By Tim Spivey
We focus rightly on spiritual preparation for ministry. Recently, the church has focused new energy on the emotional health of the minister. This, too, is a good thing. However, there is another side to ministry that is neglected. It’s the mental side. By “mental side,” I don’t mean theological reflection alone. I mean the part of us that thinks pragmatically. It’s the side of us that learns to operate on someone, not just the part of us that thinks about the nature of the body or building the hospital. The task of ministry is theological/spiritual first, but the implications of our theology will bear themselves out in daily ministry. Preparing spiritually is vital – and part of that preparation is transformation and full devotion of our minds to the task to which God has called us.
I’m coaching a girls’ softball team, 9 and 10 year-olds. At that age, mental preparation is, at least, half of the game. Thinking through what you are going to with the ball before each pitch, knowing how many outs there are, knowing if it’s a good time to steal, or what pitch to throw – huge. Then, there’s the biggest skill – the ability to forgive yourself for a mistake quickly while learning whatever you need to. It’s the mental side of the game.
Ministry has a mental side. It’s not all theological reflection. It’s sound, pragmatic ministry thinking for God’s glory. Have we ever noticed how many of our blog posts, conferences, etc., talk about what the church needs to do – while rarely teaching us how to do it? It is one thing to yell, “Throw strikes!” It’s another to teach someone how to throw strikes, to forgive themselves for a walk or hit batter.
Below, I’m listing five skills of mentally prepared ministers I’ve observed over the years. I’m giving three today, and two in tomorrow’s post. Do these things – and it will really help your mental preparation for ministry.
1. Regular remembrance of God’s mighty works. When it seems you are facing an insurmountable obstacle, when all seems lost, when you’re discouraged to the point of despair, remember God. Like the Psalmist exclaims: “Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered…” (105:5). Don’t just remember the biblical works of God (though those are vital as well), remember the mighty works of God you’ve seen with your own eyes. Remember when you thought the elders were about to split apart and God held them together. Remember when your marriage was about to disintegrate and God brought healing. Remember when he healed the sick, brought you through an excruciatingly painful period in your ministry, and brought new Christians to himself in the waters of baptism. Remember things you’ve seen God do with your own eyes. Pray it out loud. It builds faith, fights discouragement, helps us forgive ourselves when we make mistakes, keeps us from thinking it all depends on us, and reminds us all is never lost.
2. Continual study of healthy, pragmatic ministry. Churches are complicated, communities are dynamic, and devotion to mission is difficult in a time when attention is hard to capture. Effectively hiring, managing, budgeting, spending, pastoring, starting and stopping is often our calling in addition to improving our preaching, youth ministry, etc. Mentally prepared ministers not only understand the importance of these things, they spend much of their energy learning how to improve. By all means, read books on the theology of preaching. But, by all means, learn how to preach. Listen to people who really know how to do it well. Spend extra time working on delivery, finding better illustrations. Try some new things in your preparation process, and prepare better physically for Sunday morning.
3. Love vision, but don’t worship vision. In sports, the goal is usually to win the game. In church, it’s “seeing God’s vision for our church come to fruition.” The problem is, wanting it or seeing it doesn’t make it happen. Crystallizing vision is important. Thinking through its implementation is equally important. “Vision worship” is a disorder in which we talk passionately about hazy things like “making disciples” or “reaching our community with the Gospel” while investing virtually no energy in how to make that vision a reality. If you’re not good with strategy, get some help from another pastor, a consultant or someone. Picture implementation as a part of your vision. If you see it as separate, you’ll invest little in it, because pure vision without consequence is much more fun. View them as husband and wife. Perform the vows between them yourself. Then, what God has joined together, let no pastor put asunder.
Tim Spivey is lead planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, CA. Tim is also an adjunct professor of religion at Pepperdine University and purveyor of New Vintage Leadership, a blog offering cutting-edge insights on leadership and theology. He is the author of numerous articles and the book “Jesus, the Powerful Servant.”