Preacher, Heal Thyself!
It's 3 a.m. and I'm wide awake. I'm thinking about what I'm always thinking about: ministry; people; and, as always, my sermon—what I wish I'd said and how I wish I'd said it.
How many times have I woken from fitful sleep and wasted the night in fretful worry? Worry about where we are as a church, how I'm doing in ministry, what people are thinking of me.
A confession: Since becoming a pastor, I find that I struggle with very different things now than I did before. For instance, I don't look at porn. But I don't look at it for all the wrong reasons.
The truth is, every time I'm tempted to, I begin to think about how much it would cost me if I were to get caught. First, the damage it would do in my marriage is huge in my mind. Second, even though I know my elders and I could probably work through something like that, I'm still conditioned to respond how I was taught in the churches of my youth, where pastors were assumed to be "above reproach" (read: "inhumanly perfect"). When issues such as sexual immorality arose, pastors would disappear—they resigned or were fired.
What I mean to say is that a huge part of why I don't look at porn is that I don't want to lose my job. Right choice, wrong motive. Sometime I wonder, who would I be if I weren't a pastor?
My idol is what my people think of me. That's my real struggle. It is so important, in fact, that when I have an off Sunday, and I think everyone went home grumbling about how badly I preached, I'm devastated. I can't sleep. When someone leaves our community or criticizes my pastoring? More sleepless nights.
Why? Because the truth is that, in many ways, Jesus isn't my Savior. My congregation is. Or, more precisely, their approval is. I want it. I need it. I'd even say that a big part of my identity is based on the results I am getting as a pastor and what people think of me. That idol occasionally, coincidentally, pushes me toward doing the right thing or keeps me from doing the wrong thing.
But the problem is, whenever I come up against a struggle or a temptation and I choose to do the right thing because I need to protect that idol of others' approval—even if I'm ostensibly doing the right thing—in reality, through nurturing that idolatry, I've nurtured serious evil in my heart.
Twisted. Even worse, I've realized that by pursuing my idol of people's approval I'm countering the message I proclaim week after week.
Earlier this year, as I was beginning to feel the toll of my worry—as my health declined and my sleeplessness changed from something that was affecting only me to something that affected everyone around me—I started praying for rest. I begged God to turn my mind off, to give me relief from waking at 3 a.m. and just let me sleep.
Thankfully, he answered my prayer, but not simply with sleep. Through this time, I slowly began to realize that my real need wasn't just for physical rest, but for something much deeper. The writer of Hebrews says this: "There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work just as God rested from his" (Heb. 4:9–10).
Bob Hyatt is pastor of The Evergreen Community in Portland, Oregon.