“You can just about set your watch by it. Six months into the fallout from a crisis, people flame out. The helping professions go first, then everyone else. A month from now, your flock will need you to be a non-anxious yet highly energetic presence. You need to be ready.”
I was not feeling ready.
The pastor who issued this warning, an old friend of mine, wasn’t blowing “consultant leader-guy” smoke. I could see signs of this among pastors and congregations in my city.
“I know pastors are always hearing this and internally sneering at it, but you have to take care of yourself first. If you’re not emotionally and spiritually alive, you’ll fail your flock. What I think is wrong with my church culturally is usually wrong in my own heart. If we tend to our emotional sanctification, our leadership will rise to the occasion.”
If you’re not emotionally and spiritually alive, you’ll fail your flock.
I’d first known this brother as a data-driven, strategy-conversant leader. To my surprise, I now found him pointing me not just to my heart’s commitment, but to its health. My heart is deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9), but it is also the wellspring of life (Prov. 4:23).
Toward a Godly Heart
In recent years, my church and I have been meditating on the progression of grace-driven sanctification described in 2 Peter 1:3–7. With my friend’s warning in mind, I saw that in order to progress in this way—finally coming to embody real, Jesus-like love—I would need a stronger, healthier heart. And for the sake of my flock, I would need it sooner rather than later.
I’ve had to face that Jesus wants all of my heart, wounded and sick with sin though it may be. But more than that, he wants to cure my wretchedness, heal my wounds, and conform me to the image of his Son (Rom. 7–8). Godliness includes both purity and wholeness. Our emotional health matters to God.
Most of the stewards in Jesus’s parables failed out of character, not competence. They lost their nerve or tired in their vigilance. Stewarding ourselves is the most foundational component of good stewardship. We fail as stewards when we neglect our hearts, the wellspring of our life.
We fail as stewards when we neglect our hearts, the wellspring of our life.
We must see caring for ourselves as an extension of the Sabbath gift. Beyond our culture’s enchantment with “self-care,” Scripture presents God as the original practitioner of grace and practical care. The Sabbath is a gift of revealed grace, telling us that he is easily pleased with our humble work. It’s also a gift of divine care that honors our limited nature as creatures.
Furthermore, to progress as Peter outlined we must be vigilant against two key snares. First, we must repent continually of self-aggrandizement in craving “success” and trying to secure results by our own ability. This inflated view of self both rejects the limitations God built into our incarnate nature and also blinds us to the wounds and dysfunctions afflicting our hearts. Second, we must repent of our second religion, worldliness. Worldliness entangles our hearts, polluting our wellspring. It leaves us emotionally stunted and blind, choking out the heart transformation intended for us under the law of the Spirit.
Our stewardships demand tremendous perseverance in love amid suffering of all kinds. To grow in this as Peter depicts, we must attend to our heart by embracing our limitations and repenting of the pride and worldliness that ensnare it.
Practices of Personal Stewardship
Briefly, here are four practices for growth in emotional sanctification by God’s grace.
1. Devotion and Worship
Tend the fire of your devotion by feeding on God’s revealed truth in ways designed to increase devotion. One could also call this “keeping up our spiritual fervor” for serving the Lord (Rom. 12:11). We can’t always choose our emotions, but we can always choose to pursue devotion.
2. Bodily Care
This includes practicing the Sabbath, sleeping well, eating with reasonable care and discipline, and practicing moderate exercise and practical hygiene. Our physical limitations are part of God’s good design.
3. Restive Enjoyment
Be intentional about finding joy in activities of rest and wholesome pleasure. These give you space to be someone other than a pastor or leader and often yield realizations about your personal life and heart. Such realizations are much more important than new ministry ideas.
4. Restorative Fellowship
Don’t underestimate the importance of time with people who enjoy you as you are—people with whom you can laugh and have invigorating discourse, who don’t want anything from you but your presence. You should delight in these people and feel delighted in by them.
Each of these four practices coordinates crucially with our needs as incarnate creatures. Neglecting them means neglecting an essential element of our nature. It means setting ourselves up to fail in our stewardship—a failure of both perseverance and love.
God summons us to steward our incarnate nature, and the Son dignifies it in his own incarnation. Before Jesus was the ascended nourisher of the church, he was a man who didn’t hate his own body but fed and cared for it as he would later care for his church (Eph. 5:29).
We’re well past eight months into an ongoing crisis situation. Many are wearing thin. In order to fulfill our stewardships and be the leaders they need us to be, it’s critical that we strive to heal and strengthen our own hearts. How do you think the risen Christ will feed and care for his church in the coming months? Pastor or leader, you’ll be a big part of it. Let’s get ready.