I am currently reading The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene Peterson as part of my devotional reading. It is a powerful book that looks at Peterson's life, his sense of call to ministry, and his insights into church ministry. In my reading yesterday I came across this line in the book: "The pastoral vocation in America is always in danger of becoming flabby with consumer religion and lazy with cliches." I had to stop my reading in order to reflect on that statement for awhile. It is certainly a true statement at least for some of us. Perhaps this has not been a challenge for you, but there have been times in my own personal ministry where it has been true. Anyone who has been in ministry for a period of time can easily coast through the responsibilities that are expected of us, and the temptation to do so is strong. We soon learn what will earn us the applause of our congregation, and if we are not careful we will be satisfied with that rather than seeking to hear "Well done, good and faithful servant." from our Lord. What do we need to do if we want to avoid falling into this trap? In the midst of pastoral ministry how do we keep the fire, the passion, we need to serve both our God and our congregations?
It will require a great deal of intentionality on our part. We must understand ourselves well enough to know what will add fuel to our ministry passion and what will dampen it and then seek to do those things that add the fuel. While you will have to determine what works best for you, let me briefly share some of the things I've found helpful in my own life and ministry.
Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised to hear that I read a lot. Most years I will average reading about one book a week. I read for information and illumination primarily; seldom do I read a book just for entertainment. In addition to my Bible I will read another book as part of my devotional time. Sometimes it will be a book like Peterson's. Sometimes I will read books on apologetics and occasionally I even read commentaries. One year I determined to read through my various commentaries on the book of Romans. This is all designed to help me go deeper in my faith, to help me understand not only what I believe but why I believe it, and to put down theological roots that will help me when the storms come.
Spending time with other ministers, not to talk about your war stories but to discuss some of the questions you've encountered in your ministries. For bivocational ministers this is often difficult to do, but it's important enough that we need to find time to do it. I was recently with a group of pastors, all bivocational, who spent a couple of hours talking about some of their recent learnings about ministry and to ask some questions of one another about various doctrinal beliefs. It was a good time of fellowship and growth for all who participated.
Every pastor, both bivocational and fully-funded, must spend some time at continuing education events. Not all those need to be ministry-related. I have often attended a popular motivational conference that is more business oriented than ministry oriented, but much of what is shared at these events are easily transferable to ministry leadership. I realize that a lot of what we hear at motivational conferences don't seem to last long, but neither do the meals we eat. That's why we need to eat regularly, and that's why we need to experience these kinds of events more than once.
One of the things that I find helpful in my life is listening to podcasts while driving. Because I spend so much time in my car I keep several podcasts on my I-Pod to listen to when traveling. Most of these are ministry related but not all of them. I could just listen to the radio, but listening to these podcasts is often a much better use of my time, and they help me stay focused on the call God has on my life.
Avoid the traps Peterson mentions above. Find those things that will help you go deeper in your faith and maintain the passion we need for ministry and commit yourself to those practices.