Being a bi-vacational pastor for almost all of my 24+ years in ministry certainly had its challenges. I remember crawling in from work on Wednesday nights just as tired as everyone else, but I had to get up and teach, which drains every drop of energy you have left.
There were countless calls in the night for hospital or funeral home visits, families in crisis, or some other emergency, followed quickly by the alarm clock to get up and go to work to make a living.
Not to mention keeping up with the family, sporting events, children’s programs, my own homework from going back to school, and trying to find time to just relax once in a while. Well, that last one rarely happened. There simply wasn’t time.
Then Sunday, the day of rest, as it were. But not for us. My wife and I used to joke about how un-restful the observed Sabbath was for people in the ministry. There’s a reason many full-time pastors take Monday off.
If you’ve never preached from the Word to a congregation before, I can’t explain to you the physical, spiritual, and mental toll it takes on you, much less if you do Sunday School and multiple services. Don’t believe me? Ask Tommy Nelson from Denton Bible Church. He has a great video on YouTube talking about how his schedule of preaching 5 services a Sunday plus travel plus everything else eventually lead to his depression and need for a lengthy sabbatical from the church.
For me, however, there was another serious consequence that often crept in unawares: neglecting my personal quiet time.
It’s one thing to study and read for others, and it doesn’t go to waste on you by any means, but that is very different than drinking in the Word for yourself. When you are already up early to get to work and school, up late to take care of laundry and children’s activities, plus the ever-present need to study for Sunday sermons, Wednesday night teaching, and Sunday School, there isn’t a great deal of time to spend in the Word or prayer for yourself. And it is devastating.
I couldn’t tell you how many weeks would go by when the only study I did was for the church, for someone else, and not for me. That may seem selfish, but let me tell you, it is hard to pour blessings from a dry and empty cistern.
That is why it is so important for ministers, leaders, and pastors to make sure they are not only feeding the souls of their flock, but feeding their own souls as well, including their family. I messed this one up so much in my early ministry, thinking that sermon prep and personal spiritual formation were the same thing.
Sure, there is crossover and you learn and retain that which you study, but the purpose is so very different. When preparing, you are often reading with a mind to structure, presentation, flow, connection to previous lessons, need of the congregation, etc.
In personal reading, the only goal is to know more of Him and drink in His love and nature into your very soul. The truth is, it is in that time that your own wellspring of blessing is filled so that you may truly, in the Spirit and not the flesh, pour out for others.
Looking back on those times, I can certainly see when there were times it would have served me and my congregation better had I simply gone to the well myself and shared with them what I found there.
Truthfully, later in my formal ministry, that was often the case. Many a Sunday sermon were the result of the overflow of what the Lord was showing me in my time with Him. Frankly, I have had congregants tell me on days I thought I really wasn’t polished, ready, or well-prepared, but shared my heart and struggles with the Lord, that those were my most meaningful sermons. It’s strange how that works, right?
So, let me encourage you to do a few things:
Be mindful of his time. Especially if he works another job in addition to being a pastor. Trust me, even if he is “part time,” there’s really no such thing.
Give him extra time. If you are in a position as a church leader, build time into your pastor’s schedule for personal study and reflection. Reduce early morning expectations. The congregation NEEDS his walk with the Lord to be solid.
Pray for him. If he truly has a pastor’s heart, he will tend to your needs before he tends to his or the his family’s. The enemy loves nothing more than to tear down a true man of God with exhaustion and fatigue.
Do ministry for him. As I discussed in this article on Giving Away Ministry, the job of the pastor is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. Help him by taking on some of the pastoral burdens he carries. Visit people in the hospital for him, etc.
Remember, you and your family may be the only ones drawing from your spiritual well, but everyone is drawing from his.