Church revitalization is not for the faint of heart. There are numerous challenges. Criticism is common. Frustration and discouragement can become an everyday struggle. Even pastors with a healthy support system can work for years before seeing the fruit of their labor. This is not written to discourage anyone from this rewarding work but to highlight the need for self-care.
It is hard, if not impossible, to revitalize a church when you are spiritually, physically, and emotionally struggling. A pastor will have difficulty leading a church to experience increased health, growth, and vitality when he is withering.
Please understand that this is not a theory for me. I have contemplated walking away from vocational ministry for good. I have been in the hospital with chest pains and went through subsequent medical tests and doctor visits only to have a doctor make a singular recommendation. Either no longer be a pastor or do a better job of taking care of myself. He told me that I needed to do a better job of managing stress, I needed to take time off to rest, and I needed a hobby.
I was headed down an unhealthy path, and something had to change. As a result, I learned several things.
Your Identity Is Not Rooted In Your Perceived Success Or Failure.
I still struggle with this, but I am finally making a little progress. I tend to get down on myself when my ministry faces challenges that are outside of my control. I tend to think that God is happier with me when my church sees “success.” While I know this is not the case, I find myself drifting into this mindset.
I have realized that my joy is more stable when I intentionally root my identity in Christ instead of my perceived ministry successes or failures. Life ceases to be a rollercoaster tied to my vocation and becomes more stable when I realize my identity is rooted in my position as a believer.
Ministry Is Not All There Is.
Ministry is important, but that is not all there is. Ministry matters, but not if it sacrifices your marriage, children, or health. I could write a book on all the healthy and needed things I have unwisely sacrificed on the altar of ministry. I have even substituted ministry for my relationship with God. I was so focused on ‘working’ for God that I neglected my relationship with God. Ministry is important, but that is not all there is.
Sometimes the most spiritually beneficial thing you can do is take a nap. Pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion or even sickness is not noble or virtuous. In fact, it can jeopardize your ability to be involved in future ministry. Take time off. Rest. Spend time with family. Play a round of golf. Go to a coffee shop. Have a hobby. Knowing when to take a step back is incredibly beneficial.
You Need People Who Encourage You.
Yes, there is discouragement, ridicule, and criticism. There is nothing we can do about that. We can, however, place ourselves in a position to receive encouragement, support, and friendship. I have learned that we will never accidentally drift into a position to benefit from this. We must make intentional decisions to be around brothers who understand the struggle and will provide support. We need people in our lives who are willing to be friends, not just fellow ministers.
It’s Okay To Say ‘No.’
I hate disappointing people. I like to be wanted or needed. I like to meet expectations. All these things make it hard for me to say no to the requests of others. However, saying no is needed as it is the way we create healthy boundaries. If we never say no, we will never have the necessary guardrails in our life.
Listen, I know we all want to lead healthy, growing churches. We want to impact lives. We want to make an eternal difference. However, we will not be able to do this if we do not care for ourselves spiritually, emotionally, relationally, or physically.
If you find yourself at the end of your proverbial rope, please reach out. I would love to hear your story, learn about what you are facing, and offer encouragement and support. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.