Blog Series: “Lost In Translation”
Using Paul’s engagement with the Athenians in Acts 17 as a backdrop, we are reflecting on the many gaps, disconnections, and misalignments we see across the landscape of ministry, along with some hopeful and constructive suggestions for how to respond faithfully.
The Lord will guide you continually
and satisfy your needs in parched places
and make your bones strong,
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water
whose waters never fail.
– Isaiah 58:11
We are experiencing a season of deflation. This is not an insight about the current global economy from the likes of Christine Lagarde, Janet Yellen, or Paul Krugman. This is a comment about the deflating impact of culture on the gospel message, along with weariness, stress, and our individual and corporate doubts about the power of God in a world like ours.
In our churches, confidence that the future belongs to God feels diminished.
Reservoirs of joy within each generation are depleted.
A hope that allows us to live a larger life of faith and purpose often ends up derailed.
And the continuing implications of the Enlightenment– relentlessly centering the individual as the source and arbiter of meaning – have undermined our assurance that the love of God can bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things.
At the risk of being misunderstood or seeming insensitive, let me suggest that one of the places we see this deflation at work today is in how we talk about “pastoral self-care.”
Google “pastoral self-care” and you will inherit a cornucopia of eternal advice.
Eat right, exercise right, relax right, sleep right.
Nothing to argue with there.
Reserve family time, protect privacy, clarify expectations, build friendships, seek help.
Learn a new hobby, schedule downtime, get non-church friends, find a counselor, laugh.
A solid set of ideas.
Each of these suggestions is potentially helpful and worthy of consideration. The problem is that each places self-care, well, with the self. Conspicuously absent? God. The person of Jesus Christ. The comfort of the Holy Spirit. And this omission is not limited to a small sample-sized Google search but spans the vast majority of content and conversations I encounter on the topic. What happens too often is that well-intentioned attempts at self-care turn into a shield against ministry, rather than an invitation by God to rest in God.
Instead of talking about self-care, how about talking about God’s care for each of us? Instead of walling out others as a form of self-care, how about calling on the Body of Christ to care for each member, including the pastor, and praying for that care, expecting that care, and mobilizing the accountability of the whole congregation to support it?
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote:
There is something which is far greater than my desire to pray, namely, God’s desire that I pray. There is something which is far greater than my will to believe, namely, God’s will that I believe. How insignificant is the outpouring of my soul in the midst of this great universe! Unless it is the will of God that I pray, unless God desires our prayer, how ludicrous is all my praying. We cannot reach heaven by building a Tower of Babel. The biblical way to God is a way of God.
Faithful, consistent self-care begins and ends with trust in God’s provisions for us. Self-care that begins and ends with us alone will rise and fall with our levels of…sleep, exercise, relaxation, and nutrition. Deep communion with God and trust in God’s ways will sustain us in all the ways we most need. Our expectations for God and for what God can truly do for us have shrunk over time in most of our ministries. It’s time to reclaim the expansive promises of God.
As Isaiah reminds us, we need to trust that God will satisfy us in parched places, that God will make us strong, and that God’s nourishment never fails. Centering the work of our days on those expansive promises will lead us to feel cared for in ways we cannot imagine on our own and can never do for ourselves.