Pastors Can’t Afford to Neglect Themselves


“What do you do for personal development?”

I have asked this question to a number of pastors over the last few years. As suspected most guys are not doing much. Citing the pressing demands of ministry many simply don’t prioritize continuing theological education, training, and learning. Specifically, this means that many are not intentionally reading theological books, biographies, journals, or other materials geared to developing theological depth—unless they are studying for their sermons.

I believe this practice is wrong. It is bad for the pastor and it is bad for the church. If this is you then I want to convince you to consider otherwise.

I write this post out of my own experiences. I’m in year six of a church plant. I’ve seen the calm, stormy, and ominous waters. As a result I’ve also seen important personal practices get eclipsed by whatever pressing need happened to be in front of me. And I believe I’ve paid the price for this neglect. When I talk to other pastors about this they encourage me to write something on this topic. This post then is a summary of a number of different conversations with brothers over the years. It is also a talk I’d love to have with so many other pastors.

Here are the realities:

Nobody is going to do this for you.

You are in charge of feeding the sheep in your church. Odds are you do a lot of the preaching and teaching. You probably don’t hear a lot of sermons or listen to a lot of equipping classes. If you are going to be fed and grow then it will probably be as a result of you taking the initiate to plan, purchase, and prioritize the reading of books. It will take your self-discipline to sit down and focus on the books and then to interact with what you are learning. Nobody is going to do it for you—and likely nobody will hold you accountable for not doing it. But, as we will see, you can’t afford not to.

You are limited.

I know you probably know more than most people in your church but you don’t know everything that you need to. Remember that sermon where you quoted 2 Peter 3:18? “You must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” You urged the congregation to prioritize their spiritual growth. Well, brother pastor, that applies to you too. You and I have some work to do.

It’s your job.

Not only is this your responsibility as a Christian, it is also your job if you are in full-time ministry. As pastors we are to study to show ourselves approved (2 Tim. 2.15), be immersed in doctrine, and doing so that all are able to see progress (1 Tim. 4:15-16). We are supposed to be making progress in our understanding and application of doctrine (and people are to notice!). I know we have a lot of things to do as pastors, but you never have less to do than to study. (Note: I am not saying that we are to sit in our studies and read Calvin’s Institutes day after day and then roll out on Sundays. We have a lot of people-work to do also.)

Here are some implications of neglect:

It closes your personal aperture.

In photography the aperture is basically a hole within a lens through which the light travels into the camera. This is similar to the pupil in our eye; the larger the pupil the more light enters into the retina. If you and I do not give ourselves to personal development and training we are closing our aperture. As a result, we are shrinking the amount of light that gets in. As pastors we need light. We need to be growing not only in knowledge but also devotion to the Lord. This growth will not come apart from training in the Word. For us closing the aperture means diminishing the light that gets into our souls; this has implications not only for us but also for the church.

It limits your influence.

As pastors our job involves training people in the knowledge and application of the Bible (1 Tim. 4.12; 2 Tim. 2.2; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). If we are stagnate in our growth then we will impede our influence in discipleship. If we want to have a long-term ministry with long-term influence then we will need to give ourselves to long-term hard work. It’s done through the daily discipline of personal training and development.

It promotes a skewed culture of pastoral ministry.

Many churches expect their pastor to be a CEO, brand coordinator, visionary, administrator, janitor, and the one who does all of the ministry. So often we get wrapped into doing things that are not part of our job at the expense of actually doing our job. Look, I’ve been there. I’ve tried to do everything; but to do this you inevitably lose something. And, brothers, more often than not we are tempted to set aside the important, essential things. In other words, not only would this type of neglect of personal development hurt you, it will also hurt your church. That’s the painfully ironic thing; you think you are doing what’s best, but in the long-run, doing everything will promote a skewed culture of pastoral ministry. If this is your church reality, I suggest spending some time studying the Scriptures about what a pastor is to do, then spend some time teaching your church. Communicate the importance of a biblically faithful ministry. Move slowly but directly.

We are not doing our job.

I mentioned this a few times already. We need to be clear on what we are called to be and do.

How do you find time to do it?

Say “no.”

There are so many things that we can do each and every week. But the truth is there are certain things that we have to do. Whenever we say “yes” to something we are saying “no” to something else. We need to learn to be more principled in both.

Schedule it.

I schedule everything in my life in order to make sure that I stay on task. So often the “urgent” can eclipse the important. Each week on Monday morning I plan out what I need to do for the upcoming week. I schedule in time for theological study, prayer, fitness, and even breaks. All of these things are important to me in the big picture. If I don’t schedule my reading and interaction with my non-sermon studies then it will get squeezed out. There is something decretory about putting it down on my planner. (I plan to write more about this after the new year.)

Do it.

After being convinced of it, prioritizing it, and then scheduling it, all that remains is to do it. And keep doing it!