How do you assess your spiritual development as a minister? In essence the issue is little different for clergy than for any other Christian. The only real difference is that we live out our spiritual lives publicly. In every other particular we are subject to the same processes of sin and grace, sanctification and backsliding as any other believer. The pilgrimage toward spiritual authenticity is lifelong and fraught with complications.
Perhaps the key elements here are a combination of awareness and perseverance. Wherever we may be in our own relationship with the God of Jesus Christ, whatever specific issues we may encounter, a competent minister perseveres in his or her own intentional discipleship. Hence the writer adjures Timothy at the end of the section on money, “But as for you, [person] of God, shun all [love of money]; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Tim. 6:11-12).
Consider the following six areas of spiritual growth:
- How often am I engaging in direct, honest conversation with God?
- Am I allowing listening time in my prayers so that God can speak to me?
- Am I willing to hear God’s answer?
- How can I structure my day to improve my practice of prayer?
- What’s the latest spiritual insight I received from reading the Bible?
- Am I pursuing a plan for regular devotional Bible study?
- How can I make my personal study more informative and more interesting?
- Is there anyone in my life who knows the truth about me?
- Do I have sufficient relationships with spiritual mentors or soul friends to keep me accountable for my spiritual journey?
- Am I reading regularly in materials that can strengthen my journey?
- Am I willing to submit myself to spiritual guidance?
- Do I believe that I have the gift of evangelism?
- What is the essence of my own Christian story?
- Would I like to help others know what Christ offers believers?
- How am I making “telling the good news” compatible with my own Christian lifestyle?
Concern for the Marginalized
- Do I personally engage regularly in some form of Christian service for the needy?
- Have I shaped my personal behavior and political convictions according to Matthew 25?
- What group outside the church in my own community is most in need of my help?
- Am I living within my income? Paying my bills on time?
- Is tithing a joy for me? A burden? Not part of my Christian practice?
- Do I really believe that God takes care of responsible and generous Christians’ material needs?
- What steps do I need to take to get my financial life on track?
Progress in spiritual growth is neither easy nor automatic. But the pursuit of spiritual growth is, I believe, a significant portion of what Christ means when he talks about the “narrow way.” If we as ministers expect those we lead to follow the Christian path, we must first be willing to follow it ourselves.
For Further Reading
- Anderson, Keith R., and Randy Reese. Spiritual Mentoring: A Guide for Seeking and Giving Direction. Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 1999.
- Bakke, Jeannette A. Holy Invitations: Exploring Spiritual Direction. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000.
- Borg, Marcus J. Reading the Bible Again for the First Time. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.
- Foster, Richard J. Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978.
—. Money, Sex and Power: The Challenge of the Disciplined Life, San Francisco: Harper& Row, 1985.
—. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992.
- Long, Thomas G. Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004.
- Noyce, Gaylord. Pastoral Ethics: Professional Responsibilities of the Clergy. Nashville: Abingdon, 1988.
- Sisk, Ronald D. Surviving Ministry. Macon, Ga.: Smyth & Helwys, 1997.
- Vennard, Jane. A Praying Congregation: The Art of Teaching Spiritual Practice. Herndon, Va.: Alban Institute, 2005.
- Willimon, William H. Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry. Nashville: Abingdon, 2002.
I also encourage you to explore the literature of Christian devotion, including such historical classics as The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan and Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross.
Excerpted from The Competent Pastor: Skills and Self-Knowledge for Serving Well copyright © 2005 by the Alban Institute. All rights reserved. For permission to reproduce, go toour permissions form.
The Competent Pastor: Skills and Self-Knowledge for Serving Well by Ronald D. Sisk
Competence, defined by Ron Sisk as “the ability to do what needs to be done,” requires ministers to understand themselves and others and to keep a realistic perspective on their lives. In The Competent Pastor, Sisk draws on the wisdom he gained in his many years as a pastor and seminary professor to describe what it takes to excel at negotiating the ins and outs of daily pastoral life.
In It for the Long Haul: Building Effective Long-Term Pastorates by Glenn E. Ludwig
While there are many reasons that most pastors can only sustain their ministries in a parish for a relatively limited number of years, Glenn Ludwig argues that this does not have to be the case. He draws both on his own experience and the research and observations of those who have studied successful long-term pastorates to create an essential guide for sustaining mutual ministry.