This article is an excerpt from Chapter 10 of Stalled: Hope and Help for Pastors Who Thought They’d Be There By Now.
I have struggled with patience throughout my life. As I have grown older, my times of discouragement usually come when I’m faced with a situation that requires patient endurance. Long season of waiting for answers or breakthrough eventually lead to exhaustion.
But when you think about it, isn’t that the point? The Enemy knows that exhausted leaders most likely will want to give up on running their laps in the relay race of our faith. Exhaustion causes us to give out and give up.
The only way for runners to avoid exhaustion is to make sure they are nourished and hydrated. Dehydration is certain if they fail to drink enough water to continue the race.
In the same way, we can easily become spiritually dehydrated due to a lack of intentional replenishment. In his book Replenish: Leading from a Healthy Soul, Lance Witt wrote, “You can no more wish spiritual health into existence than you can wish physical health into existence.” Wishing health into your life never works. Neglecting the disciplines required to maintain spiritual health always leads to exhaustion.
I’ve adopted five margin makers that have helped me stay spiritually, relationally, and physically hydrated. You may find them useful as well. Feel free to customize them to fit your life:
Margin Maker 1: Schedule Personal Soul Care Into Your Calendar
You and I have to be intentional about making time on a daily basis for exercise, reflection, and replenishment. This will happen only if you block out time on your daily calendar for yourself. (By the way, you have to honor it too.) Far too many of us sacrifice our own personal well-being in order to help others. If you continue to run this way, you’ll find yourself out of the race. But if you make soul care a nonnegotiable appointment, you’ll improve your relay stats significantly.
Margin Maker 2: Create a Weekly Date Night With Your Spouse
If you’re married, the fastest way to lose your marriage is to take for granted that your spouse understands the pressures of ministry. Stresses and interruptions obviously come along with the responsibilities of pastoring. However, they are never a valid excuse for neglecting your marriage.
Proverbs 5 details how people allow themselves to be involved in adultery. Verse 18 states, “May you rejoice in the wife of your youth” (NIV). Malachi 2:14-15 also confronts the person who is unfaithful. Do not allow your ministry to become your mistress.
As a leader, it is imperative that you maintain the joyful relationship you had when you were first married. Jesus does not want you to lose your marriage in order to serve His church. And by the way, marriage care is another form of soul care. Enjoy time with your spouse, and watch the effects it has on your ministry.
Margin Maker 3: Honor the Sabbath Principles Each Week
I have often said that God modeled the Sabbath principle for us in the creation story (and He wasn’t even tired!). The Sabbath principle means you take a literal day off each week and do something you enjoy that is not necessarily ministry-related.
One of the purposes of Sabbath is to reconnect you with your heavenly Father. I believe He gave us the principles of Sabbath and tithing in order to remind us that He is our source. Neglect Sabbath, and you will soon find yourself believing that you are your source. Adopt a Sabbath habit, and watch God provide everything you need, including time.
Margin Maker 4: Become an Equipper of Your Flock
I don’t think it’s possible to fully embrace your calling as a pastor without equipping your people to do ministry. Ephesians 4:11-16 defines that equipping is a must in order for ministry to become sustainable and self-perpetuating. Pastor, if you want to discover the rhythm required for long-term ministry, you must allow others to share your load. Simply put, your church will have much greater and lasting impact when you pass the baton to other leaders.
Margin Maker 5: Plan a Yearly Extended Vacation With Your Family
We all need something to look forward to in the midst of our ministry routine. Planning an annual vacation give you encouragement, because you know that a break from the stresses of day-to-day ministry will soon be here. It also communicates to your family that they are top priority to you. Neglecting an annual vacation will communicate to them that your ministry is more important than they are. Taking extended time off will often help your family reconnect and maintain the bond that makes your home special.
When we try to function in ministry without creating margin for healthy soul care, we will eventually become self-deceived. The biggest problem with self-deception is that we get used to it. Lance also states in Replenish,
The greatest danger, really, isn’t in projecting a false image; there’s a Pharisee inside all of us, and I suspect we’ll struggle with this as long as we live. The greatest danger is in getting comfortable with it, learning how to “succeed” with a disconnected soul. Over time we can become very adept at playing the image-management game. The truth is you don’t have to have a healthy soul to be seen as a success in ministry.
As heartbreaking as the comment is, I have to agree with Lance when he says, “You don’t have to have a healthy soul to be seen as a success in ministry.” However, an unhealthy leader is at great risk of being disqualified from the race. Remember, you can no more wish yourself into endurance than you can wish away a physical sickness.
Only through intentional margin will you find the endurance needed to hand off the baton.
Interested in reading more? Grab a copy of Stalled: Hope and Help for Pastors Who Thought They’d Be There By Now.