To Listen Deeply, Clergy Need Bold Boundaries

 The following is a guest post by Reverend Teresa Angle-Young, one of my co-authors in Ministry 3.0.

In a recent coaching session with a pastor, he said, “I simply cannot hear God’s voice anymore.” He said this with a combination of fatigue, exasperation, fear and anger. After an hour of deeply listening to him, what I heard was a life too full – full of meetings, commitments and stress – a life overextended. Surely there was no time to stop and listen deeply to God. There was no time to listen deeply to his congregation. There was no time to listen deeply to the wisdom of scripture. And it was showing in a diminished quality to his sermons.

Most clergy have big hearts, full of compassion, and have a tendency to want to be all to all, usually at the expense of their personal lives, their health, and their own needs and desires, and often at the expense of being able to listen to God. While Jesus does call us to give selflessly, even Jesus took time away from the demands of ministry to take care of himself, to pray, to dine with friends, to form and nurture relationships, and to rest. He took time to listen deeply, to those around him and to God.

Why do we feel we can do more than Jesus?

One of the biggest challenges of ministry is knowing when to shut off the phone, to turn off the computer, and to simply rest and enjoy life. In order to provide care for others, we must care for ourselves. And in order to be an effective preacher, we must create boundaries to protect both our “down” time as well as our sermon preparation time.

Here are a few suggestions. Not every one will work for you, and some will not even apply to you. Boundaries are not the same for everyone, so consider these and pick the ones that you want to try.

  •  Schedule one hour on your calendar at the beginning of the week to simply read your sermon text, pray over the text, and reflect on the text. Do not take calls or allow interruptions during this time.
  • Observe a weekly sabbath. I know. I know. It is hard. But it’s also a commandment, and there is a good reason for that. Just do it.
  • Look at your entire work week and try to map out where you spend your time. For example, there are 168 hours in a week. My advice is that you should sleep 1/3 of the time (56 hours), work 1/3 of the time (56 hours), and spend the other 1/3 (56 hours) in recreation, hobbies and other non-work related pursuits. Most clergy spend far more than 56 hours a week in ministry, at the expense of either sleep or family, friends, pets, fun, relaxation, hobbies, SABBATH, etc.
  • Read a lot of non-religious writing. You’ll be shocked at how many sermon illustrations you’ll suddenly see.
  • Go to movies, watch the news, and read blogs on the Internet. Listen to music. Read poetry. Read fiction. Eavesdrop on conversations! People watch! Stay up on current affairs. Again, it’s that sermon illustration thing…
  • Eat the best, most nutritious food you can afford, and drink a lot of water. Not only will your body thank you, but your vocal chords will too. Cut out sugar-laden soft drinks.
  • Exercise. Take a walk. Get your body moving in some way every couple of hours for at least 10 minutes or so. If you have physical limitations, consult your doctor and do what you are able to do. If nothing else, move to a different location and give yourself a few minutes just to drink in a new view or get some fresh air.

By creating boundaries you also have the opportunity to create balance, and in that balance, you’ll have time to listen, deeply, to the voice of God.

The Reverend Teresa Angle-Young is a United Methodist pastor and church planter in Atlanta, Georgia. Teresa coaches and consults with church planters, preachers, and speakers. This post is an excerpt from her upcoming book, Stressless Preaching: Getting to Sunday Without Losing Your Religion, coming November 2013 and available for pre-order on her website at www.stresslesspreaching.com. You can win a free copy by subscribing to Teresa’s newsletter before November 30, 2012.

Blessings,

Reverend Teresa Angle-Young

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