The following is a guest post by my new friend in ministry, Tony Nelson. He is a Regional Director for the Christian Evangelistic Association, a Co-Founder with his wife of Refuge-Idaho (a pastor-care retreat), and a seasoned church planter soul care practitioner.
Let’s face it. Planting a church is a daunting task. I know. I did it in the late 1980’s in the Phoenix Metro area.
I have to confess that in the first couple of years, I didn’t take good care of myself. Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t have a moral lapse or leave my church. But somewhere in those early days, the constant struggle to plant and grow a church took the life right out of me. I gained weight, lost energy and struggled with anxiety.
Missional work can and will wear you down (and wear you out) if you don’t take care of yourself. Maybe that sounds selfish at first. But even Jesus took care of himself. Let’s learn from the Master who was always on his “A” game:
Assume 100% Responsibility for Self Care
This is not your wife’s job, your coach’s job or your team’s job. We have to choose to take care of our selves. Church planter soul care begins with the church planter.
I’m writing from experience – I know what it is to burn out in ministry. Burnout is not a badge of honor.
Jesus was always completely in tune with himself. He had a full schedule, but found time to nurture his own soul. The Gospel tells us, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16). If that isn’t a picture of self-care, then I don’t know what is.
Take Care of Your Body
All the research I’ve read says the same thing: men need to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week, to maintain good health. Obesity is killing us. Most of you reading this need to drop 20 pounds.
I have no doubt that Jesus was whipcord lean. Why? He walked everywhere he went. Sometimes 8-10 miles in a day, going from village to village.
I currently wear a Fitbit that counts my steps. I have a goal of 10,000 steps a day, which equals several miles. It never lies!
Find 3 Spiritual Disciplines
Ones that work for you in the real world. Find them right now.
We know that Jesus utilized:
- scripture reading
- prayer and
…as ways to keep him in relationship with his Father. Mark gives us a glimpse of Christ’s spiritual rhythm when he records for us, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35).
I don’t know if Jesus did this every day, but he did it often enough to stay fresh in ministry. Let me recommend two books that will enrich your life in this:
Develop several close friendships
…outside of your church.
I met a future church planter who’s currently serving a staff role in a large church. He told me that every year, he and 3 or 4 buddies from their Bible college days meet in the summer to go camping. They pick a place with good fishing and hit the water hard every day. He said that their time together fills his soul.
Jesus needed a few close friends, too. His closest were Peter, James and John (who was his best friend). Need I say more?
If you’ll practice these simple steps for church planter soul care, I can assure you that you will not only survive the early stages of a church plant, but you will thrive. You’re not going to get tossed back and forth every Monday because your numbers weren’t good. Instead, you’ll have the energy and hope to press on as you press in to Jesus.
Tony’s first book, Crazy Life: Navigating Through life’s Disruptions without Losing Your Faith (New York, NY: Morgan James Publishing) will be released in May of 2017. But you can get an advanced copy now on his website.
Dr. Tony Nelson has over 30 years of ministry experience, primarily as a lead pastor. He recently transitioned from a 22-year senior pastorate in Sandpoint, ID, where the church grew from 130 to 1,000 under his leadership. He has church planting experience both as a lead planter and as a management team member for some of the most successful church plants in the Pacific Northwest.