Remember the famous line from the 1992 elections, “It’s the economy stupid!” It was said by Clinton strategist, James Carville, who was explaining to volunteers what they should emphasize when discussing key political issues.
As our District strategizes ways to go about winning the lost and multiplying churches, I think our District tag line could be just as obvious, “It’s about your health, pastor!”
No, it’s not the only thing. Nor is it the most important thing. There are many variables in the equation of winning the lost and multiplying churches, but very few are more important than the health of our pastors. Supervisor Fernando Castillo shared a statement at a district conference two years ago that became our clear balanced mandate: “It’s all about HIM, Health, Improvement, and Multiplication.” Our District team has this before them as we retool current pastors and prepare new ones. Health, Improvement, Multiplication.
Regarding Health, consider with me for a moment the example the Father gave us as He prepared His Son for His ministry assignment. I believe the soul health of His Son was at the core of this crucial preparation. For the sake of this brief devotional, let’s see Jesus like a person who was stepping into a new pastorate or church plant. Use your imagination!
What occurred BEFORE Jesus entered ministry, at His water baptism, provides us insights to keys for our own soul health.
Let’s first look at two events that FOLLOWED His water baptism, basically launching Jesus into His public ministry; events surrounding His ‘sending church’ at Nazareth, and then the events that surrounded His actual ‘ministry launch’ at Capernaum.
First, the sending church events. It’s well documented that one of the keys of a successful church plant is having a good sending church. The sending church are the dear people who cover us in prayer and financial support. We cannot overstate the value of a sending church. What happened when Jesus shared His vision statement at His “sending church” at Nazareth? The people who knew Him best, the ones who formed the potential support base for His ministry tried to throw Him off a cliff after he preached! (Luke 4:28-30). His sending church tried to kill Him! A lot of us have stories of how our sending church was less than supportive. But can you top a homicide attempt?
After this, Jesus goes directly to Capernaum (Luke 4:31) to essentially start His ministry. What happened at His ministry launch? Again, use your imagination! Here is Jesus at His new church. It’s probably a full house. There’s excitement in the air. He had a killer sermon.
I’ve attended many church restarts and church plants. All are festive occasions with special music, balloons, bouncy houses for kids, and lots and lots of food. All have tons of advertisement and “grand opening” themes that make for a perfect service. What happened at Jesus’ grand opening service? A demon manifests while He’s preaching (Luke 4:33-34)! Talk about a grand opening service killer! I mean, we get all riled up if we have a fussy baby in the front row! But a demon? Not a good first service start. Then with the service over Jesus has to heal the caterer! Peter’s mother-in-law is sick, and Jesus had to heal her before she served the after-service lunch (Luke 4:38-39). How would you handle a demonic manifestation and a no-show caterer for your grand opening celebration?
The Nazareth and Capernaum episodes kicked off the ministry of Jesus. But they didn’t even register a minor blip in the ministry radar of Jesus. How do you handle similar ministry setbacks? Such as a non-existent or less than supportive sending church or maybe a less than successful grand opening or protracted revival or restart services?
Which brings up what I believe is the primary precursor to a healthy soul. BEFORE Jesus experienced these and other ministry setbacks He was baptized in water and what the Father said to Him at that time was huge. These words are crucial to our souls as well.
HEALTH MARKER #1 - A revelation of the pleasure I bring to my Father that is completely unconnected to what I do for Him in ministry.
“You are My Beloved Son – in You I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22). These are words the Father said before Jesus did ANYTHING in ministry. Simply put, these words are the key to our health too! Regardless of where you are in your pastoral ministry timeline, this revelation is an on-going key to your health. This is vital; A revelation that the Father loves me – without strings!
Jesus was given a reminder of His Father’s loving disposition at the Mount of Transfiguration. How much more do we need a constant revelation of this truth. It’s pure health to our soul. I need a revelation of the pleasure I bring to my Father for simply being His child. The importance of this revelation cannot be overstated.
If you’re like me this is easily enjoyed when it’s connected to something I’ve done FOR Him; a great sermon, a successful outreach, leading people to Jesus, a strong worship service, a full altar, a powerful missions project, attracting a full house of worshipers, giving a large amount of money. I can easily sense God’s pleasure when I do these things. But that doesn’t give health to my soul. If anything, it gives way to my pride.
Maybe it’s because of my classic Pentecostal upbringing, but I still battle a not-to-subtle view of my own personal goodness and how I think it relates to how God feels about me during ministry. For instance, I feel good about how I think God feels about me after successfully engaging in difficult spiritual disciplines leading up to a Sunday morning worship service. Things like that. And guess what happens when the results don’t always equate to public ministry success? Time to change churches, change church growth models, change church Councils, or question my calling.
If a health marker is an awareness of the pleasure I bring to God totally unconnected to what I do for Him in ministry, maybe a symptom of un-health is ministry fatigue. Ministry fatigue wears you out before your ministry assignment is complete. A lot of my peers are experiencing ministry fatigue. Sure, we all get tired. Ministry wears you out especially if we ignore a weekly Sabbath. But you know you have ministry fatigue when no amount of time off re-ignites your soul.
Nobody experienced the level of emotional ministry disappointment Jesus experienced in three years. Nobody! But He stayed on course, strong to the end, because His ministry was not driven by so-called ministry successes, but by the clear assignment He was given. And the pure love His Father had for Him. His healthy soul kept Him on track.
Let us draw near to our Father. Come with no effort or merits of your own. Come to the loving arms of your Father. He is pleased to call you His child. If Paula can whisper her love of me before I brush my teeth, comb my hair, or before I tell her I’m bringing her coffee in bed, how much more can I believe the words of the Father whispering to me “Ron, I love you and you please me…” before I pastor, preach, or even step into the church office!
“Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30