The quotation is over 150 years old and still as powerful and relevant as the day Ellen White wrote it, “Our first duty before God and our fellow beings is that of self- development.” Signs of the Times Nov.17, 1890.
Self development. Some see it as synonymous with selfishness, but that is a tragic mistake. When you are at your best it not only benefits you but everyone you serve. Stunted growth is a problem personally and professionally.
The ministry seems to have more than its share of arrested development. I’m sure that this problem is not limited to full time ministry, but far too many religious leaders undervalue the need for continued growth and development. Let me list 5 “selfish” areas that religious leaders would do well to strengthen.
The Leader’s Faith
The leader’s ministry is no stronger than the leader’s devotional life. And that’s a challenge because the work is never done, especially if you are a pastor. Weddings, funerals, business and board meetings, counseling, church conflicts, and the list goes on. If the pastor isn’t careful she can find herself developing sermons without developing herself. I know that gender reference upset some of you. Get over it.
The Leader’s Family
This is self-development 101. If there is trouble at home, it won’t be long before there’s trouble at work. It would be helpful for religious leaders to remember the value of professional care and counseling. Not just for the member but for you. The best thing that many religious leaders could do is to seek out a caring and competent counselor. And I’m not talking about the Mighty Counselor either. I’m talking about one that will charge you by the hour!
The Leader’s Health
I’m not going to beat a dead horse. (Dead horse. Unintentionally appropriate….and funny in a morbid kinda way. But I digress.) Get some exercise. Get some rest. Take a vacation. The work will never end, but you will if you don’t wake up.
The Leader’s Finances
The way my church compensates retired leaders is a sin. The only thing worse is the way their spouses are treated financially. You can commit to 30 years or more of full time ministry and not expect to receive $2000 per month at retirement-if that much!
I’ll never forget spending an afternoon with one of the greatest evangelists the Adventist church ever produced. He had baptized thousands, written extensively, lectured endlessly, and loved the church deeply. But now in retirement, we spoke in his kitchen which doubled as his library. The entire apartment was clean but cramped. He seemed a bit embarrassed by it all. Tears literally filled my eyes as I left this man who had meant so much to my ministry and my church.
I don’t doubt that personal decisions influenced his situation, but so what? It was his devotion to the church and the demands of the church that influenced most of those decisions. I get upset when I think about it. Underpaid for life, and disrespected at death. The church should do better but religious leaders don’t have the luxury to wait. Take care of your finances.
The Leader’s Professional Growth
For most religious leaders, their professional growth ends when they leave the seminary. That’s unfortunate. Frankly, you don’t even know the right questions to ask until you become active in ministry. Much of front-loaded education is not wasted but misplaced. Continuing education is critical.
Self- development and continuing education can be costly, especially on a tight budget. But the cost of ignorance and lack of preparation is much steeper. So let’s step it up. Faith, family, health, finances, professional growth: They are investments that pay eternal dividends.