Dr. Wayne Grudem, noted biblical scholar, professor, and author, shares an experience that may provide insight into what seems to be an epidemic of moral, ethical, and leadership failures of prominent Christian pastors, denominational leaders, politicians and church staff. While working on the translation for the English Standard Version of the Bible, Grudem along with dozens of scholars worked round the clock to complete the final translation. Grudem said he started getting up a little later each day, incrementally encroaching on his time for prayer and communion with God. After being convicted for not giving prayer its due, Grudem wrote of the spiritual sickness that followed from not tending to his relationship with God. Grudem noted a lack of joy, an irritability and a loss of the fruits of the spirit among his symptoms.
This may seem odd considering Grudem was daily immersed in God’s word. But, daily reading, studying, and discussing the Bible was not enough to keep Grudem’s heart from drifting from God and for inward and outward symptoms to appear. Apparently, even the act of translating the Bible can leave us spiritually empty if we neglect the relational aspects of our walk with God.
I have no doubt that pastors who have experienced moral failure, emotional burnout, or behavior contrary to the fruits of the spirit spent copious time in God’s word in preparation for multiple weekly preaching and teaching responsibilities. It is beyond debate that spending time in Scripture is a foundational spiritual discipline, but clearly it wasn’t sufficient to keep these leaders from committing ministry suicide.
What Does The Bible Say About the Relational Aspects Of Our Soul Care?
Anecdotal evidence suggests that no more than 10-20% of a church’s sermons, discipleship classes, curriculums and programs are devoted to training on the inner spiritual life, where we relate personally with God. Yet, Scripture is full of passages that speak to the relational side of faith.
- And, as far as I can tell, Jesus didn’t take a copy of the Torah with him when he retreated to the mountains, desert, seashore, the Garden of Gethsemane, or the Mount of Olives. As important as Holy Scripture was to Jesus’ teachings, it appears these times of silence, solitude and prayer were devoted exclusively to listening to, talking with and becoming one with the heart and mind of God.
- David speaks of his intimate relationship with God in Psalm 16:8-9 – “I have set the Lord continually before me, for He is at my right hand and I will not be shaken. Therefore, my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; my flesh also will dwell securely.”
- In Matthew’s story of the transfiguration there is no hint of what Jesus said or did in response to Peter’s blathering about erecting three tabernacles. The Father, however, didn’t allow Peter to remain ignorant. In verse 5 of chapter 17 we read, “While he was still speaking…a voice out of the cloud said, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!'” The exclamation point suggests that God did not say these words meekly, but rather he raised his voice to emphasize that the disciples needed to listen and just be with Jesus rather than try to do something for Jesus.
- And in the famous Mary and Martha story from Luke 10:38-42, we find Martha working to provide the meal for Jesus to eat and Mary sitting at His feet listening to what He has to say. Like us, Martha complains about her workload. Nonetheless, Jesus defends Mary’s act of preference to simply sit in Jesus’s presence.
The conflict of Mary and Martha is in ourselves. Having sufficient time with Jesus to sustain our doing for Him is, perhaps, the primary tension of every church leader. Dallas Willard says of this tension that church leaders face, “the greatest enemy of intimacy with God is our service to God.” Thomas Merton spoke of it like this, “Our rushing river of doing for God must be fed by a still lake of being with God.” A.W. Tozer may have said it best, “The whole transaction of religious conversion has been made mechanical and spiritless. We’ve almost forgotten that God is a person and, as such, a relationship can be cultivated just as with any human.”
Soul care at its simplest is about cultivating your relationship with God. Just as tools are required to cultivate the soil for a new crop, you need spiritual tools to cultivate your relationship with God. Over the centuries great men and women of God have developed a variety of meaningful spiritual disciplines and practice that are designed to cultivate one’s relationship with God. I have compiled 20 of these in a free eBook you can access by clicking HERE.
The bottom-line question for all of us in ministry is this: Will we take the necessary time to tend to the relational side of our soul care or will we try to slide by without it?
Posted on February 28, 2023