Serving Jesus in the local church, a Christian nonprofit or any ministry setting is challenging. Even when we rely on the amazing power of the Holy Spirit, we can still hit times when we need to recharge. How do we fortify our body, soul, mind and heart? What can we do to make sure our ministry batteries don’t run low?
A number of disciplines, habits and actions can make a real difference. My prayer is that one or two of these suggestions move you to action (or inaction) that allows the Spirit of God to help you along during this uniquely challenging time.
1. Sabbath Well.
God did not make us for endless work and perpetual exhaustion. Yes, we were called to meaningful work all the way back to where the human story began (Gen. 2:16). But deep and regular rest is also built into the divine design (Gen. 2:2–3, Exod. 20:8–11). This means a rhythm of work and rest honors God and strengthens us.
Leaders who claim to follow Jesus but insist on working seven days a week, week after week, are declaring that they are smarter than God. Our Creator was emphatic that rest on a weekly basis is essential for our health and longevity in ministry. Too many leaders have rejected the gift of weekly refreshment that God wants to give them.
If you want to dig deeper into this heavenly source of energy and health, I suggest you prayerfully read Exodus 16 and ask yourself what you can learn from the lesson of “manna and maggots.”
2. Sleep Appropriately.
I have two different doctors in my church who are sleep experts. In conversations with them, I have learned that most people need more sleep than they realize or want to admit. When we fail to sleep consistently and in a manner that meets our personal physical needs, we can adversely impact our emotional life, focus, productivity and much more. A wise leader will learn how much sleep their body needs to operate at a high level. Then they will make sure they get it.
Set a bedtime for one week and stick to it. Turn off all technology an hour or more before you go to bed, and don’t look at any screens for an hour before your bedtime. Limit light in the room where you sleep. When you wake up, ask yourself if you still feel tired. If so, go to bed a little earlier the next night. After a week, discern whether this might be a helpful lifestyle change.
3. Narrow Your Focus.
No leader can do everything. Those who are called to a church that has only one pastor (which is the majority of churches in the world) will learn that they have to become proficient in many things, but that is not the same as trying to do everything. Every Christian leader should discover their spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12) and maximize their focus in the areas they are most gifted.
Take a spiritual gifts test and identify the two or three areas in which you are most gifted. Look closely at your schedule from the last month and identify how much time you are working and serving in the bull’s-eye of your God-given strengths. Also, identify how much time you are investing in areas you are not strongly gifted. If things are out of balance, talk with your board or staff team about how you can make some shifts to spend more time in the areas you are most designed to thrive.
4. Equip Others.
A big part of any ministry is learning to recruit, train, support and bless others to use their gifts for the Lord. In the letter to the Ephesian church, Paul is emphatic that one of the roles of leaders in the church is to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry” (Eph. 4:12–16). Whatever your ministry, you should be multiplying servants for the kingdom of God by equipping and training others to serve side by side with you.
Bruce Bugbee has spent a lifetime helping believers do exactly this. He offers some of the best study, research and tools for empowering people to engage in ministry and service. Take some time to look into his book What You Do Best: Unleashing the Power of Your Spiritual Gifts, Relational Style and Life Passion.
5. Reach Out Frequently.
Spending time with lost people might seem like just another thing you have to do that keeps you busy and drains you. But most Christian leaders (particularly pastors) spend very little time with spiritual seekers and those who are wandering far from Jesus. Our Savior was clear that we should be engaged in his plan to bring in a harvest of lives to his kingdom (Matt. 9:35–38). When we are around nonbelievers, we remember why we went into ministry. Our hearts begin to beat with the heart of the Savior. A fire is rekindled in our hearts and passion for ministry grows.
Pray and think about one nonbelieving friend or family member who lives near you. Make time to be with this person in the coming days. Pray that God uses you to share his love and care in a real and practical way.
6. Repent Humbly.
When we are exhausted, it is easy for little and big compromises to come stealthily into our life and take root without us noticing. When this happens, the enemy of our soul begins to drain our passion and deplete our reserves. We can become tired, depressed, demotivated and cynical. Sin sucks the life out of a servant of Jesus.
These moments are when we need to get on our knees. Confession and repentance might be exactly what we need to connect us back with our Lord. He is always ready to forgive (1 John 1:9). Repentance is the antidote to the draining effect of spiritual disobedience.
Take time to read 2 Samuel 11 and Psalm 51. Reflect deeply on David’s sin and efforts to cover it up. Then, let the words of confession and repentance recorded in Psalm 51 (written as a direct response to what happened in 2 Samuel 11) wash over your soul. Take time to pray your own Psalm 51, using David’s model.
7. Eat Wisely.
Ministry can be a murderous monster on our health and particularly on good eating habits. Before we know it, the pounds add up and our energy level dips down. One way to recharge our batteries is to care for our bodies and eat foods that strengthen our bodies as well as avoiding those that slow us down.
Commit to eating well for one week. Write out what you will eat each day, pray for strength, and share your eating plan with a trusted and tenacious Christian friend. At the end of each day, and first thing in the morning, assess how you feel. You’ll be amazed by how quickly your body feels better and your energy reserves fill up when you are eating the right foods in the appropriate amounts.
Kevin Harney (KevinGHarney.com) is an Outreach magazine contributing editor, lead pastor of Shoreline Church in Monterey, California, and the founder and visionary leader of Organic Outreach International (OrganicOutreach.org). He is the author of the Organic Outreach trilogy and, most recently, Organic Disciples: Seven Ways to Grow Spiritually and Naturally Share Jesus, in addition to multiple studies and articles.