Daily Devotion - Wednesday, January 13, 2016
For the next several weeks our daily devotions will be focused on the fresh start that a new year brings, and how we have the opportunity to write a new story in a new year. We're going to be thinking about how the decisions we make today, determine the story we tell tomorrow. This week we're going to be thinking about what we need to do to start something this year that will help determine a better story.
A couple of years ago, I conducted some research on the characteristics and practices shared by pastors of growing churches. One of the most interesting things I uncovered was that the vast majority of pastors of growing churches engaged in daily devotions, Bible reading and prayer. The vast majority of pastors of churches that weren't growing, didn't.
As I was going over the data from my research, I began to think about my how context and my own growing church. In 2011, our church, which had been adding 35-40 new members a year, stopped growing. Worship attendance and giving started trending downward for the first time since I'd arrived in 2008. There were a lot of reasons for this downward trend, too many to enumerate here, but I definitely was taking notice.
Interestingly, I was also going through a downward trend of my own. I was experiencing a spiritual desert--my soul felt dry and dusty. I was losing my joy, and my negative response to the struggles and challenges of my first two full years as pastor of my church had a lot to do with it. About that time I was challenged to do something I hadn't done with any real regularity for many years: spend time every day reading my Bible, praying and journaling.
I figured I had nothing to lose, so I started a daily regimen of devotions, Bible reading, prayer and journalling--practices I have continued with a fair degree of faithfulness every day since. You could call it a coincidence, but it wasn't long after I started my daily spiritual disciplines that our church also began to experience newfound growth. The growth of our church has continued unabated every year since that time.
So when I examined my research a few years ago, and discovered that there was indeed a direct connection between the health of a church and the spiritual health of her pastor, I was blown away. I had no idea just how important my simple daily disciplines were, not just to me, but also to my church. Because I developed this keystone habit, I find I am able to be a more effectively leader, preacher and pastor.
I am only one person, and there are scores of amazing people in our church making it awesome, but I am called to be the lead shepherd, and to diminish that role would be foolish. In the same way, you have your own positions of influence, and people who are looking to you to lead them. Whether they are your employees, colleagues, children, family or a team at your church--you have a responsibility to be the very best you can be for those who have been placed under your leadership.
And in order to be the very best leader that you can be, you need to have your heart and mind in tune with the heart and mind of God. The only way I have found to make this at all possible is through the daily discipline of communicating with God through the reading of his written word, listening to the voices of great preachers, theologians and writers, and through prayer, raw, honest and heartfelt prayer.
When I started this spiritual discipline, it changed my life and my leadership. It also, I truly believe, had an immediate impact on the life of my church, my family, friends and all those who have been entrusted to me. Now when I start my day with these disciplines, I know I am not just practicing them for my own benefit, but also for the benefit of everyone I love.
May you start spiritual practices in this new year that will strengthen your soul. May you also discover that when your soul is strengthened, you will have so much more to give to those you love--more than you ever imagined. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.