Taking Care of Our Souls
19/01/12 08:38 Filed in: Ministry
I’ve just started reading a book by my friend Lance Witt entitled Replenish: Leading from a Healthy Soul. In the opening chapter of his book, he has a sentence that I think summarizes the issues most of us deal with when it comes to our spiritual formation. He says, “Having talked to some whose ministry has come crashing down around them, I can tell you the convergence of outward success, self-deception, soul neglect, and relational isolation creates the perfect storm for disaster.” These four things are important things for us to keep in mind as essentials when it comes to thinking about our own spiritual growth as leaders.
There is something about us that causes us to want to be successful in life. There is nothing wrong with doing our best and striving towards goals we have set in our lives. We are called to be good stewards of the things God has given us. The problem comes not when we do all we can to do our best to use the gifts God has given us. The problem comes when we actually start having success and begin to believe that we are the source of that success. When you and I get to this place we begin to believe what others tell us about ourselves and pride starts to set in. When that happens, we start to drift away from our close relationship with God because our ego has no need for any kind of dependence on anyone or anything. Meanwhile, our soul and character begins to be neglected and our interior life doesn’t have the strength to support the weight of our exterior life. When this happens we are set up to find some kind of relief from the pressure that success brings and many end up doing things that end our ministry. We have got to get beyond measuring how well we are doing by the numbers and successes of the things we do in the ministry and start to measure our success by our reflection on those successes and failures we have in ministry and how we have grown in and through each experience. The more our focus is on our interior life, the more we will have the character to handle the successes in our exterior life.
We all have a propensity towards fooling ourselves. There is something about the fall that allows us to talk ourselves into anything right or wrong. None of us likes to admit weakness or failure so we excuse those things away and don’t choose to work on what is most important. Without ruthless honesty about who we are and where we are at, we will never be able to truly grow to become more like Christ. It is in moments of self deception that we hide pieces of our lives in the dark corners of our soul and don’t want to shine a light in those directions for fear we might be exposed or look bad in front of others. The reality is, however, that the more we actually live in the light and let our weaknesses and dark spots show, that we actually experience the freedom and peace that we are all after in this world. The more I work to hide what is going on in my life, the more I get caught in playing a role and create more stress and tension in my life because I now have to remember and juggle this person who is not naturally who I am. I have talked with many people who have thought their sins where too great for anyone to know and that people would hate them if they knew what they were struggling with. These same people, when they chose to stop deceiving themselves and put their dark corners into the light, experienced a level of acceptance and grace that they never thought they would experience. Most people admire leaders who are transparent more than they do leaders who seem to be perfect. As humans we have a built in meter that tells us someone can’t be as perfect as they are presenting and we look for ways to expose it. If you hide in self deception, you will be found out eventually, and as you wait to be exposed, your life is filled with stress.
It is so easy in ministry to neglect our souls. We are so busy with the work of the ministry that we talk ourselves into thinking the work of the ministry is the same as taking care of our souls. When I was going into seminary I remember my dad telling me something that literally saved my soul. He said not to think that my study in class was a substitute for my time with God. He said if I didn’t take care of my soul and build my relationship with God I would end up dry and discouraged. I took his advice and was able to come through seminary ready for ministry. I knew plenty of other guys who didn’t heed that advice and burned out before they even got started. As leaders, we need to remember that our soul needs to be filled up and our relationship with God is the single most important thing to keep in tact as we seek to minister to others in His name. Neglect your soul and you have just hurt your congregation more than anything else.
This one issue is one of the biggest reasons leaders, and really any human being, fall. When we have no one in our lives to speak truth to us and to help us see ourselves and our choices from the perspective of reality rather than our well crafted rationalizations, we really are vulnerable. There is something about us as leaders that causes us to shy away from true relationships. We tend to believe the lie that people want a leader who has no faults and therefore we need to keep our distance from people if we are to keep our image up and ultimately our job. There is also a prideful side that causes us to think that we are the one’s who have arrived or are further along than the people we lead so we really don’t need the same level of accountability as the people we lead do. When we buy this lie we are missing out on an important aspect of how God created us. There is something about community that God built into everyone of us. He wants relationship with us and asks that we have relationship with others. When we are relationally isolated we literally lose something that God intended for each of us to have. When we lose that sense of connection and have no one who can see our lives and speak into them, we have no way of knowing how we are doing spiritually and can end up in a place where we talk ourselves into doing the wrong things for what we perceive as rational reasons. We all need the support and the accountability relationships bring if we are to grow as followers of Jesus Christ. Isolate relationally and that need to connect will come out in dysfunctional ways.
As we look at how to help one another to take care of our souls and to grow our lives and characters to look more like Jesus Christ, we have to look out for the things that can do the most damage. If we don’t manage our outward success, self deception, soul, and relationships our impulses and exterior pressures will manage us and drive us to a place of dryness and vulnerability. But the more we manage our souls and choose to live in the light in relationship with others the more we will experience the growth and stability we need as leaders and followers of Christ.