Every good journey begins with a fresh awareness. An awakening perhaps. This article is written for those in ministry whose enjoyment of Jesus is missing in the current season. It is for those who deeply desire to ENJOY JESUS and SERVE JESUS all at the same time. I am hopeful the following “awarenesses” will serve as an invitation to a fresh start and renewed friendship with Jesus.
A sad awareness: “My enjoyment of Jesus in the midst of ministry is a faded memory.”
Is your enjoyment of Jesus in the midst of your ministry a faded memory? It is for far too many.
“My spiritual practices have slipped. My enjoyment of Jesus in the midst of ministry is a faded memory.” This confession is from a pastor who participated in the Resilient Ministry study (Resilient Ministry: What Pastors Told Us About Surviving and Thriving by Bob Burns, Tasha D. Chapman, Donald C. Guthrie). Sadly, this pastor is not alone. Here what others are saying:
- “Look, I may be a pastor, but I’m an inch deep. My life is filled with incessant activity and little prayer.”
- “You need to stop assuming that pastors are always on a clear and intentional spiritual growth trajectory.”
- “Sometimes I suspect my vision for work and ministry has become more important than my relationship with God.”
In his book, Rest in the Storm, Kirk Byron Jones echoes the reality that many leaders are not enjoying friendship with God. “The undeniable truth is that too many pastors have the joy of ministry sucked out of us by overload and hurry…secretly crying: Lord, restore unto me the joy of my vocation.”
I love working with leaders. I am sad at how hard this season has been for many leaders. My heart is not to shame leaders, but to encourage them. I desire to remind leaders that they can enjoy Jesus AND lead people all at the same time. It is not only possible but expected, “Serve the Lord with gladness!” (Psalm 100:1) Even better, it is not only possible but promised, for the fruit of the Spirit includes JOY (Galatians 5:22). May we not settle for less than what God offers—extraordinary communion marked by passionate love and deep joy.
An even sadder awareness: “I know what to do, but I am not doing it.”
Pastors report that they know what to do and are just not doing it. For example, the above quoted pastor added, “My enjoyment of Jesus in the midst of ministry is a faded memory. I know what to do—SLOW DOWN—but I am not doing it. Even though I know that practices such as silence and solitude, prayer, personal reflection on Scripture etc. are all life-giving, I find I don’t have the time or energy for them.”
Can you relate?
A scary awareness: Joylessness is contagious.
I am not only sad for the leaders; I am also sad for those that follow them. Ruth Haley Barton, in her excellent work, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, points out: “Whatever is being transformed in your soul will show up in us, our leadership and our people. Whatever remains deformed [not yet being transformed] will also show up in us, our leadership and our people.”
I am certain none of us set out to serve Jesus and have joylessness show up in our hearts or our people. Dear Jesus, revive us again so that we may rejoice in you (Psalm 85:6)!
A Hopeful Awareness: It’s not too late for you to enjoy Jesus…again!
Real hope is available to those who desire more joy. Imagine Jesus asking you what He asked Bartimaeus in Mark 10:51, “What do you want me to do for you?” I’d encourage you to plan a conversation with Jesus and answer this question.
A clarifying question might be, Are you merely “wishing” for more joy or are you “willing” to re-pattern your life rhythms to receive more joy? I’ve heard it said, “You’re not ready until you are ready.” Are you ready? If so, here are four invitations to consider.
1. An Invitation to Embrace a Fresh Vision
To re-pattern your life, Henri Nouwen offers this vision for leaders in his book In the Name of Jesus:
“The central question is, are the leaders of the future truly men and women of God, people with an ardent desire to dwell in God’s presence, to listen to God’s voice, to look at God’s Beauty, to touch God’s Incarnate Word, and to taste fully God’s infinite goodness?”
Do you desire to be such a leader?
2. An Invitation to Quit Neglecting Your Soul
To re-pattern your life will require you to quit neglecting your soul. After decades of serving leaders, the President of Leadership Transformations, Stephen Macchia simply concluded, “The soul is the most neglected part of the leader’s life.” Similarly, one of my mentors, Ted Wueste, Founder of The Spiritual Formation Society of Arizona writes, “It is a tragic irony that spiritual leaders, entrusted with the care of other’s souls, usually do not adequately take care of their own.”
What is the state of your soul? Is it neglected? If so, are you ready to quit neglecting your own soul? Please know that even your very best ministry strategies will never overcome what resides inside your soul. The very best thing you bring to your people is your Spirit-led, joy-filled self—not your gifts or strategy.
3. An Invitation to Consider Hiring a Spiritual Director
One of the best things I’ve ever done for my soul is hire a personal Spiritual Director. If you have been neglecting your soul, perhaps a Spiritual Director can help you.
If you have never heard of Spiritual Direction, here’s a definition that is helpful to me. “Christian spiritual direction …is help given by a [spiritual director] that enables a person to pay attention to God’s personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to live out the consequences of the relationship” (The Practice of Spiritual Direction, Barry and Connolly, page 8).
More succinctly, my personal working definition is that Christian Spiritual Direction is the practice of helping people pay attention to the active, loving presence of God that is in them, around them, and for them. That is precisely why Spiritual Directors can be super helpful during seasons where your soul lacks joy. While a joyless season might be caused by neglect or even sin, often it is something deeper. Is it unhealed trauma? Is it a dark night of the soul? Is it a season of intense spiritual warfare? All can lead to a lack of joy. A seasoned Spiritual Director is trained to help discern which of these is the current situation and discern a path forward.
If this peaks your interest, I’d highly recommend you reach out to these two organizations to find a spiritual director: https://www.leadershiptransformations.org/spiritual-direction or https://sfsaz.org/spiritual-directors/.
4. Finally, An Invitation to Slow Down
To re-pattern your life you will likely need to slow down. What words best describe the pace of your life currently? Does restful and spacious describe your pace? If not, I beg you to slow down enough to be with Jesus more. To my voice, let me add these weighty voices:
- “[B]ecause so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’” – Jesus, Mark 6:31
- “Hurry is the great enemy of the spiritual life in our day. You must relentlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” – Dallas Willard (From a conversation between Willard and Ortberg in Soul Keeping by John Ortberg)
- “We are starved for quiet, to hear the sound of sheer silence that is the presence of God himself.” – Ruth Haley Barton, Invitation to Solitude and Silence
- “The good of being delivered from hurry is not simply pleasure but the ability to do calmly and effectively—with strength and joy—that which really matters.” – John Ortberg (in Foreword to Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by Comer)
- “Settle yourself in solitude, and you will come upon God in yourself.” – Teresa of Avila
Are you sensing an invitation to slow down? Why do we need to slow down? Slowing down allows leaders to re-learn the sweetness of God’s still small voice. Slowing down is for the purpose of allowing God to win our heart by love. Savor this final invitation by Bradley Holt, in Hunger for God:
We are not able to love by command. We cannot “make ourselves” love God. Rather it is the Great Lover who is able to kindle this love in our hearts and minds. This is a God who wins our love by what God says and does.
Leaders, I pray you will slow down and rediscover the Great Lover who longs to kindle love in our hearts and minds. Today would be the very best day to start.