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I would like to propose that ministers are the most effective when they are spiritually renewed and refreshed. Anyone disagree with that premise? Didn’t think so. The question then is what practices bring spiritual renewal to those in ministerial leadership? Providing care for others is imperative in ministry but unless we care for ourselves, both spiritually and physically, the well from which we draw on to offer care grows dry. Methodist minister and educator Edward P. Wimberly’s book “Recalling Our Own Stories-Spiritual Renewal for Religious Caregivers,” gives three big ideas on spiritual renewal for ministers. To Wimberly, spiritual renewal is not an emotional high at a retreat weekend, or a renewed committment to personal holiness, or a fresh commitment to read the Bible more often (although each of these certainly brings renewal in their own way). The renewal Wimberly speaks of is much deeper and cuts to the core of the psychological self. Here are the ways Wimberly says we can find spiritual renewal as ministers.
- Remember Your Call: God calls men and women every day to ministry of various types. Student ministers, deacons and elders, Sunday-school teachers, and even occasional volunteers should be able to name how they felt called to the ministry they do. When did God call you to ministry? How did you hear God’s voice? What were your original motivations for getting into ministry? These are all questions Wimberly suggests we ask ourselves in seeking spiritual renewal. Remembering and reflecting on why we got into ministry in the first place is spiritually renewing because it takes us back to a place where God lit a passion in our hearts to serve. Have you ever attempted to identify your call story with the call story of someone in scripture? Moses had no sense of personal identity until he met God on a mountainside. Paul had the wrong sense of call until blinded by God’s light in an earth-shattering encounter. Samuel didn’t recognize God’s voice until a mentor helped him identify it. Esther had no sense of her unique gifts until a relative told her how she could serve God’s people. The list goes on of characters in scripture who God called in unique ways. Feeling burnt out? Frustrated with a situation in your ministry context? Take some time to reflect on God’s call in your life. Remember how you felt when God called you initially. Be renewed through allowing God to affirm your call again each day. A high sense of call is vital to spiritual health for ministers.
- Explore Your Life Story: We all have a unique story that contributes to how we care for others. What’s your story? Pastors, youth ministers, camp counselors, and other types of ministers are given countless opportunities to provide pastoral care for those in the flock. It becomes important over time to periodically reflect on our ways of providing care, and acknowledge our own weaknesses and strengths in care giving. We are unable to effectively care for others without a strong sense of where we’ve come from and who we are. Consider your family story. Are there overarching narratives in your life that contribute to how you relate to others? Do you always act like a victim at church because you have always been the victim in your family? Do you feel obligated to please everyone all the time? Perhaps you had to play the peacemaker among siblings growing up and it is now rubbing off on how you deal with the parents of your youth group. Identifying our stories and the themes they contain is crucial to renewal both personally and spiritually. According to Wimberly, some common issues ministers deal with include perfectionism, workaholism, feeling a deep need not to repeat the mistakes of a past generation, too much self-sufficiency, and the need to control everything. Do any of these speak to you? Exploring our own stories helps us identify our weaknesses so that we can begin working on them.
- Be Accountable To Others: I recently learned that a colleague of mine had a father who was in ministry. The man would meet once a month with other ministers in the area for accountability. The conversation wasn’t anything you normally hear at a minister’s shindig. No one discussed how many butts were in seats last Sunday, how the weather was, or even how the local sports team was doing. The collegiality that these pastors had was MUCH deeper than these superficial topics. According to my colleague, “When they gathered, they focused on two things: (1) what are you celebrating (i.e. what’s going well)? and (2) what are you up against (what challenges are you facing)?” We should all find a small group or even a single friend that we can make ourselves vulnerable to. It is rare that I share my weaknesses with anyone in ministry, whether they are at my local church or not. This may be a personal flaw, but I believe that most of us are guilty of trying to be lone-rangers when it comes to our own spiritual health. Who is holding you accountable to live out your call? Who is holding you accountable to working on personal weaknesses and character flaws?
What would spiritual renewal look like in your life? In your ministry? In your community? Ministry is about bringing restoration to a broken world desperately in need of God’s love. Evangelism is about the restoration of sinful humanity to a right relationship with a forgiving God. Social-justice ministry is about the restoration of God’s justice and reign in our present time. Worship on Sundays is about restoring our view of God’s honor and glory and rightly giving thanks for all God has done. Ministry is restorative to souls, to families, to entire cities. There is a caveat though. Ministers cannot effectively bring renewal to others and be the ”salt of the earth“ without first being renewed themselves by God’s grace and love. Remember how God called you to ministry. Explore your own story and learn from it. Make yourself vulnerable and accountable to other ministry professionals. In doing these things, I pray God gives you a fresh sense of spiritual renewal.
If you’re in full-time student ministry, there are a few things that are guaranteed. You will certainly gain weight if you try to keep up with the students during pizza eating contests. You will certainly get injured playing dodge-ball/table-tennis/and/or that sport-that-includes-more-than-one-hyphen. And finally, you will certainly preach and lead small group Bible studies on a regular basis, and eventually get asked to speak at another church, retreat weekend, camp, or (insert sport-with-more-than-one-hyphen)-night.
To make your night/weekend/kangaroo-boxing-championship-night a success, here are the five best things you can do as a preacher:
1. Consider your context:
This seems simple, but it’s important to remember. If you’re working at a Methodist church, it’s probably best to not preach a sermon titled “Why infant baptism is silly.” If you’re going to preach at an event primarily focused on senior citizens, you might want to avoid preaching on the power of teenagers to change the world. Make sure you know what you’re walking into when you agree to preach. Does the church or senior pastor have certain theological expectations? Are there any recent tragedies or dramas affecting the group you should aware of? What does the outside group you’re partnering with expect from you? This is also a great time to find out what’s been preached on before. If a sermon series was just preached on the topic you had planned, you may want to consider changing your topic or theme.
2. Plagiarise the Bible, not other Pastors.
I love Matt Chandler. I also love Judah Smith, and Mark Driscoll. Perry Noble is a blast to listen to. For some odd reason, I really truly enjoy podcasting a lot of my favorite preachers. It’s an ordinary part of what I do to focus my attention on Christ. I’m attracted to them because of the way they exegete the Word of God. Pastors, at best, are simply fantastic plagiarists. Sometimes though (and maybe this happens to you,) I start adapting parts of their speech patterns, stories, examples, and even points to fit my sermons because they sound really great. Maybe this has happened to you. I think this is especially easy for younger folks (like myself) to get drawn into. God however, wants to use YOUR voice! God doesn’t need you to become the next (insert speaker you really love). In the pulpit, you should be you. You have the ability to reach students that other preachers will never have the opportunity to reach. God placed you where you are, with your abilities, and with your specific voice to reach a specific group. Use your own voice. It’s far better to develop your talent through developing your own voice and not stealing from others.
3. Put the hours in.
You will preach how you practiced. When I get ready to preach, I spend hours in my room, praying, writing, and yelling whatever I’m writing out loud. Then I’ll preach it all the way through several times out loud. Maybe your mind works differently and you can pull fantastic sermons out of the air on the way to the pulpit, but for most of us, this isn’t true. We need to put the hours in, studying the Word, preaching it to ourselves, practicing illustrations, and hammering down points that make sense. Is there anything worse than the story that leads nowhere, or the illustration that looked cool but has no semblance of meaning or relevance to what the speaker is talking about? One way you can avoid horrible illustrations and points that don’t flow well together is to…..
4. Phone a friend.
No, seriously. Make it someone you trust. Make it someone who loves you enough to point out huge flaws GRACIOUSLY. Sometimes, reading illustrations, ideas, and even main points to a friend before preaching can save you lots of pain. If our sermons are really meant to point people to our Savior, isn’t it worth the awkward conversation of discussing whether your sermon makes sense? You’ll benefit from this, and so will your hearers. Learning to take constructive criticism is crucial to functioning better at any task in ministry, but especially preaching.
5. Rest in God’s speaking ability.
You can’t do this on your own. It’s impossible. Only the Holy Spirit can draw people to God. And thank God! When we rest in God’s ability instead of our own, we are free to gracefully make mistakes, learn, and trust in God’s sovereignty to change the hearts of people instead of our own ability. For some of you, speaking is one of the most terrifying events of the week, but in our limited ability, God can still speak with unlimited potential. He’s bigger than you. He’s got a better microphone than you. And thank God, he’s promised to build His church, regardless of you.
BONUS POINT: Flannel.
Why flannel? Flannel is the bonus point, because it’s incredibly difficult to sweat through, but it will also give you at least a few points with the hipsters. Can’t decide what to speak in? Rock the flannel. It’s always right.