Friday, February 17, 2012

Personal Life

The doctors’ surgery my family are linked to offer an MOT (Men Over Thirty-five!) health check for those who feel well.  It’s based on the principle that prevention is better than cure. Church leaders, too, need regular personal check-ups to ensure that their spiritual health remains good. We ought to be asking ourselves some difficult questions – and facing up to the implications of the answers.  Here are some of those questions:

Does my inner life reflect my public ministry?
One of the early warning signs of spiritual malaise is a growing divergence between what is said publicly and what is ‘known’ inwardly. Devotional times with the Lord become perfunctory or non-existent, worship is increasingly formalised, evangelism an onerous duty and compassion a professional act rather than a burden of love. We need to be honest with ourselves here.

Does my outer life reflect my public ministry?
Hypocrisy is an ever-present temptation for those who speak or lead publicly. While encouraging God’s people to acts of commitment, sacrifice and devotion we can shy away from the cost of acting on our own advice.  While heartily condemning the sins of the flesh we can be indulging in them. Sadly we can even hide behind the ‘truth’ that we ought to be proclaiming what is right, even if we fail to live up to it! Helmut Thielicke described this sort of hypocrisy as the process by which leaders build ‘houses’ of good works and godly living for the people they lead and then refuse to share the same accommodation.

No one can avoid hypocrisy entirely, but we must constantly be attempting to bring our words and actions into line with each other.

Is my life biblically ‘balanced’?
There must be ingredients in my life which feed the whole person – body, mind and spirit.  Without all three of these areas being addressed we are in danger of becoming ‘unbalanced’ as individuals. This will make us hard to relate to, but it will also cause a good deal of inner tension. We have not been designed to work well on only one engine. It is possible, but usually leads to an ‘unsteady’ flight, shorter journey and unpredictable destination!

As the answers to these questions emerge we need some positive guidelines to help us get back to good health spiritually, and to stay there.  Here are some suggestions:

   Find a friend!  Or several friends – at any rate people you can trust completely. Give them the authority (and opportunity!) to probe your spiritual life. Isolation is one of the biggest causes of failure and burnout in ministry; we need trusted advisors who will encourage us, but who are not afraid to also confront and correct us. This is not always easy in the context of a local church and we may need to look outside the church for such help. Growing numbers of leaders are meeting in small ‘clusters’ with those from other churches for mutual help and correction in this way.

Build into your programme times for reflection. Too often in local church life we are tyrannised by the urgent rather than motivated by the important. It is only in the periods of quiet reflection and assessment that we can clearly discern our priorities. These ‘oases’ of time can substantially reduce pressure and stress, keep us from going down a ministry cul-de-sac and help us ‘tune in’ to divine directions for ourselves and the church family.

Be human! Take proper time for rest and recreation. Play with the children, make love with your spouse (if you’re married!)… download a movie, sing in the shower, dip your biscuits in your coffee, listen to Beethoven … whatever it takes – relax! Time with family and friends is an essential part of wholesome living.

Be healthy. Many so-called ‘spiritual’ problems are rooted in the physical.  If we looked after our bodies properly many of our other pressures would go. We need to cultivate good eating habits, times of exercise and adequate amounts of sleep. The most significant spiritual tonic for many leaders could be a week of early nights, a gentle jog round the block and a big bowl of muesli! The principle really is vital. Far too many church leaders today are caught up in a pressurised lifestyle and end up blaming God, the church, the demonic, and other leaders for the stress they feel, when in reality it is ‘simply’ the result of neglecting basic health care.

Stephen Gaukroger 
Pastor and Senior Church Leader in the United Kingdom
Founder and Director of Clarion Trust International

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