Love Goes on Forever but Ministry Takes Effort
by the Reverend Dr. Glen Miles, Senior Minister of Country Club Christian Church, Kansas City, MO, and Moderator of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada; Emmanual Christian Seminary, M. Div., 1988; Claremont School of Theology, D. Min., 1995
I preached my very first sermon when I was 17 years old. It was delivered to a group of my peers at a Wednesday evening service. There were about 125 teens and adults gathered for the event. My text was 1 Corinthians 13:8. I was crazy mad in love with the cute girl who always sat on the front row. I looked right at her as I began the sermon, proclaiming, in what may have been the sappiest voice ever used in the pulpit, “Loooooove goes on forever” (The Living Bible).
Man, was I smooth or what?
Immediately after the service many, mostly the adults in the room, overwhelmed me with kind comments about my work. Later that night I sat with the cute girl from the front row and shared a Pepsi. I said, “This preaching stuff ain’t so hard. I could do this.”
I had no idea what I was talking about. I grew up in the church and as the son of a preacher I had a clue about the kinds of things that Dad had to do as part of his job but I did not understand the daily rigors of ministry (let alone the weekly discipline of preparing for the pulpit). Thirty-eight years later, through the help of many great friends and mentors and the welcome (and occasionally not so welcome) advice of the people in the pews, I’ve discovered some wonderful means of maintaining a healthy and spiritually alive focus for my work as a pastor. These discoveries have come as the result of many missteps and mistakes along the way. I submit them to you not as the final word on what may work but as an example of one pastor’s simple desire to serve God.
First and foremost, the pastor must find a routine that works for her or him. Mine is very simple: it begins with coffee and at least two hours of quiet per day. I could survive without the coffee but not without the quiet. Each day begins with a quick review of the headlines on the New York Times, followed by a time of quiet meditation and prayer. Sometimes my prayers are guided by the news of the day. Lately my supplications have been short ones like: “Lord, In Your Mercy: Ferguson, Missouri.” In other moments I’ll simply be quiet and listen for the rumblings of the Spirit. The rest of the time is focused on sermon preparation and study.
The second thing that helps me stay alive is constant contact with friends and colleagues in the ministry and in the congregation. You may be surprised to see friends in the congregation listed. I used to be very nervous about becoming too close to the people in the pews. Growing up in a preacher’s home I had seen my mom and dad hurt by church relationships too many times. Over the years, however, I’ve learned to trust my own instincts and the lay people God puts in place to help lead the church. I recall a conversation with a very good friend in the congregation I now serve. He challenged me about some of my preaching. My initial reaction was defensive but as he shared his concerns I realized he was right. His advice was insightful and I know that my preaching has been greatly helped.
Listening to and sharing with other pastors has been unbelievably beneficial in my ministry. My wife and I are in a small group made up of four pastors and their spouses. We meet at least once a month over bread and wine to share about our ministries and our lives. Our friendship with these couples has created a safe place for us to relax, knowing that because we are friends we do not have to be “on.” We can just be ourselves.
I’m in another group of pastors who get together once a year for a retreat after Easter. We share many similarities and backgrounds. Again, this is a safe haven, one where we are free to challenge each other knowing that at the end of the day our love and support is never ending.
Finally, I am almost fundamentally rigid about taking time to get away. My day off each week is Thursday. I know, who takes Thursday off? It’s a little weird but it works for us. On that day I’ve discovered that whether my wife and I are making a trip to Costco, taking time for a nice lunch or a drive out to the country in search of a real, all-American piece of apple pie, the time together is priceless. It reminds her that she is still the single most important one in my life.
We are also careful to observe all of our vacation days. One of the unhealthiest things I have seen pastors do is fail to take a vacation. If the church cannot function without you then you are doing something wrong. A vacation helps to keep you refreshed and, honestly, it gives the church a break from you, too.
This is not a foolproof methodology for thriving but I have found that when I take time for quiet, find space for friendships and make sure that I have at least one day a week focused on nothing but my wife, my ministry is fresh and alive.
Oh, and by the way, that first sermon was pretty cheesy but it must have worked because I’ve been married to that cute girl for 35 years now!
Grace and peace to you.