I work with pastors on a daily basis. To be candid, I see many pastors struggling. Ministry has always been hard, but the last couple of years have been brutal. I never want to dump more of a burden on pastors. Outward pressure to “perform” is not what pastors need right now. In this post, however, I want to share some things I’ve observed in what I am calling “truly joyful pastors”.
Of course, we would all encourage our church to have joy. We know joy is a fruit of the Spirit. It is a state of mind more than a result of circumstances. Yet, we also know that knowing a truth and living a truth we know can be two very different things. So, how do we live the truth we teach?
Again, I want to be helpful, so to provide an application to this post, after each point I’ll share how I try to practice this. Please understand, I’m not perfect at this. I have good days and bad. I preached a message on joy at Christmas and shared an illustration I couldn’t have shared five years ago. I said grandparenting is the closest thing we have on earth to understanding biblical joy. It’s not happiness. It’s pure, utter joy. How do we find and live this as ministers of the Gospel?
Of course, all of this is applicable for those who aren’t in vocational ministry.
Life is full of times that can rob us of our joy. That’s certainly true for my pastor friends. So, here are some things I’ve observed in joyful pastors.
7 habits of truly joyful pastors:
A personal time in God’s word.
This is time spent beyond preparing for a sermon. If we are not careful, we can use the Bible as a tool in our trade rather than a source of life. I recall something Moses said. “These are not just idle words for you–they are your life.” (Deuteronomy 32:47)
How I attempt this: Every other year I read through the Bible. This year I’m using The Message Version. Don’t judge me. I know it is a paraphrase. On the other years I read through it more topically. But the point here is I never use my quiet time – first thing in the morning – for sermon preparation. Things come out of my quiet time that enhances my sermons but I want my quiet time to be my time with God and me.
A long-term perspective.
It is often said about parenting that the days are long but the years are short. That is certainly true in ministry. Joyful pastors seem to make the most of the years.
How I attempt this: I slip away frequently to renew my perspective. In seasons of change or unusually high stress, I might slip away for an afternoon. Other times Cheryl and I take a few days away. I frequently step away – even on the busiest days – to exercise.
During these times away I strive to focus not on the urgency of the moment, but on the bigger picture blessings on my life. I might read through my “encouragement file”, where I save encouraging messages from people of how God is working in our ministry. (Every leader needs one of these files.) The time away and intentionality depends on the level of current stress I’m facing.
The most joyful pastors I know are willing to help a sister church or fellow pastor at the drop of a hat. They joyfully serve other people and ministries – even with no apparent gain to themselves. There is something about investing in other people where you may appear to have less (time, resources) but you feel like you have more.
How I attempt this: Well, I’m writing this blog. That’s one way. While it is true that some of my revenue is derived from helping pastors now. I have to charge something most of the time, I hope to always be willing to assist pastors – especially young, new or struggling pastors – whenever I can.
Comfortable in their individual calling.
You can’t compare your ministry to other ministries and continue to feel good about yourself. There will always be someone doing something that appears “better” than how you’re doing. Although, having served in large and small churches – church plants and very established churches – let me just say it is all relative. I know some small town, bi-vocational pastors that are “killing it” if you want to compare statistics in context.
The point is you weren’t called to their ministry. You may not even be where you want to be right now. But God has not made a mistake in your placement. He will use you where you are if you will allow Him to do so.
How I attempt this: Several years ago I stopped looking at statistics on my blog. I don’t even know if anyone will ever read this. (I need more material for my encouragement file, so it would be great to know if you did.) But I want to focus on why I’m doing this. I truly want to help other leaders. When I worry about readership I get distracted from what I feel called to do.
I don’t know how you survive ministry without close friends. I really don’t. It’s amazing to me the number of pastors I hear who live life alone. They would, hopefully, never advise their church members to do that.
How I attempt this: Just this week – and not because of this post – I wrote down the friends I think I can text in a moment’s notice and they will be there for me. I’m blessed with a long list. Perhaps this would be a healthy (or sobering) exercise for you to do. But those lists take time and intentionality – and humility and vulnerability to admit you can’t and don’t want to do life alone.
The ability to let go of pain.
I came into vocational ministry later in my career. Frankly, one of the most shocking things to me is how hurtful people in the church can be to those in ministry. I’ve never understood it. (I like to say I keep those ALL CAPS emails too. In case the FBI ever needs them.)
I like to remind churches that as believers we must learn to worship in pain.Again, we know that joy is not formed from our circumstances. If we are going to be truly joyful pastors then we will have to refuse to let hurts, grudges, and sheer disappointment cloud our souls.
How I attempt this: I’ll be honest. This takes discipline. But the Lord led me years ago, right before I preached a message on forgiveness, that I had someone I needed to forgive. It was the man (my father) who I felt had hurt me the most. I learned in that time that “letting it go” really is a discipline we have to practice.
This includes things like having a healthy family and life balance. I like the word rhythm better than balance, because there will be seasons where things aren’t balanced.
Healthy rhythms also include things like diet and exercise. As much as possible, we must fight to protect what matters most in our life. You have to protect your family and your individual soul. We can’t expect the church to do that for us.
How I attempt this: I’ve been shutting down on Friday afternoon through Sunday morning for years. It’s hard to get me to do much on Saturdays. I realize this won’t work for pastors with smaller staffs, but there should be sometime during the week when you are somewhat unavailable. Of course, interruptions will occur, but you can survive them if you have a healthy rhythm in between.
So, again, I hope this is helpful encouragement. As I said in the beginning, I’m not perfect at this. It’s sometimes a daily – or hourly – attempt. And if you got this far and feel you need professional help never be ashamed to seek it.
I always tell my son who is also a pastor that it is important that we give people hope every Sunday. They can’t get that anywhere else like they can from the church. The same is true for joy. We need to be truly joyful pastors so we can serve as examples of that for the rest of the world.
Hey, check out my leadership podcast where we try to provide quick, helpful applications. I’d love to hear if you are enjoying it and any topics you would like us to cover.