Resilient Ministry: Spiritual Formation

I’ve begun posting about the excellent book, Resilient Ministry. As I mentioned in the first post, the authors highlight five themes from their extensive research with pastors and their spouses:

  1. Spiritual formation
  2. Self-care
  3. Emotional and cultural intelligence
  4. Marriage and family
  5. Leadership and management

Each of the themes basically gets 2 chapters (though theme #3 is subdivided and gets four chapters). The first theme to be developed is spiritual formation.

Spiritual formation is defined as the ‘ongoing process of maturing as a Christian, both personally and interpersonally.’ The book notes pertinently that ‘pastors often slip into the trap of building their identities around their roles and performance rather than being beloved children of God and co-heirs with Christ.’ As one of the participants noted (the book is liberally sprinkled with direct quotations from participants), the spiritual tasks of pastoral life can replace personal spiritual growth: sermon preparation takes the place of mediating on Scripture for personal worship.

A significant obstacle to spiritual formation is highlighted: workaholism. This, report the authors, is largely fuelled when pastors believe that they don’t work hard enough (everyone works harder than they do) and when they assume that they are responsible for everything that happens in the church.

Work for God that is not nourished by a deep interior life with God will eventually be contaminated by other things such as ego, power, needing approval of and from others, and buying into the wrong ideas of success and the mistaken belief that we can’t fail

(Pete Scazzero)

In order to pursue spiritual formation, four key practices are highlighted.

  1. Building rituals: ‘Each of us must explore the rhythms that make our life fruitful for God.’
  2. Maintaining accountability: ‘study after study shows that most pastors are lonely.’
  3. Growing through hardships. Here the book draws from the work of Russ Moxley who  suggests that hardships can teach four categories of lesson: self-knowledge/ sensitivity towards others/ limits of personal control over circumstances/ flexibility. For learning to happen, however, there needs to be reflection and there need to be support systems.
  4. Spiritual disciplines: namely reflection (an important theme), prayer, sabbath, repentance and worship. Perhaps surprising that the discipline of Scripture was not mentioned.

Without critical self-reflection, pastors easily fall into a trap of only thinking about how they can use recent experiences and ideas in their teaching and preaching.

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