Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Spiritual Discipline: Breaking Away From The To-Do List

Writing a blogpost is the last thing I need to be doing right now. It's 8:30 on a Wednesday morning, and I'm staring at a full day that includes the following:

- An appointment with an elder to discuss some issues within her committee.
- Putting together the bulletin for Sunday's worship service.
- A funeral at 2:00 that I'm mostly ready for, but have some finishing touches to add.
- A Bible study tonight that I'm in no way prepared for.
- Sunday's sermon, which I'd like to get a handle on before the weekend arrives.
- Several health issues in the congregation that I need to catch up with.

All in all, it's a typical day in the life of a pastor, and I'm not complaining. This is the work I enjoy and feel called to. By the time choir practice is done at 8:30 in the evening, I will go home tired but fulfilled. Why, then, am I writing a blogpost this morning, when there is so much necessary and meaningful work on my plate?

I'm writing this as part of my new spiritual discipline. Despite all of these necessary and meaningful tasks that demand our time and energy, church leaders of today are called to something more. We are called to open up our time and our to-do lists, to allow our ministries to be re-formed - if not completely, at least in partial ways that are carried out with freedom and intentionality.

Let me explain what I mean. My father, who is also a minister, has maintained for years that ministry is never finished. There is never a point in the day when one can say, "Everything is done here, so I'm going home now." There is always one more phone call to make, one more nursing home patient to visit, one more Bible study to prepare for, etc, etc."

Perhaps the best self-care skill that a minister can develop is the ability to lay pressing business aside until another day, and just go home. This proper sense of balance between work time and personal time is what allows a minister to flourish and stay healthy.

In current times, when the church is struggling with issues of institutional decline and how to adapt in a rapidly changing culture, we are being called to break away from the busy tasks of the day for more reasons than self-care. The never-ending to-do lists of ministry can prevent us from being open and responsive to the new things the Holy Spirit is doing in our churches and our communities.

The full day of necessary and meaningful ministry tasks that I listed above is a day that, if I allowed it to be, would be a day lacking in Spirit-led surprises and spontaneity. Every item on that list is a ministry task I can perform competently and to the satsifaction of my church members, but that also will help perpetuate a way of being church that, in my opinion, needs to evolve.

Or to put it another way, the overwhleming busy-ness that is reality to most ministers can all too easily become the weeds that choke off the new growth the Spirit is trying to create. I could easily spend all day, every day maintiaining the church as it was in the previous century. Or, I can intentionally carve out space to allow the Spirit to do a new thing. And that is why I am writing this blogpost, even as I have so many pressing things to do.

My new spiritual discipline is this: Every day, for at least an hour, I will set aside the to-do list and the traditional tasks of minsitry, and I will take time to let the Spirit lead. Yesterday, I sat in my backyard and just listened. Today, I'm writing a blospost. Tomorrow, who knows?

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