Dear Pastor: Spiritual Formation and Patience

Dear Pastor,

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Patience is a virtue.” You’ve probably said it many times, especially if you have children.

Do you believe it?

It took me a good fifteen years in ministry to learn this truth. I had ideas and energy and couldn’t understand why people were so slow to move in my direction, if they moved at all. Some wouldn’t budge. I took this personally and forged ahead, creating conflict where it didn’t need to exist and further hampering my efforts in ministry.

I’ve written before about my work as a youth pastor. I came in, fresh out of seminary, ready to save the world. My survey of the existing youth ministry revealed to me a lack of spiritual vitality and an over-emphasis on activities and games that, in my opinion, were not even leading to relational growth in the youth ministry.

Because I believed I had all the answers, I applied what I called a “postmodern” approach to the ministry. I began talking about new contemplative practices, lectio divina instead of Bible study, service projects instead of game nights, and “belonging to believe instead of believing to belong.” None of these were improper by themselves, but in a conservative, traditional church, the influx of new terms (some of which were misunderstood because of my inability to be clear) and ideas were resisted.

I forced things anyway. After all, it was my youth ministry; I was the youth pastor. What I didn’t realize is how far ahead I had gotten myself compared to the senior pastor and the church leaders. Unsurprisingly, a couple of years in, they decided they couldn’t pay me anymore. In hindsight, I believe I was viewed as “unsafe” because I was trying to bring in too much, too quickly. 

Had I learned patience, I may have had a different result. 

I could have continued with the traditional youth ministry that I walked into while slowly including elements I thought were important: a monthly lectio divina lesson that supplemented regular Bible study; a quarterly service project followed by a pizza party for relationship-building; a brief time for reflective prayer at the end of a Bible class. All of these would have been a big improvement over what already existed, but in my impatience, I rushed and did not show a concern for the spiritual growth of those I was both leading and working with. 

We often consider patience as we look at others (and especially their spiritual growth), but I want to encourage us to look inward at ourselves: how are we growing in patience? How are you growing in patience?

Patience and spiritual formation go hand-in-hand. There are many pressures in pastoral ministry that cause pastors to work outside their comfort zone. The temptation to be something you are not, and to project that to others, is always lurking around the corner. Pastors feel as though they need to have answers to all questions and plans for every circumstance. 

This pressure can lead to unhealthy habits and neglect of one’s spiritual life. Pastors must recognize the connection between their own spiritual formation and patience. Pastors must allow themselves time and space to grow in grace and Christ-likeness. Pastors must be patient with themselves as they grow. 

Patience has to do with love, and as we grow in patience we grow in love for others. The reverse is true: as we grow in love for others, we grow in patience for them as well. As I’ve been writing about, pastors must also learn to love themselves. We do this as we practice good spiritual self-care habits. We must learn to be patient with ourselves, allowing much grace, but always pivoting back to our relationship with God and how God is trying to shape and form us.

Is patience a virtue you have grown in, or is a virtue you need to grow in? How is patience expressed in your spiritual life? Where do you need to be patient with yourself?

As always, let me know how I can serve you in this. 

Love First,

Jeremy

P.S. Sometimes you need someone to talk to, someone who has walked the same path ahead of you. I specialize in helping pastors who are facing transitions (whether from burnout, contemplating a job change, or looking for help with congregational issues). I’d love to talk to you and see how I can help you. Reach out to me through my contact page and let’s begin a conversation that will help you find clarity in your ministry.