Two “Aha!” Moments
After twenty three years of being a congregational pastor, I moved into denominational ministry this past February. What didn’t happen next was a surprise.
For twenty three years I had loved the preaching life. I eagerly thought about what God might want to say to His people in my congregation. I cherished the work of weekly sermon preparation. I was energized by the preaching event. I got amped up just talking about sermons with other preachers! The whole experience was life-giving for me. At least that’s what I had been telling myself.
But then I began work as a consulting pastor with Pastor Church Resources. . .and I found myself glad to be done with the task of preaching.
People asked if I missed preaching. “Not really,” I would say. And I would wonder at how good it felt to say that.
I found tears welling up in my eyes as I worshiped with different congregations, tears that sprang up during the routine moments of worship. They weren’t tears of sadness, or of loss. They were tears of joy over worshiping from a different posture—the posture of being led.
And this relief applied to other elements of ministry as well. I was relieved to be done with the constant load of pastoral care work. I was relieved to be finished with administrative tasks in a congregational setting. I was relieved at the dramatic reduction in evening meetings!
Those tears, the “Not really” responses, and the relief I felt at leaving congregational ministry behind surprised me. It was a strange kind of “Aha!” moment. “What is happening to me?!” I wondered.
Five months later I got up to preach again one Sunday morning. I was a guest preacher, filling the pulpit for a friend on vacation. During the week leading up to that Sunday I thought about how it would go. I didn’t worry about the mechanics of preaching. I could “do” the sermon, you might say. But what would I experience in my soul during and after the event?
To my delight my soul sang!
My soul sang as I engaged the congregation with what God had given me to say. It kept singing as I left the pulpit and sat next to my wife. It sang some more as I remembered the event in the days afterwards.
My soul also sang as I sat with an elderly woman whose husband had just passed away and then as I led the funeral. It sang as my wife and I sat with a person going through depression and then prayed with her. It sang as I officiated a wedding of two dear, young people in love.
And all of that singing gave rise to a second “Aha!” moment: I learned anew that ministering to others was, in fact, energizing and life-giving!
“Aha!” #1 + “Aha!” #2 = __________
It is now some months after that second “Aha!” moment—enough time to do a little bit of processing. From this vantage point I have learned in a new way that the work of preaching to and pastoring of people is hard even while it is good. “Aha!” moment #1 plus “Aha!” moment #2 make that clear.
But there is another learning here as well, a truth that springs from these two “Aha!” moments: The shepherding and nourishment of the pastor’s soul is not optional. The beautiful work of caring for souls requires so much of us that we cannot simply get by on what we recommend for everyone else. The deep realities of pastoring require special attentiveness to our spiritual health. They call for a creative balance of work and rest, supportive engagement with ministry colleagues and mentors, and commitment to the spiritual disciplines, among other things.
If my experiences have clarified this for you as well then let me point you to the Pastors’ Spiritual Vitality Toolkit. Published in 2017, this online toolkit was assembled by Faith Formation Ministries and Pastor Church Resources of the Christian Reformed Church. It is a collection of ideas, resources, and tools for pastors who understand what is at stake in the health of their spiritual lives. At a recent conference for people who provide care for pastors in several denominations, attendees were given a demonstration of the toolkit. They expressed great appreciation for its potential to help pastors and to bless the larger church.
Let me suggest something: Find an hour in your calendar next week and make an appointment to walk through the toolkit. You can order free copies of the User’s Guide from Faith Alive (1-800-333-8300) or check it out below.
Maybe you’ll have an “Aha!” moment of your own.