June Pressure Points with Dr. Bruce Hartung

 Q: While my outward functions in ministry that can be seen by most people are going really great guns, my inward “self” is feeling dry.  When I prepare my sermons, I’m looking more at old sermons I’ve preached and relying more on ideas from sermon helps.  When I go to pray, I’m more perfunctory and less passionate.  When I make a hospital call, I do my duty but I’m wondering how really understanding I was of the person and of the relationship of God’s Word to the situation.  I know that I look to Christ and neither to my own understanding nor to my emotional state.  I do that by God’s grace.  Yet I wonder about these internal signs.  I am concerned.  I expect you to suggest I seek out a person who can talk with me about this, and maybe even to see a Christian counselor.  OK!  I’ll do that.  What else?

 A:  I think you are on the right track, and so I am tempted to say “Amen” to your own suggestions for yourself.  Well  I do say “Amen.”  You have made some significant and perceptive observations about yourself.  This is an excellent — and, dare I say, God-pleasing — trait of self-awareness.

This is, I think, how it works:  Each of us builds an understanding, something of a sense, of what is the range of our emotions and thoughts.  We learn not only to live within that range, but also come to define it as the general sense of who we are and what we experience.  To do this is quite important, because we then have opportunity to measure when we get close to the limits of that range, or even exceed it.  That then becomes a flag, a danger sign to us that something is up that needs, even demands, attention.  You are doing this.  I praise God for this gift of discernment that you have at this time.

Building on this awareness, you seek out others.  In your case, it is not just charting the course, but actually doing it!  And you have, via your communication to me, committed to doing it.  Terrific!  I suggest several routes, not necessarily in order, perhaps even taken simultaneously:

1. If you have not had a physical in more than a year, schedule one and share some of what you have shared with me with your physician when you go.

2. Examine your lifestyle, paying attention to obvious issues like exercise, eating habits, etc.

3. Share in a more deep way your spiritual concerns with a father-confessor and/or spiritual counselor.  I emphasize “share” as different than doing a ritual confession and absolution, as important as that is.  The opportunity here is to talk in depth with a colleague in Christ.

4. As you suggest, consult with a Christian counselor.

5. Consider the support systems in your life, and begin to develop a strategy of filling support needs if they are lacking.  A couple of examples:  If continuous learning in ministry is not part of your vocational-development strategy, find a seminar or continuing education activity that will feed and nourish you.  If you are not getting enough feedback on your work, set up a group of trusted people who will provide that feedback.

Also  beware of such lists as I’ve just given!  Were we speaking face to face, I would ask you to talk about how these seem to you, as well as your suggestions about other things you might consider.  These are not duties to do, but opportunities to engage your concerns.

God’s blessings in Jesus Christ are with you!

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 May 28, 2004

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