your clone. Sound harsh? Well, it is, but legions of pastors and ministers can testify to this reality.
No minister wakes up in the morning saying I want to mess up my life and ministry today. But, we commit ministry suicide because we don’t know how to nurture our souls or tell people our souls are depleted. Ministry by definition is depleting. Walking down the hallways of the church can feel like someone is sticking a vacuum hose into our side, sucking out our very soul. And, if we are constantly giving and not being refilled we eventually “implode.” Implosion is where the pressure on the outside becomes greater than the pressure on the inside can sustain. All too often the pressures of ministry become greater than the infrastructure of our inner spiritual lives, and we collapse inward, inevitably leading to destructive behaviors.
Soul Care Requires More Than The Typical Quiet Time
Recognizing the dangers of “minister implosion” we began to offer our church staff a personal Spiritual Retreat Day* to be taken on a work day once a month. The idea was for the ministers to take an entire day to be alone with God and refuel and nourish their souls.
When it became evident that most of the staff weren’t taking their Spiritual Retreat Days we made it mandatory rather than optional. When the inconsistent participation persisted, most told me that in light of their other responsibilities they didn’t have time to spend a day with God. Undeterred, I relieved them of some non-essential job duties and reprioritized others. Only then did the real reason staff weren’t taking their Spiritual Retreat Days come to light.
In moments of humble honest reflection, our ministers repeatedly shared with me that they didn’t know how to spend an entire day alone with God. Like good Southern Baptists, they had been told a few minutes of daily “quiet time” time was sufficient. So, after about an hour of Bible and devotional reading and prayer most of our staff were spent, and didn’t know what else to do with the remaining hours of their Spiritual Retreat Day.
“Being”—The Missing Link In Soul Care
This revelation sent me on a quest to find personal soul care resources to help our staff plan an uninterrupted day with God. What I found was a reflection of the philosophy, methodology, and strengths of my denomination’s approach to spiritual growth. Checking first with LifeWay, the Southern Baptist publishing house, I found copious resources on Bible Study, or “knowing” about God, on worship, or “praising” to God, and on missional engagement, or “doing” for God. What was revealing was the scarcity of relational intimacy resources, or “being” with God. Fortunately, I discovered this was a resource sweet spot of other Christ-following denominations and groups.
Intentionally engaging these writers and their resources introduced our staff to ancient, new, and varied spiritual disciplines, exercises, and practices that equipped them to better care for their own souls**. In the process we learned that as important as knowing about, worshipping to, and doing for God is, alone they are insufficient to meet the soul care needs for church staff who serve in an environment where every day, including Sunday, is a work day***.
And, likewise, for many Christians the missing ingredient for sustaining our souls is a consistent regimen that creates the conditions for us to connect, commune, and be one with God. Combined with the knowing, worshipping, and doing forms of soul care, this type of regimen is more likely, under God’s grace, to transform our whole selves.
*Click here for examples of personal Spiritual Retreat exercises
**Click here for a listing of soul care books and resources
**Refer to the following Sacred Structures articles for additional insights into personal soul care:
Posted on October 30, 2018