How do leaders stay strong?
Pastors gathered at the first Cross+Generational Ministry Retreat in Colorado, sponsored by Faith Inkubators and the Faith Incubators Foundation.
“How do pastors and other church workers keep their personal faith strong when they are constantly working to strengthen the faith of others in the congregation?” -- Clara D., First Lutheran Church, Onalaska, Wis.
Rosanne: That’s a good question to ask about pastors and other church workers, but I suspect that the question could be asked about anyone who bears witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ in a world that so desperately longs to hear that good news. As part of the ordination service, the ordinand is asked, “Will you be diligent in your study of the Holy Scriptures and in your use of the means of grace?” Pastors have promised in these vows to read and study Scripture not only for the preparation of preaching, but also to hear, listen and “inwardly digest” (as Luther was fond of saying) what God might be up to in their lives and in the lives of their congregants.
Many pastors have also developed other spiritual disciplines to help them stay centered in Scripture and prayer as they go about their work. Some may practice Lectio Divina, contemplative prayer, Ignatian spiritual practices or some other form of study and prayer. The point of all of these practices is to continue to deepen and strengthen the relationship that God has called us into when God tapped us on the shoulder and said, “Follow me.”
While all these practices are good and useful, it should be remembered that faith is not simply a “God and me” experience. We need the body of Christ, both the physical gathering of the people of God and the Eucharist meal, to keep us honest with ourselves and with each other. We live in community, no matter how fractured that community might be. It is within this community that faith is both nurtured and lived out.
Neddy: Pastors struggle as much as church members with issues of faith, but making a commitment to share the good news of Jesus Christ, not our own, helps us hold it higher than any of our own struggles and doubts. I am always hopeful because I believe in Jesus’ story as witnessed in the Gospels and in my own life. I believe in God’s love for the world, peace and justice. No matter the issue at hand, I know where God stands, and that allows me to do my work with strength. No matter the story the world may want to make us believe in, if it does not lift up God’s story of abundant life, love and justice, I know where to turn my attention and hold on to hope. Even crises are opportunities to experience God’s grace.
Anne: I think the short answer is: not very well. I think most pastors and church leaders struggle with sustaining their own faith. Each of us goes about it in a different way — some go on retreat, set aside time for prayer and study, talk with a spiritual director, etc. My own faith is most strengthened by worship; it always has been. Transitioning from being a worshiper to a worship leader was difficult for me at first. With time and practice, though, I've found I can worship and lead worship at the same time. I also take every opportunity I can get to worship with my colleagues, on my Sundays off, at special church events, etc. Worship in the assembly as part of the body of Christ gives me the energy and nourishment I need to care for others.
David: Oh my, what a great question. This is so very important. Teaching and caring for others can be emotionally and spiritually exhausting, and pastors who do not care for their own faith wind up burning out.
Given the wide variety of personalities and spiritualties among pastors, how each pastor does this looks slightly different. But there are some common themes.
Pastors who are caring for their faith make it a priority to find time for their own prayer life, for sabbath and for study. It can be difficult in a congregation, because those things don’t always look “productive,” but pastors who spend time on their own faith life are pastors who are prepared to provide care to the people they serve.
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