Ironically one of the major areas that is often neglected in the pursuit of our calling to ministry, whether that of ordained clergy or CLPs, is our own spiritual nurture. The most sincere and spiritually led pastor can slip into meeting demands of others and neglecting the very spirit that led that person to respond to a call. It is not enough to read the Scripture in preparation for a sermon, although God can often speak to us in that process. We cannot assume that time spent in prayer for others and in public worship is adequate for our prayer life. Because, as a CLP, you came to this position with limited theological and spiritual training, it is easy to restrict your church reading to “How to” books and neglect the nurture of your own spirit. Let me offer you a series of questions for reflection on your own spiritual health.
1. Are you sensing a strong connection with God?
2. Do you have an active discipline of personal prayer?
3. Does Scripture still feed you?
4. Do you have a spiritual counselor?
5. Do you have a colleague with whom you can share spiritual concerns?
6. Have you taken a personal spiritual retreat lately?
7. Would a personal spiritual journal be of help to you?
8. Look back over your life for those moments when you felt God guiding you. How does such a review affect you?
9. Do you have a discipline for engaging doubts in a manner that might make them redemptive?
10. Consider reading a book that focuses on spirituality at least once a year.
11. At least every couple of years, write a personal statement of faith, Keep them and review them to see your own journey.
12. Take a hike with the express intention of noticing how different things you notice can speak to you spiritually.
13. Recall one of the moments in life when you felt spiritually healthy and notice what was helping you at that time.
14. How frequently do you have the opportunity to be a participant in worship?
This is only a beginning but being intentional about setting aside time to listen to the Spirit is vital as you pursue your ministry.
Yesterday we considered the blocks of time available in your life each week and how many of them are available for serving your new church. The temptation as you begin to serve a church is to focus on what needs to be done to meet the expectations of the church. Three areas that are easy to neglect are those of family, personal health, and time for your own spiritual nurture. Families can be forgiving, up to a point, but eventually they need some of your attention to keep the bonds strong. If you are at or near retirement, it may only be a spouse that is in the home, but even those who are living elsewhere need your attention.
Also, as we grow older, our bodies and emotional reservoir require more attention. It is a mistake not to plan time for physical exercise, healthy eating, and fun time that can help balance our emotional reserves. Physical exercise will be different for different people and may include sports such as golf or tennis, exercise machines in the home or at a sports club, or regular runs or walks. The point is, have you identified for you what those will include and when you will engage in them. Intentionally setting aside time for them will prevent you from neglecting them.
Social time, both with members of your family and friends is important to schedule as well. Taking season tickets to some event is one way of making sure you take time. Being part of a book club, a dinner group, or hiking party can help nurture the bonds of community. Do not assume that because you are with lots of people in your church work, that your social needs are being met. We need social time when we are not also filling the role of pastor. Some hobbies can both revitalize your spirit and allow for relationship building outside of your pastoral responsibilities.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to set aside time for your spouse. Make use of your calendar to schedule date nights so that you can catch up with each other.
Tomorrow we will look at another very vital part of your self-care.
As a Certified Lay Pastor, (CLP), you need to recognize that you are entering a phase of your life that holds both promise of great satisfaction and also an experience filled with stress and temptations. The training that you will receive from your presbytery will help you but will never be sufficient to prepare you for all that you will face. Both the sense of call and the preparation may fill you with a new hunger and excitement. However, whether you are newly retired, or trying to fill these new responsibilities while you are still working at another job, one of the major challenges will be that there is never enough time.
As you begin, the temptation will be to try to meet every need and expectation that the church has and you will quickly discover that three other areas of your life can suffer. Your other job, if you are still working, your family, and your own care of self. A quick way to view this is to consider the week in daily blocks of morning, afternoon, evening, and sleep time. That means that each week there are 28 blocks of time that need to include attention to church, other work, family & friends, and personal needs. If this is a dual career effort, then you can identify the number of blocks of time required for your other career. Next, don’t neglect to identify your need for sleep time. While we can occasionally sacrifice some sleep time, eventually it catches up to us and begins to degrade our ability to lead a healthy life.
Now think about that church you are going to serve. How many of the remaining blocks of time each week do you think you need to devote to your work at the church. Include in that calculation the time you need for sermon preparation, the leadership of worship, preparation for and conducting of meetings. We will consider this more thoroughly tomorrow, but in your initial consideration, have you left blocks of time for your family and your personal life?
As I understand it, there was a moment in church history in which the Presbyterian Church made a momentous decision with respect to clergy leadership that shaped our future as a church in this country. The West was opening up and the need for pastoral leadership in these new communities was exploding. The Presbyterian Church, which at the time held a dominant position numerically in those communities along the Eastern seaboard had to decide how they were going to respond to the demand for pastors in these newly developing communities.
The critical issue was with respect to standards for ordination. Were they going to continue to expect a pastor to have a full seminary education, including learning Greek and Hebrew, before they were ordained to serve or were they going to send willing people out to serve these new churches and worry about the educational standards later. My understanding of church history suggests that the Presbyterian Church stood by its stringent standards and therefore were unable to meet the demand for clergy in these new communities. The Methodist and Baptist chose the opposite track and filled the new pulpits first and worried about the standards later. While each decision had its merits, one of the definite effects was to tip the balance numerically of the Presbyterian Church in this country.
Now, in response to the need of many smaller congregations within our denomination who cannot afford a full time pastor, the Presbyterian Church has ventured into a new form of pastoral leadership that is called the Certified Lay Pastor. As it has developed, these pastors are ordained elders who feel a call to serve and, under the guidance of the presbytery, receive some core training and then serve these smaller churches. In many cases, these CLPs are either retired from a previous profession or offer their services in addition to their other work. For a number of smaller churches, they have offered consistent leadership, pastoral attention, and a sense of new vitality.
While the church continues to discuss the shape of this new form of pastoral ministry, the CLPs will experience some of the same stresses and demands as ordained clergy and both presbytery and the congregations need to consider how they can be nurtured and supported. Over the next few days, I will make some suggestions.
There may come a time when you are unable to engage in forms of public ministry. There is a profound truth in John 21:18, “Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” While John interpreted this as indicating “the kind of death by which (Peter) would glorify God,” it also suggests for us that our ministry does not end when our body loses its capacity to be self-directed. Even when others were directing Peter’s movements, in this case the form of his death, Peter was not through offering glory to God.
If, as the Westminster Confession states, our chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever,” then for some, our final phase of life does not deny us the capacity to glorify God. For some of us, it may be the opportunity to deepen our spiritual reflections and to strengthen the depth of our prayer life. This need not be a solitary pulling within oneself. The world is deeply in need of prayer and those who can spend focused time on prayer for others and significant situations in the world continue the long history of the desert monks who offered their prayers on behalf of the world.
Jacques Ellul once commented that when the monks withdrew to the desert to pray, they were not going there in order to escape. Rather the desert was where the demons congregated and the monks went to bring spiritual presence in the heart of enemy territory. The final years of one’s life may well be where the demons congregate, to taunt us for our unworthiness since we can no longer “do anything.” This may be the most important part of our ministry where we direct the power of prayer that God’s kingdom come and God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.