I am currently reading a fantastic book called the minister and his soul by Thomas Hamilton Lewis. I found the book tucked away in our church library. It was published in 1926. The author was the president of the general conference of the Methodist Protestant Church and the president emeritus of Western Maryland College.
The book challenges the pastor to look after his own soul. So often pastors pour their heart and soul into the lives of those they serve and into their community. They are looked to as leaders of the community. They are expected to live up to a certain standard. They are on call 24/7 to be there for those who need them. It is certainly a demanding and stressful position. However, the biggest mistake that pastors make is pouring so much into others that they neglect themselves and their own spiritual condition. When this happens, they fail to be the pastor that the church and community needs them to be. Lewis explains several things that the pastor must work on: a good disposition, the energeia of love, the poise of peace, and optimism.
A pastor must have a good disposition. Pastors are to be clothed with compassion, kindliness, humility, gentleness, and a good temper. Just as Jesus, we are to be moved with compassion when we see the needs of the people. We are also to practice kindliness which is the feeling of compassion. Then there is humility and gentleness. The author writes, “And when we come down from the imaginary pedestal to which we have been exalted, the preacher from his pulpit….and take our places on the ground with other people, this is humility.” Gentleness refers to tact. As pastors, we are to learn how to do good tactfully. Sometimes we have the right intention, yet, we do things the wrong way or at the wrong time. One of the greatest challenges in being a pastor is understanding the right thing to say or do at the right time and in the right way. Having a good temper or patience is important. This refers to keeping impulses under control. It literally means to come to a boiling point slowly. The author suggest that when we practice such long-suffering, we are most like God. “The final permanent victories however are usually with slow boilers, men who can hold themselves well in hand in the most eager contests, not easily excited, and never resentful even when excited.” When faced with the stress of ministry, having a good disposition can be difficult. Having a pastor with a good disposition may be hard to come by. You should pray for your pastor that God will work in him to maintain a good disposition. Lewis writes, “Speaking generally we may say; if, as we familiarly say, he likes folks; if he is ready and willing to do something, anything in his power, for folks, asking not to be ministered unto but to minister; if he puts himself thoroughly at the disposal of his people by standing on the ground with them, not assuming airs; if he can exhibit such gentleness of behavior, such tact and refinement in management as to make him a natural leader; and if in all this he can keep a good temper, ‘not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing; but otherwise blessing, knowing that he is thereunto called, that he should receive a blessing’, we may say to him in Kipling’s words, ‘yours is the earth and everything that’s in it, and what is more, you’ll be a man, my son.’ ” Having a good disposition in the pulpit is also very important. Knowing what to say and how to say it is an art that must be pursued by the pastor. Sometimes there is more power in what is not said than what is said. A pastor should think through everything that is to be said in the pulpit. He should be careful to not go on a rant, rather, he must preach the text and let God’s Word speak for itself. Maintaining such a good disposition in the pulpit should be of great concern to every pastor.
A pastor must also practice love. The author explains simply that such love is not something that comes naturally. It comes from God. In order for a pastor to truly love his people, he must love Jesus more than anything. The greater and deeper his love for Christ, the greater and deeper his love for others will be. Having a pastor’s heart comes from having a heart for God. Therefore, when a pastor is caught up in the busyness of doing ministry at the expense of his soul, his love for his people will wane. When this happens, his disposition will fail. This is why, especially for the pastor, hours alone with God in Bible study and in prayer is a must. The church should encourage the pastor in this by respecting his time and even requiring that time be allotted for personal time with God. Some ways churches could help and encourage their pastor in this would be to provide a time once a year for the pastor to go on a personal spiritual retreat and also a conference once a year. Some churches may even provide a 1 to 3 month sabbatical once every few years to give the pastor several weeks to unwind and focus on his own soul. Encouraging the pastor in caring for his own soul benefits the whole church. When the pastor’s soul is right, the power that flows through him will strengthen the whole church and his love for the church will grow more and more as his love for Jesus grows.
The poise of peace is also important in the life of a pastor. A pastor must be a peacemaker. “Peace is poise, poise means weight, but not weight that crushes.” It is the idea of balance. A just weight. Balancing the scales. The pastor must keep a good balance in the church. There will always be times of tension. The greatest downfall of many churches is the struggle over power. Everyone wants to have their way. They want to be in control. A good pastor will learn how to balance that power or control. He will not be overbearing, lording over his people. Yet. at the same time, he provides stability. The pastor is to be the steady hand. Conflict is inevitable in the life of any church. One of Satan’s greatest tactics is to bring disunity in the church and turn God’s people against each other. The pastor should never be the cause of or the source of disunity and conflict. Instead, he should be the steady hand that brings about unity in the church. This requires that the man of God be strong and unwavering. He is to provide calm and balance in every circumstance. He is to be willing to make tough decisions for the good of the whole even if it means he is criticized and held to blame. Many times there are those who disturb the peace in the church. There are those that are a ‘thorn in the flesh’ of the pastor. How is the pastor to respond? How is he to react? “He can contemplate with serenity all the efforts to disturb his peace by evil wishers and ignorant helpers. He can can say with the old pilot on a stormy sea, ‘O Neptune, you may save me if you will, you may sink me if you can, but whatever happens I will keep my rudder true.’ That is peace.”
A final thing the pastor should consider when caring for his own soul is that of optimism. A pastor should always be positive. When a pastor is rightfully caring for his own soul, he will have a sense of optimism. He will hold to the promises of God that he can ‘do all things through Christ which strengthens me.’ He will understand that ‘greater is He that is in me, than he that is in the world.’ The pastor should especially be positive in the pulpit. There is nothing more discouraging than to see a pastor depressed in the pulpit. He should approach the pulpit with energy and vigor and joy, no matter how heavy of a heart he has. The pastor should be seen upbeat and confident. His congregation needs to be reassured that their pastor has things under control and that he is confident in his work.
There are may other wonderful things that can be learned from the minister and his soul. I have shared just a few of the things that have stuck out in my mind. Pastors, I would encourage you to not neglect your own soul. If you do, it will be to the demise of your self and your church. Churches, I encourage you to pray for your pastor and encourage him and provide opportunities for him to care for his own soul. In so doing, your church will be greatly benefited from a pastor whose soul is right with God.