by Bob Clark
“The soul-wreckage among those who work with souls is appalling.” Eugene Peterson
All church leaders need a spiritual root system to provide the nourishment needed to lead the church faithfully and effectively, to live a lifestyle consistent with their profession of faith, and to love God and people as they lead.
While there are so many directions I could go in talking about soul care for church leaders, I want to focus on developing a holy rhythm of solitude and community. We need to learn new ways to move out of busyness into solitude. At the same time, we need to move out of isolation and into community. Solitude and community may not seem to go together, but they function well together in providing spiritual nourishment for those who tend the souls of others.
If there is one thing most church leaders have in common, it is a sense that what they do matters, both to God and to the church. They take seriously the words of the apostle Paul, who describes the work of leaders as equipping people, raising up servants, building unity, and fostering maturity (Ephesians 4:12-13). In their better moments, they are driven by an awareness that, as Paul suggests, ministry is an act of worship, as they strive to present their congregations as an acceptable offering to God (Romans 15:16).
Timothy must have thought the calling was worth it to have accepted responsibility to minister among the Christians in Ephesus. It was not long, though, before reality confronts him face-to-face. All kinds of people were stirring up trouble: people with impure motives and hearts, people who were uninformed masquerading as in-the-know, people who were angry, people who were lacking in maturity but insistent on teaching. Elders were wallowing in sin. Controversy had ensued over which widows were on the church payroll (or the benevolence list, depending on your reading of the passage). The rich in the church were looking down their noses at the poor.
In the midst of all that, a pastoral letter arrives from Paul. Timothy must be overjoyed when it comes, anticipating the encouragement he would receive. And he does receive encouragement, but he also receives word that in addition to the stuff he enjoys–preaching, praying, teaching, developing leaders–addressing these people and their challenges was part of the job, too.
Imagine how messy this will be. Timothy and other leaders telling certain men they are too angry to pray in the worship gatherings. Timothy telling certain women they are not informed enough to teach. Timothy rebuking unrepentant elders. Timothy confronting the rich about their arrogance and the need to share generously. What could possibly go wrong in those scenarios?
Just like Timothy, every person who inherits the mantle of church leadership discovers the joy of the calling can be overshadowed quickly by the pressure of the job. The stakes are high. The pressure is on. The stress manifests itself differently depending on the person. Many run the church like a business, tyrants with a heavy hand. Some struggle in isolation with secret sin. Others are nowhere to be found; they have disappeared entirely from church. Still others faithfully lead even when depleted by busyness to the point of near burnout. All need to practice soul care in a way that provides spiritual nourishment.
Stay tuned for our next post where we will discuss ways to practice soul care.