Your personal devotional life will be the easiest thing to sacrifice, and the one thing you cannot afford to lose. The congregation will not know right away if your time with the Lord is suffering. You will still be able to preach sermons on Sundays, and you will be capable of recalling Bible verses when necessary for counseling. However, doing ministry from a heart growing cold will take its toll. Providing shepherding care to straying sheep will leave your heart calloused and bitter if you are not daily seeking the heart, will, and Word of God. We must love God if we are going to love people well (Matt. 22:37–39).
You meet up for coffee with a young pastor in your area. You’ve been wanting to meet up with him for a while to get to know him, but it always is rescheduled, sometimes even at the last minute. Finally, you get the chance to meet. He is about twenty minutes late, and comes in apologizing with a laugh. “Ministry is crazy,” are his first words.
After he is settled, you begin to ask him questions about his ministry. You quickly realize why it took so long to meet with this pastor: he is involved in everything. You begin to get the sense that this quick and charismatic young pastor isn’t too fond of the word no. He wants to do everything. When you ask how he is personally, for the first time he pauses, and he admits that he is tired and feels pulled in a million directions. He confides in you that he hasn’t been sleeping for more than 4-5 hours a night in the past 6 months, and that many of his sermons aren’t even started until Friday afternoon. His tone changes and he laughs to lighten the mood, “But I want to spend myself for the gospel though!” After about thirty minutes, he apologizes, clearly embarrassed at the irony, and says that he totally forgot about another meeting and has to leave. You didn’t get the chance to speak into his life at all.
As you drive home, you pray for the pastor. You wish you could have spoken into his young, well-intentioned chaos. So you decide to sit down and write him the following:
It was great to visit with you yesterday, even if only for a few minutes. Though our time was short, our conversation has lingered on my mind. I identify with the exact feelings and emotions you conveyed. You desire to serve your people faithfully, and you want to have an impact on your community. Complicating the matter, you are likely receiving positive feedback from those in the community who see you involved and attending so much. The satisfaction that accompanies affirmation combined with the fear of disappointing those watching can make it challenging to live by your highest priority. Can I offer three thoughts that might be of benefit to you? They have certainly helped me through the years.
Realize that every yes also brings a no
Commitment to an event or task never happens in a vacuum. Your presence in one place means your absence in another. As pastors, our schedules can get crammed full because we are afraid to say no. But remember that by saying yes to something, you are saying no to something else.
You mentioned your sermon preparation is limited as a result of the other things you have taken on. Think of it this way: each time you accept an appointment, you are saying no to sermon preparation. When you attend an evening event, you are saying no to your family. My intention is not to discourage you from meeting with people or being active in your community. I simply want to help you see that the desire to say yes to everything is an impossible way to do ministry. When you fill your daily schedule with so many things, you are forced to say no to Bible study, prayer, and time with your family.
I know you want to spend your life for the gospel. Remember though, this is achieved by having a full spiritual well from which to pour yourself out. If you are truly most concerned with spending yourself for the gospel, then your priority must be adequate time with the Lord.
When I was a young boy, my dad coached me in church-league basketball. I worked hard, tried to defend, attempted to rebound, and often sought to be the most energetic player on the court. I remember one day after practice, my dad was correcting me on mistakes I had made. I protested that I was the most active player on my team. I remember his reply as though it happened yesterday. He said, “Never confuse activity with accomplishment.”