On Pastoral Spirituality

At 47, I’ve pastored four congregations each unique, challenging, and fulfilling. Since the late nineties, I’ve walked with a number of pastors who faced debilitating ministry circumstances and even co-authored a book on clergy self-care strategies. Over the years, I’ve learned some things about pastoral spirituality and formation. Better yet, I continue to learn and gain insight into formation practices – never satisfied with one’s condition.

I’ve learned the importance of separating the person from the profession. That might sound a little odd, but let me explain. While I study, pray, and prepare for proclamation to the public audience, I must also study, pray, and prepare for self. These are two very distinct and separate activities requiring my attention. I study both to be and to proclaim. Regardless of my ministry calling, I’m His and in desperate need of intimacy with Him. Not only must I grow in my understanding and presentation, I must grow in my being. If I’m not connected in a vibrant, growing, and maturing relationship with Christ, my public ministry suffers. Those who substitute public study for personal study are easy to spot. They are third person instructors rather than first person witnesses. Your being overflows into your professional, not the other way around. Here’s what I’ve learned: I’m more effective when I keep my personal devotion separate from my public study. The two need not be combined. Regardless of my professional responsibility, I have a personal responsibility in my relationship with Christ and I must hear from Him regarding my own being.

Here are a few thoughts I’ve found helpful to facilitate this process:

  • Find a space away from the office to spend time with God through reading, study, contemplation, prayer, and meditation. Find locations for spiritual formation away from the church office. It helps to draw the line between personal and professional.
  • Follow a Bible reading plan that’s just for you. Read it away from the office.
  • Create a journal either electronic or notebook to record the things God brings to mind about your relationships, calling, condition, plans, and future. Use this document to reflect upon personal growth moments and seasons. Write and read away from the office.
  • Read a book that’s only for you at the moment. God may use the content to bring to mind illustrations and messages in the future, but don’t read the book for that purpose – read for you. Read from your favorite chair or space away from the office.
  • Keep a separate prayer list from church and member needs. Pray through this list daily, update it regularly, and seek God’s word for answers. Pray away from the office.
  • Dream, pray, and vision about your purpose and your calling on regular basis away from the building where walls confine. What is God doing, teaching, and revealing about your pursuit of His will for life? Do this away from the office.

Remember, your ministry doesn’t define you, Christ does. Intimacy with Him doesn’t exist because of your profession, it should be demonstrated because you are His regardless of your professional calling.