Amid the anxiety that has “literally paralyzed ministry” across the United Methodist Connection, it is important for pastors to ask themselves the question they probably ask others every day:
How is it with your soul?
The Rev. Junius Dotson, general secretary of UMC Discipleship Ministries, centered his presentation at the 2019 Fall Clergy Orders on John Wesley’s beloved small-group opener and the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. He also reached into his latest book, “Soul Reset: Breakdown, Breakthrough, and the Journey to Wholeness.”
More than 200 clergy from across the South Carolina Conference came together Nov. 7 at Union UMC in Irmo for the biannual gathering.
“Leadership, first and foremost, begins with leadership of oneself,” Rev. Dotson said. “How you lead yourself shapes how you lead others. People lead as they experience being led.
“So, if you want people to have a daily prayer life, there had better be some evidence of daily prayer in your life. If you want people to be excited about hearing the Word of God, there ought to be evidence that you are in the Word and not preaching a warmed-over sermon from seven years ago.”
Rev. Dotson related a conversation he once had with his son about baseball. His son said he loved the strategy involved and the nuances of the rules of the game.
“He said the most important rule for a hitter, the hitter has to touch first base,” Rev. Dotson said. “He could run all around the bases and slide into home plate – but if he doesn’t touch first base, nothing else matters.
“The same is true for our journey of discipleship. If we do all the things we’re supposed to do but we don’t do the first thing – waking with Jesus, walking with Jesus, serving with Jesus, resting with Jesus – we’re not going to get anywhere at all.
“That’s our first base – our closeness with Jesus sustains us for the ministry we are called to do. It’s all about our relationship with Christ.”
Pastors should take a step back from the day-to-day grind that can be overwhelming, Rev. Dotson said, and take a look at themselves, their lives, their churches from 30,000 feet.
“When we fall to the tyranny of the urgent, those distractions can knock us off our purpose, and when we get knocked off purpose, our efforts fizzle,” he said. “Holding to purpose is about maintaining focus on what you value, on what God has called us to.
“Holding to purpose is about maintaining a relentless focus on making disciples.”
Pastors must make the time to look out for themselves – actually put it on their calendar, if they have to – to ensure their own health and the health of their congregations.
“You cannot teach what do not know, you cannot model what you do not practice, you cannot lead where you are not willing to go,” Rev. Dotson said. “Healthy people develop healthy congregations, and healthy congregations develop healthy people.”