I’ve been enjoying reading through Scott Thomas’s book The Gospel Coach. Scott’s compassion for pastors and his heart for the church is evident throughout and proven by years of involvement in leadership training. There’a a wealth of theological and practical help for pastors, especially for those with a burden to train the next generation of church leaders. One of the unexpected highlights for me was the extremely helpful, thought-provoking, and memorable graphics – they really seal the teaching in your mind and heart. Thus far, I’m giving the book a hearty recommendation.
Given the balanced biblical tone of the book, I was therefore surprised to read some of the lines in Scott’s recent article Why every church leader needs the Gospel. There’s much I totally agree with in this piece, but the opening paragraphs did concern me. There, Scott noted the disturbing statistics about pastoral depression, obesity, burnout, etc., and then expressed concern that some pastors are “leaning on humanistic devices to cope with life and the stresses of ministry.” But he included some surprising suspects among these “humanistic devices”:
How do we, as church leaders, cope with the stress? I think we resort to methods that any leader could try, regardless of their faith in Jesus Christ. We try taking up hobbies, personal retreats, days off, and vacations. These are not bad things, but they are not answers. They should be expressions of resting in our identity in Christ, not the means to find rest.
What’s Scott saying here? Some options are:
- We should not use hobbies, retreats, days off, vacations, etc. to find rest and relaxation because unbelievers use them too, OR…
- We can have hobbies, take days off, etc, but don’t think that they will be the answer to stress, etc., OR…
- We can use these things, but only if they are expressions of resting in our identity in Christ, not the means to find rest.
If it’s #3, then I’m not quite sure what would satisfy here. Can I go running, but only if I remember who I am in Christ first? It’s confusing, isn’t it, and perhaps reveals some of the deep dualism that continues to undermine evangelicalism: soul good but body bad. Or to put it another way, all problems are “Gospel” problems.
I wouldn’t be so heavy on men who rebuild their weak and weary bodies and minds with “music, massage, guns, or mental holidays.” I don’t think these men are necessarily denying their identity in Christ. In fact, in some ways they could be recognizing their God-given identity in an even more fundamental way than the most Gospel-centered among us – that is, their identity as creatures.
In my own experience, most pastors get their identity as sinners saved by glorious grace. What they don’t get, or what gets pushed to the sidelines by their wonderful passion for the Gospel and mission, is that they are limited, dependent creatures who need to find out their physical, mental, and emotional limitations, work within them, and rebuild them using the means God has provided (e.g. exercise, rest, hobbies, etc.) when they are depleted.
Or, to put it another way, our identity in Christ begins not with recognizing Christ as Savior, but with recognizing Him as our Creator and we as His creatures (John 1:3; Col: 1:16). If we don’t build on that foundation, and instead start trying to live as disembodied Gospel-centered spirits, don’t be surprised if the body begins to crack and crumble. What most stressed-out pastors need to hear first is not, “Don’t you know you’re a Christian?” but rather, “Don’t you know you’re a creature?”
Sometimes the most Christ-centered, God-honoring thing we can do is to take a nap rather than pray. Or even have a massage (from your wife, of course), rather than prepare another message.