It appeared first in Leadership Journal (Winter 1998) and is by Gordon MacDonald.
Loss of spiritual passion seems to be the inevitable result of:
- Words without action. Speaking/teaching/preaching (whatever you want to call it) is a huge part of what we do as pastors. But there is the danger of thinking that speaking is doing or diagnosing is solving. MacDonald says “We have a momentary feeling of spirituality when we talk about wanting to pray more or "have more time in the Word."
- Busyness without purpose. Behind my house is a river called the Tualatin River. It is a Native-American name meaning “slow or lazy”. There is a good deal of water in the Tualatin. But it is a slow and meandering river. That means several things: it gets stagnant, scum & moss develop on it easily and pollution that was dumped there decades ago doesn’t get washed away. (Want to go jump in for a swim with me, yet?) In ministry, we can have a lot of activities , programs and conversations. We can be DOING a great deal. But unless it is going somewhere; unless it is focused; or in MacDonald’s words “if our choices of time-use are not disciplined by call and purpose” we dissipate our energy and can become as stagnant and as filled with spiritual PCBs as the Tualatin.
- Calendars without a Sabbath. I am not talking simply about rest here. A Sabbath is not simply plopping in front of the TV to watch the Olympics or football. MacDonald says: “A datebook filled with appointments but absent of significant hours (days) of quiet and reflection—written in first—is an abomination (an old and harsh word) to the God of the Bible.” We emphasize the “rest” aspects of Sabbath, but we forget that “rest” was not the only purpose. God declared: Six days you shall labor…but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. (Exod. 20:9-10a) It is not just rest. It is rest with a purpose.
- Relationships without mutual nourishment. Most of us are familiar with the stat from a 1991 study: 70% of pastors have no close friendships. They know and are friendly with a LOT of people. But as for close friendships: they are few and far between. I once followed a pastor in ministry where everyone in the church felt like they were close to the pastor. But when I delved into what they knew about him: they knew next to nothing about him personally other than the bare facts (family members, ministry history, favorite jokes, etc.) He is no longer in ministry. MacDonald: “The spiritual masters have told us for centuries that without soul-friends, we won’t gain spiritual momentum.”
- Pastoral personality without self-examination. MacDonald says it better than I can: “Too much ministry is built on unresolved anger, unhealthy needs for approval, and the instinct to control. Failing to explore our soul for unwholeness ultimately takes its toll.”
- Natural giftedness without spiritual power. After 30 years in ministry, I can say unequivocally: some of the most talented and gifted people I have known have been in ministry. But human giftedness and human effort can only get what humans can do. Spiritual power only comes from a “filled-up soul.”
- An enormous theology without an adequate spirituality. Many, many young pastors I meet are very equipped theologically. While I am not Reformed in theology, I seem to run into a good deal of New Calvinists in ministry. And many of them are theologically very well grounded. But it is possible to have a well developed theology and a “spiritual-exercise regimen that is pea-size in contrast. A great theology demands a great spirituality.”
I appreciated MacDonald’s words. While the spiritual life evaluation instrument for my client will take a bit of a different slant, it will be informed by this challenging information from MacDonald. Again, you can find it here.