Amy, my wife, and I are hoping to install a brick backsplash in our kitchen. I am not the handiest person in the world. In fact, I am the least handy person I know, with the exception of my seven year old son. But I am going for it. Even before I started researching the job (thanks YouTube) I knew a few things. For starters, I realize that I have to place the bricks on the wall first before I add the mortar that goes between the bricks. Genius, right? The bricks are the priority. The mortar is peripheral. If we are going to have an attractive backsplash, that catches the splash of colors flying off the sauce pan, we need to get the bricks in place first.
Called and competent pastors are dropping like flies out of ministry, either by choice or by force. Some are seasoned, others are rookies. Some serve large churches, others pastor small churches. Some pastors leave the ministry due to moral failure, while others exit because of frustration and fatigue. Some are from urban churches, others from rural contexts, and still others from suburbia. Some are seminary graduates, some are not. Pastors who are leaving the ministry come in all shapes, sizes, stripes and styles. The problem is widespread. If healthy pastors build healthy churches, as a general rule, then the opposite is true too. Unhealthy pastors tend to build unhealthy churches.
Before a pastor can build a healthy church, the pastor must build a healthy life. It’s all about brick placement. Pastors become unhealthy when the mortar is given priority placement on their life’s backsplash. When the mortar of “the urgent but unimportant” or “the fun but not fruitful and fulfilling” is put on the wall first, the bricks of spiritual, relational, and physical health are crowded out. The mortar is certainly necessary. But a backsplash that is more mortar than brick is lackluster, and that’s putting it mildly. A person who does not prioritize the bricks of health ends up living a lackluster life. Lackluster pastors, living lives dominated by mortar not brick, end up depressed, burned-out, exhausted, and lonely. If the pastor stays this way for a significant length of time, the pastor’s church can become a bit lackluster too, more focused on petty mortar than substantive bricks.
The good news is that the pastor’s backsplash can be remodeled anytime, starting now. It will necessitate getting the bricks in place first, before the ministry mortar fills the wall of the pastor’s schedule. The prioritization and placement of bricks is crucial! The key to the remodel is carving out the time needed to discern which bricks of life need more prominence on the wall. Ignatius of Loyola, a Spanish-born knight turned priest of the 15th-16th century, can help with the backsplash remodeling project.
Ignatius’ prayer of examen is designed to lead worshipers deeper into Christ through a process of intensely intentional life-reflection. This is more difficult than it seems. Blaise Pascal wrote, “All of man’s misfortune comes from one thing, which is not knowing how to sit quietly in a room.” Pascal asserted this centuries before social media’s “age of distraction.” Examen requires a hard and honest look, under the watchful love of God, at the backsplash of our life in order to confirm or critique our brick placement.
If you are ready for some remodeling of your backsplash, here is some bricklaying guidance utilizing an adaptive form of Ignatius’ Prayer of Examen.
• Adoration: Reflect on who God is and what his priorities are as evidenced in creation and scripture.
• Thanksgiving: Identify the blessings for which you are most thankful today.
• Examination: Analyze your life. Did you prioritize the spiritual, relational, and physical bricks of health in your schedule, actions, conversations and thoughts? Did the mortar of the mundane and meaningless monopolize your backsplash?
• Confession: Ask God to expose and forgive you for any misplaced or excluded priority bricks.
• Resolution: Recommit to prioritizing the bricks tomorrow. Explore with God what changes you will make to your backsplash in the days ahead.
Pastors who practice this prayer daily are more likely to maintain health for the marathon of ministry than those who do not. And, as we know, healthy pastors build healthy churches.