Being a pastor can be one of the most enjoyable and fruitful roles to play in the scheme of God's redemptive story. Not only do you get to see lives transformed by Christ (Col 1:28), but you also get to be an active part of seeing that process and relationship move forward. It is this growth toward being more like Christ that drives what we do. We're driven to see the church grow, people grow, and gospel opportunities grow. However, if we're not careful, the most important area of growth can become neglected, our own spiritual growth.
Howard Hendricks used to tell us that in seminary we would learn more than most people will ever know about God and the scriptures. And yet, that knowledge doesn't always lead to passionate growth. Far too often our passion to grow everything else is stronger than it is to grow our own souls.
Paul understood this tendency and the dangers it presented to the lives of spiritual leaders and pastors. He tells Timothy his young protégé in 1 Timothy 4:16, "Pay close attention to your life and your teaching; persevere in these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers" (HCSB). There is an alluring temptation to allow the external execution of ministry to far exceed that of our spiritual and physical health. It seems that Paul is stating that when you're vigilant with your spiritual health and consistently submitting to God's Word and leading, the external growth will follow. The ability to do this well reflects a deep sense of trust.
As we achieve success, it becomes easy to misplace the source of that success. The better we do, the better we think we are. When we focus on our spiritual growth, we are reminded and connected to the One who is powering the growth. Christ's work on our behalf and then His working through us personally is the fuel for our whole life. In John 15:5, Jesus states, "you can do nothing without ME." From a biblical and theological standpoint we all amen this statement. But in reality at some point in our journey, as the Lord blesses our ministry, we begin to equate God's using us as Him needing us. Then it is only a short step until we begin believing the hype about ourselves.
Find your identity in Jesus not your gifts and ministry.
Easier said than done right? The Bible teaches that we are God's workmanship through what Christ has done for us. Adding value to what God in Christ has already placed value displays our lack of satisfaction in His work.
Prioritize life from the inside out.
Build where the Bible teaches us to build. Start with your personal spiritual life. If this ever loses its place as your first priority, the other areas will suffer. Family comes next. Do not neglect to build a healthy family life in order to build your ministry. Failure in the first outweighs any success in the other. Your ministry is third.
Jesus teaches this order in John 15. Paul does the same in Ephesians, and Peter applies it in 2 Peter 1. Chances are this is worth paying attention to.
Synchronize or separate message preparation and personal devotion.
Many ministers have differing opinions about how this plays out, but the important thing to remember is not to allow your sermon prep to become your sole personal time with God. Never neglect your personal time with the King. For me, I struggle with trying to synchronize them. While some sermon prep crosses over, I like to have something else that I am working through for personal growth. At times they collide in a good way so that my preaching is sifted through how I have experienced the Lord personally in the text. These moments are great, but they only happen for me when I am studying personally and prepping separately.
Varying your reading genres.
It can be easy to focus all your reading attention on church development/growth, dense theological works, or even missional frameworks. The problem is that God and His Word can become abstract and His people objects. Reading books that help direct theology heart-ward helps us process the information in ways that promote loving Him and His people better. It is also okay to mix in reading for pleasure as well. Don't allow the pressures of the job to remove the areas of your life that you enjoy and find creativity in.
Eric Mason resides in Philadelphia with His wife (Yvette) and two sons (Immanuel and Nehemiah). Dr. Mason is the co-founder and lead pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, PA. In addition, to his role at Epiphany Fellowship he serves as president of Thriving, a ministry dedicated to aiding ethnic minorities to be resourced and trained for ministry to the urban context. He has also contributed to multiple publications to service the body of Christ. Dr. Mason is known for articulating and proclaiming the gospel with clarity, passion, and authority at churches and conferences nationally. He received his Master of Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary (ThM 2000) as well as a doctorate degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (DMin, May 2007).