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Pacemakers for the ministry: Monitor your vital signs; prevent spiritual trauma
By Michael R. Milco
When I was in college, I worked at a drop-in center for problem kids. The director worked on pottery when the center was slow. Soon my eagerness to try something new brought me to his pottery wheel.
He explained the importance of wedging the clay first, which is nothing more than flattening it, turning it on end, and flattening it repeatedly for about 30 minutes. Wedging rids the clay of all the air bubbles that can cause the clay to explode in the kiln.
As the potter works with the clay to remove air bubbles, ministers must monitor vital signs to prevent spiritual trauma. The following signs for spiritual health should not paralyze but provoke the man of God to righteous living for lifetime service to the kingdom of God.
Your spiritual life pervades your whole life.
Like the wedging of clay, God must be permitted to constantly squeeze the air bubbles out of our earthen vessels so we won’t explode when the temperature is turned up.
The most basic discipline in the pastor’s life is nurturing his spiritual life. Schedules consistently crowd this discipline of the spiritual life into a less significant daily practice.
There are too many examples reminding us of the importance of maintaining the basic spiritual disciplines in our lives. Only by doing so will we be effective over the long haul.
Self-discovery permeates our basic relationships.
To pace ourselves, self-discovery needs constant monitoring, for it permeates our basic relationships.
Shortly after I began my ministry, the Lord brought Clarence Balmer, a seasoned minister, into my life. He became my mentor and friend. As we met for lunch about once a month, I shared my difficult situations and listened to his advice. I talked about ideas and changes I wanted in the church, and he listened and shared his wisdom. This relationship gave me an outlet for expressing my joys, sorrows, frustrations, and challenges in the ministry.
The second basic relationship vital to self-discovery takes place in the disciple-making process. As I discipled key leaders in the church, I discovered much about becoming vulnerable as well as accountable to someone.
Jeff and Bob were two such people. Each was at a different stage in his spiritual journey, so our times together were varied. Jeff and I were in an intense program of Bible study and Scripture memorization, while Bob and I worked through a book, gleaning principles that were applicable to our lives. We disagreed on various points but grew to respect each other’s position.
This process taught me that I was not the answer man, but one of God’s children with certain gifts. I wrestled with insecurity, the success syndrome, and finding a balance between my humanity and the ministry.
The road to self-discovery led me to develop a friendship. In seminary I was taught not to develop relationships within the congregation. In retrospect, however, I remember one particular friendship that gave me an outlet and helped me become less uptight about myself.
Craig taught me how to golf and gave me the freedom to laugh. I could talk with him about my feelings, my golf game, dreams, and anything else that entered our conversation. During the winter months we played basketball at the YMCA with guys from the community. I didn’t have to play the pastoral role — I was able to be myself.
Knowing your boundaries can protect you from future pitfalls.
I grew up in Chicago where playing ball in front of our house was a common occurrence. My mother emphatically told me never to run into the street after the ball. One day I didn’t realize how far the ball had traveled or my reaction time until I heard a loud screech. I looked over my shoulder to see a red Pontiac’s chrome bumper about 3 feet from my body. My reaction to the ball numbed my capacity to remember my boundaries. Fortunately, I was only shaken up.
Each of us ministers has emotions that carry us past what we know to be right. We wrestle with memories of the past and tensions of the present. Knowing personal boundaries can protect us from future pitfalls.
One practical suggestion worked for me: I counseled women in my home. This protected me as I stayed within the boundaries I designed for myself in that particular ministry.
If you are honest with yourself, you too can think of those vulnerable areas where caution flags should be placed. It might be in the areas of handling the church’s money, watching movies on your home VCR or cable TV, betraying someone’s confidential information, or participating in an unethical practice.
A pacemaker keeps the heart beating at a regular rhythm to sustain life. The same is true in the ministry. Understanding the vital areas in our lives that could cause us much pain will help keep us stable and effective in our service.
The stakes are too high and the pain is too great for the minister to become an endangered profession. If we are to pace ourselves in the ministry, we must monitor the vital signs of our lives.
How well are you pacing yourself?
Michael R. Milco, Chicago, Illinois