Ministry Strong

If everything really is "bigger in Texas," Bent Tree Church in Dallas is no exception. Thousands attend multiple services at the sprawling campus every weekend. Even senior pastor, Pete Briscoe, is scaled to size, standing 6' 5" with huge hands and a broad, disarming smile. But traditional ministry metrics like size are the furthest thing from Briscoe's mind these days. Several years ago, a period of conflict in the church caused Briscoe to take a hard look at his own life. Ever since, he's led with a new focus and renewed freedom. Briscoe, the son of ministry leaders, Stuart and Jill Briscoe, has pastored Bent Tree for 22 years. Leadership Journal's managing editor, Drew Dyck, sat down with Briscoe to talk about what it takes to get and stay healthy in ministry.

What do you do to stay spiritually and emotionally healthy?

I've been on a wonderful spiritual journey in the last five years. It wasn't a journey from law to grace. But I've moved from a hybrid of law and grace to grace. I've always had a taste of grace, but over the last few years I've decided to bathe in it. And that has been, as far as my emotional and spiritual life, revolutionary.

In the past, I assumed my spiritual health was determined by how consistent I was in my quiet time, or how many books I'd read, or how long I prayed every day. I have been freed from all that. Now I recognize that my spiritual health is about how intimately I'm walking with Jesus.

It impacts every area of my life. Now I look at how open I am with people I love. When I am in the Word, what's really happening? Am I just reading a chapter to check it off or am I really listening to God? When I'm praying, am I honestly having a conversation with an Intimate, or am I just going through a list?

We talk a lot about how Christian faith is a relationship, not a religion. But I think for a lot of us it really is a religion, even in the evangelical world. It's about my quiet time, my worship, my service, my giving. It's this list. And the way we measure health is to ask, How am I doing in these areas?

What precipitated this shift?

We were having unity struggles in our senior leadership. I was partially to blame; others were partially to blame. It was a mess. And it was right when we were moving into this large, new building. When you go through major transition like that, it tends to surface these sorts of issues.

It was a difficult season for me. I received some very specific and challenging criticism from the board, and so I had some soul searching to do.

My eating habits were terrible. I never exercised. I sat behind a desk for 20 years and just atrophied.

My wife and I had also drifted apart. One night my wife, Libby, looked at me and said, "I'm just so angry at you, and I have no idea why." I was feeling the same. We admitted that we didn't even like each other anymore. We still loved each other, but we didn't want to be around each other.

All the important areas of my life were crashing on me. If you'd observed me from the outside, you wouldn't have known. I've got British blood in me, so I'm pretty good at keeping a stiff upper lip.

God showed me I'd had multiple identities over the years, but I had never seen myself primarily as God's son. Growing up, I was Stuart and Jill Briscoe's son. Then I was pastor of Bent Tree. That was my identity. Part of the reason the struggles in the church were so hard on me was because I couldn't separate myself from this church.

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