July Pressure Points with Dr. Bruce Hartung

Q:  I appreciated your reply to the pastor who felt dry.  It is something that we all must combat.  I believe one important item was overlooked or just lightly touched — the need for regular devotions, prayer and Bible study to feed you, and not for sermons, Bible classes, etc.  Besides making time with the Lord a priority, I have found it helpful to be part of a small-group Bible study in our congregation where a member leads and I am just a participant.  Also, once a year two or three fellow pastors and I take two to three days for a prayer retreat with time for solitude, reflection and one-on-one support.
 
A:  What?  (Tongue in cheek!)  Participating in a Bible study in your own congregation where you are not leading it?  Actually, both your observations and behaviors are great insights and activities!  I commend all your suggestions to our readers.  Here’s why I think they are great suggestions:
 
I believe one of the great occupational hazards of ministry is the minister’s own personal spiritual life.  It is not a question of salvation.  That is God’s great act in Jesus Christ without any merit or worthiness or work on our part.  It is rather the question of our own sanctified life in Christ.
 
One of the issues in any of us being “dry” is that we are not well watered (to carry the image one step further).  It is an occupational hazard when we use the Scriptures, for instance, in service to others but not in direct application to ourselves.  The Scriptures become a vehicle for the growth of others in this case, but not directly for us.  This is one way that we do, indeed, get “dry.”  It is not a question of whether we are saved, but a question of how well fortified we are to serve.
 
Knowing that this is an occupational vulnerability for ministers, we can take steps, guided by the Holy Spirit, to put on the whole armor of God.  You are suggesting some wonderful ways to do that.
 
He who pronounces absolution should himself regularly confess and be absolved; he who speaks God’s Word should himself listen to it; she who teaches God’s Word, even to little children, should herself be taught; she who leads others in singing should herself be led in song.  Of course, this listing could go on.  I hope that the general principle is clear.
 
In a balanced life, we are always both learner and teacher, giver and receiver, lover and loved.  This balance helps us buffer possible burnout and moves us toward more energy and delight in the life and ministry that God, in His graciousness, has given to us.
 
Dr. Bruce M. Hartung is executive director of the Commission on Ministerial Growth and Support and associate professor of practical theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.  He can be reached at bruce.hartung@lcms.org.

Posted June 25, 2004

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