Running on Empty

I don't know if you have had someone close to you die.  But if you have, you are well aware of the feeling that overwhelms you upon hearing the news.  Last week I heard some news that struck me like the death of a close friend.  Another pastor's life simply unraveled in a very public way.  What made the whole thing more tragic was the responses that I heard from fellow leaders.... you know the responses the reveal our pious pride.  My point in writing this is not to analyse the struggles of a brother who got himself into a mess, but to challenge the rest of us to stop and make sure that you are not running on empty.     

I have been doing this long enough to know that there are many Christian leaders whose lives are a mess, but they have simply been able to hide it.  Others are so close to falling off the edge that it seems inevitable.  Regardless, I hope you will use a time like this to stop and take a long honest look at your life and see just how well you are doing.  Self-Management is an essential ingredient of a healthy family and fruitful ministry.  It is basically keeping an eye on your personal fuel gauge.  What follows is not original to me, but comes out of a Lilly Endowment Study that I participated in.  Of course I have "messed with it," but I trust it will help you have a long and fruitful ministry.  

Spiritual Formation is the ongoing process of maturing as a Christian both personally and inter-personally.  The personal and interpersonal dynamically relate to each other and are generally reflected in lifestyle disciplines and behaviors.  If you want to survive for the long haul, you need to need to attend to your spiritual growth by:
  1. Finding space in your lives for undivided worship (personal and corporate). I cannot tell you how important it is that as pastors you grow in worship.  Don't neglect that time of personal worship.  Find ways to sit under the preaching of God's word.  Listen to someone's sermon, not to get ideas for yours, but simply to drink deep of that means of grace.  Don't neglect your prayer life as it is an essential ingredient of worship. 
  2. Re-establishing and maintaining spiritual disciplines.  I fully realize that the idea of spiritual disciplines is often argued to be in juxtaposition to grace, however remember Paul's challenge to Timothy, "train yourself to be you life and doctrine closely" (1 Timothy 4:7b, 16a).  For us to fully grasp the love of God, we must discipline ourselves to pursue it.  I have come to find that what was once a discipline has be come a delight!  
  3. Having open and honest relationships for spiritual direction.  I cannot tell how important it is to have people around you that can tell if you lie to them!  We need to surround ourselves with people who love enough, to confront us!  They are the ones that help us keep our life and doctrine pure.  One of the saddest parts of the the story I opened with is that he had people who knew he was falling and did not do a spiritual 911!   
Self-Care focuses on the ongoing development of a pastor as a whole person, including calling, relationships, physical condition and intellectual growth.  If you want to survive in ministry for the long haul,  you need to attend to your self care by:
  1. Taking care of yourself.  It is not un-spiritual to take care of ourselves.  Find at least two hours where you can be alone, no phone, no computer and work through the Spiritual Diagnostics Filters below.  Once you had done it, start working on those areas you have neglected.   
  2. Developing safe and trustworthy relationships  These may or may not be the same people as I mentioned above as they hold us accountable.  This is more about community, a place where you do not have a responsibility and can enjoy deep friendship.  Hopefully, people who laugh a lot and do take everything too seriously!  
  3. Remembering your calling.   I don't remember who it was, but someone told me to remember the date that I was ordained as a Teaching Elder.  I took that advice and pause every November 6th to reflect on God's calling in my life.  Many pastors become discouraged in a particular call or place of ministry and question their initial call.  Remembering your calling gives you the grace to not give up on your original or initial call, when a particular call is wearing you down. 
Marriage and Family is the commitment to the spiritual and relational health of  your wife and your children.  This is huge and if you neglect it, you, your family and your church will pay!  If you want to survive in ministry for the long haul you they need to attend to marriage and family by:
  1. Understanding the strategic role your wife plays in your life and ministry.   I get really frustrated buy those who seem to believe there is a particular mold for pastors wives.  This lie has caused countless struggles in ministry marriages and it is time to bury it!  Men, there is no such thing as an "ideal" pastors wife, so don't try to make your wife into one!  Do not relegate her to children and food unless she wants to do it and believes God has called her to do it.  Help her work out of her strengths, and embrace her as a gift God has given you in life and in ministry.  And most of all, make sure you listen to her!  Remember 1 Peter 3:7... Go ahead... Look it up! 
  2. Encouraging your spouse to develop safe, trustworthy relationships.  Many pastor's wives live very lonely lives and it is often because the pastor lives out of fear and does not encourage her to have safe friendships.  And yes, those friendships can be outside the church! 
  3. Making the spiritual and emotional health of your spouse and family a priority.  Don't just give your family the left overs!  Invest time and energy into your marriage and family. Make sure that they get the best of you.  Schedule time to play and enjoy your family.  Remember you are first a priest to your family! 
Below is the Personal Life Diagnostic Filters that came from a good friend Dr. Bob Burns.  I would encourage you to use it every few months as a gauge to your over all health.

Personal Life Diagnostic Filters

Physical Life Filter 
  1. Reflect for a few moments on your diet.  What are you eating and why? 
  1. How do you exercise regularly and adequately?  If you don’t, consider what you need to do about it. 
  1. When was your last physical exam? 
1.     What are areas identified that need to be worked on?

2.     What have you been doing about it?

3.     What are your sleep patterns?

  1. Reflect on any correlations between the way you manage your emotions and your present physical condition (including sleep, diet, exercise and overall physical condition).
Sexual Filter 
As you know, many pastors have struggled with issues of sexuality, even to the point of losing their ministry.  Because this is an issue we all must confront, we asked Ben Bahsme, a professional counselor who specializes in this area, to give us questions for personal review.  Here are his questions:

  1. How (and with whom) do you process your sexual issues as a pastor? 
  1. How do you deal with the temptation of internet pornography? 
  1. How do your issues with lust hinder your ministry, leadership at home and at church? 
  1. What role do your elders or fellow staff members play in accountability with sexual issues?
Social/Relational Life Filter 
  1. Name two person (or couples) you would describe as safe and trustworthy in your life.  Why do you feel this way about them? 
  1. How do you balance the competing demands of ministry and family? 
  1. Describe a new relationship you initiated and build with someone in the past year.
Emotional Life Filter 
  1. Mark, rank  and consider those that relate to you right now: 
































Team Player





 Comments on any of the above:

  1. How do you reach when your expectations are high but the results are low? 
1.     How do you handle these reactions?

2.     How do you deal with the loneliness of leadership? 

 Mental Life Filter 
  1. Name three people whose biography you would like to read. 
  1. Describe the professional develop that you would like to experience (schoolwork, seminars, books, new experiences). 
  1. What are you doing to understand the broader cultural trends in America?  Cultural trends in the world? 
  1. With whom do you share your ideas? 
  1. Who shares their ideas with you? 
  1. What are the most significant values that reflect who you are?
Spiritual Life Filter 
  1. How would you describe your walk with God over the past year?  Explain. 
  1. Reflect on how you are doing in the following areas taken from Acts 2:42-46: 
1.     Worship (personal and corporate)

2.     Instruction (studying and learning “the apostles’ doctrine”)

3.     Fellowship (relationships that stimulate you to grow in faithfulness and obedience)

4.     Evangelism and outreach (involvement in sharing your faith in lifestyle and word)

  1. Does someone hold you spiritually accountable?  (Is it “true” accountability?  Are you regularly asked the “hard” questions?) 
  1. When did you last get away for a spiritual and ministry planning time?

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