The demands on a pastor are great. They force every pastor daily to choose what will get his time, and what will not. I have observed this decision process subtly squeezes out 3 areas that many pastors would admit are not essential, but over a longer period of neglect can have significant harmful effects. Because they are subtly neglected, when the consequences come they are hard to identify. Consider these 3 areas:
1) Lack of sleep. As wise and discerning as many pastors are, it is amazing the amount of us who think we can function at a high level getting 1-2 hours of sleep less each night than we really need. There can be a sinful pride at work as we share “4-5 hours of sleep and I’m good.” All the while, we are grumpy by 6 pm, we are getting sick on a regular basis, and regularly give our families the leftovers in the evenings. Be honest about how much sleep you really need, then do what you must to get your rest. I need 8 hours a night. There, I’ll own it. How about you?
2) Lack of exercise. This becomes a most noticeable area of neglect when pastors gain a bunch of unnecessary weight. Yet, regular exercise is not solely for weight management. Exercise is one of the best natural relievers of stress that exists. It raises your energy level and is essential for your overall health. It is amazing how crummy anyone will feel (I know I would) if they ate whatever they desired and rarely exercised. Because of the level of stress in the typical pastor’s life, this becomes that much more of an essential aspect of the pastor’s life and harmful when neglected.
3) Lack of spiritual attention to his own’s soul. Pastors spend so much time having to study for that next sermon, or Bible study. There is that devotion you must write for the church newsletter, or an article for some journal. So much of our study and reading time is spent on the tasks of our calling. Obviously, sermon preparation and thinking through a theological implication for this counseling situation is spiritually fruitful and feeds our souls with the word.
However, I have found there is a need to carve time out where my reading of books and studying of God’s word is done solely to focus on my own soul. Not a sermon. Not a teaching. Not a counseling matter. We need to make sure we are not just praying for our flock, but a focused time is spent praying for the sake of our own soul.
Because so much of what we do revolves around prayer and the ministry of the word, it is an easy trap to slide into where all we do is prepare to feed others. Make sure there is a book you are reading, a Psalm you read in the mornings, or a time of prayer in your day that has nothing to do with anything else, except feeding your own soul and communing with Christ.
I am on vacation this week trying to honor my word to use all my vacation time, so I intend to give special attention to all 3 of these areas. Honestly assess whether you are neglectful in any of these 3 areas and make appropriate adjustments. Establish new habits. Consistent faithfulness in these areas will be essential to your longevity in ministry.