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In ministry, there are certain tensions that we must live with.  Sometimes they seem contradictory, but they are tensions that are actually healthy for us.

Tensions we carry in ministry

  • Doing | Being
  • Caring for others | Caring for ourselves
  • Waiting on God | Working for God
  • Planning | Praying
  • Measurable deliverables | Unmeasurable work of the Spirit
  • Breadth | Depth
  • God working through us | God working in us   

In ministry we must hold these tensions carefully.  None of the tensions listed are an either/or proposition.  They are a both/and.  In fact, embracing only one side of the tension either leads to dysfunction or a lopsided view of ministry.

The gravitational pull in the 21st century is the pull toward doing, leading, driving, and growing.  None of those are negative, unless they cause us to neglect having a healthy soul that is deeply pursuing a relationship with Jesus.  A life focused only on the doing/achieving side of the tension will lead to distorted motives, a skewed view of success, and dysfunction on the team.

As Ruth Haley Barton says “…it is possible to gain the world of ministry success and lose your own soul in the midst of it all.”  

The greatest gift you will give your team and your ministry is your own healthy soul.  And part of what it means to have a healthy soul is that you are pursuing and experiencing an intimate relationship with Jesus, personally and as a team.  In the healthiest team cultures, you take time for spiritual conversations, spiritual growth is challenged and encouraged, you open God’s word together, you speak about what God is doing in your life, and you regularly stop to pray for one another.

For many years, I was so busy worrying about everybody else’s spiritual life, that I neglected my own and the spiritual life of my team.  But part of my self-leadership is taking ownership of my life to carve out time to intentionally pursue a loving relationship with Jesus; as a beloved son or daughter, not as a professional minister.

2 Corinthians 3:18 is not a verse just for those you lead, it is also for you personally.

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Ruth Haley Barton describes spiritual transformation as “…the process by which Christ is formed in us for the glory of God, for the abundance of our lives, and for the sake of others.”  

It is first “in us” and then as it lives in us, God’s work in us can bless others.  But trying to lead others to spiritual transformation while neglecting our own souls leaves us feeling hollow and disingenuous.

Therefore, we must learn the skill of tending to our soul and our soul’s connection with God.  

Your soul was made by God.  Your soul was made for relationship with God.  Your soul longs to know and be known by God.  

Your soul was made to worship.  And it will worship something or someone.  

As John Ortberg says “The neglected soul doesn’t go away; it goes awry.”  

“Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does our soul.  An empty soul will not stay empty for long.  When God is not present, a host of lesser gods is always ready to rush in.”  (Sacred Quest by Doug Banister)

Of all people, as leaders in ministry, we should have a depth and intimacy with God that sets us apart from others.  

It makes me think of a moment that takes place in the book of Numbers.  When the Lord divided Canaan among the tribes of Israel, the Levites received no share of the land.  God said to Aaron and the priests “I am your share and your inheritance.”

While everyone else in the nation of Israel received an inheritance of property, those whose lives were dedicated to ministry received an inheritance of presence… God’s presence.  That didn’t mean that God’s presence wasn’t available to all Israelites, but in some way, those who served in ministry had a unique connection with God.  The same should be true of us. More than our gifting or leadership or skill, it is the aroma of God’s presence that should set us apart.

And it should be the driving force in our lives.

As A.W. Tozer says in his classic book The Pursuit of God “Come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heat of their desire after God.”  

You can feel the heat that Tozer describes in the words of the apostle Paul in

Philippians 3:7-8 (NIV)  But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 

You can feel the heat in King David’s words in Psalm 27:4 (NIV)

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.

So, what does this look like practically?  In the next article I am going to share the two biggest commitments that have made the most difference loving Jesus.  This week don’t let it be all about doing.  Spend some unhurried time tending to your own soul.  In caring for others don’t forget the care of your own soul.

Lance is the founder of Replenish ministries and is often referred to as a Pastor’s Pastor.  He is also the author of the book Replenish, which is dedicated to helping leaders live and lead from a healthy soul.  Before launching Replenish, Lance served 20 years as a senior pastor and 6 years as an Executive/Teaching pastor at Saddleback Church. 

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