I work with pastors on a daily basis. To be candid, I see many pastors struggling. Ministry has always been hard, but the last couple of years have been brutal. I never want to dump more of a burden on pastors. Outward pressure to “perform” is not what pastors need right now. I want to share some things I’ve observed in what I am calling truly joyful pastors.
Of course, we would all encourage our church to have joy. We know joy is a fruit of the Spirit. It is a state of mind more than a result of circumstances. Yet, we also know that knowing a truth and living a truth we know can be two very different things. So, how do we live the truth we teach?
After each point I’ll share how I try to practice this. Please understand, I’m not perfect at this. I have good days and bad. I preached a message on joy at Christmas and shared an illustration I couldn’t have shared five years ago. I said grandparenting is the closest thing we have on earth to understanding biblical joy. It’s not happiness. It’s pure, utter joy. How do we find and live this as ministers of the Gospel?
Of course, all of this is applicable for those who aren’t in vocational ministry. Life is full of times that can rob us of our joy. That’s certainly true for my pastor friends. So, here are some things I’ve observed in joyful pastors.
7 Habits of Truly Joyful Pastors
1. A personal time in God’s word.
This is time spent beyond preparing for a sermon. If we are not careful, we can use the Bible as a tool in our trade rather than a source of life. I recall something Moses said. “These are not just idle words for you–they are your life.” (Deuteronomy 32:47)
How I attempt this: Every other year I read through the Bible. This year I’m using The Message Version. Don’t judge me. I know it is a paraphrase. On the other years I read through it more topically. But the point here is I never use my quiet time – first thing in the morning – for sermon preparation. Things come out of my quiet time that enhances my sermons but I want my quiet time to be my time with God and me.
2. A long-term perspective.
It is often said about parenting that the days are long but the years are short. That is certainly true in ministry. Joyful pastors seem to make the most of the years.
How I attempt this: I slip away frequently to renew my perspective. In seasons of change or unusually high stress, I might slip away for an afternoon. Other times Cheryl and I take a few days away. I frequently step away – even on the busiest days – to exercise.
During these times away I strive to focus not on the urgency of the moment, but on the bigger picture blessings on my life. I might read through my “encouragement file”, where I save encouraging messages from people of how God is working in our ministry. (Every leader needs one of these files.) The time away and intentionality depends on the level of current stress I’m facing.
3. Kingdom approach.
The most joyful pastors I know are willing to help a sister church or fellow pastor at the drop of a hat. They joyfully serve other people and ministries – even with no apparent gain to themselves. There is something about investing in other people where you may appear to have less (time, resources) but you feel like you have more.
How I attempt this: Well, I’m writing this blog. That’s one way. While it is true that some of my revenue is derived from helping pastors now. I have to charge something most of the time, I hope to always be willing to assist pastors – especially young, new or struggling pastors – whenever I can.
4. Comfortable in their individual calling.
You can’t compare your ministry to other ministries and continue to feel good about yourself. There will always be someone doing something that appears “better” than how you’re doing. Although, having served in large and small churches – church plants and very established churches – let me just say it is all relative. I know some small town, bi-vocational pastors that are “killing it” if you want to compare statistics in context.