A Life Worthy of Imitation

When I first took over the roll of Lead Pastor at Christ Church Kingwood with seventeen people and a handful of kids, I had grand ideas of preaching these people into faithfulness. I was convinced that all they needed was inspired, engaging sermons to spur them on to greater evangelism and service and hospitality. And as I prayed toward this end, the Holy Spirit said these crushing words, “You don’t do these things.”

I was great at talking about evangelism, but I rarely sought out ways to engage unbelievers with the gospel. I was great at talking about hospitality, but who we welcomed into our home was more about our preferences and desire for friendship, not discipleship. I could not be faithful to my people as a pastor, because I was not being faithful to the call of Jesus as a child of God. I was not living a life worthy of imitation.

I was not healthy, but God was gracious.

And the question He has kept before me for my 9+ years of pastoral ministry is, ”What does a healthy pastor look like?”

And when I say “healthy pastor,” I mean heart-level healthy. Not how gifted we are or how successful our church is— but are our lives marked by a love for Jesus and rhythms of holiness and contentment?

I’ve talked with far too many pastors who secretly struggle in their ministries with discontentment or personal failings or the burden of success. Tragically, many of these struggles lead them to infidelity, disqualifying pride, or doubting their faith. And we all know of pastors who have, seemingly out of the blue, committed suicide, leaving behind a family and community shocked by the tragedy.

We know these struggles didn’t spring up overnight, yet we only find out about them once the ship has capsized. And in the aftermath of disaster, it is painful knowing that tragedy could have been avoided —because there were believers around them who could have eased the suffering and spoken into the lies and shame.

So I ask myself, and I ask you: How do we do better? What does it look like to collectively fight for the health of pastors?

I have met with many pastors who are, from the outside, highly “successful” pastors of highly “successful” churches. Yet they are struggling with their marriages, elders, staffs and congregants. More often than not, the issues they are facing come down to the fundamental tenants of the gospel. They preach outstanding sermons about Jesus, but they fail to apply forgiveness to others or themselves. They are not finding their identity or purpose in Jesus, and their hope isn’t truly in Christ’s return in glory. Brothers, we need the very gospel that we preach every Sunday.

Something must change. Pastoral health must be something more than a talking point among us. We cannot lead healthy churches or plant healthy churches if we do not take the health of one another seriously.

While it’s tempting to get bogged down in the “how,” I think it’s more fruitful to start with the “what.” What is a healthy pastor? How do you gauge pastoral health? Our current metrics are ineffective: health doesn’t fit on a spreadsheet; and it can’t be counted or budgeted. Instead, the health of a pastor is evidenced in the community and confirmed through honest, humble, relational engagement.

There are many directions we could go to assess pastoral health, but the question that has guided me, and graciously haunted me, ever since the Holy Spirit called out my own hypocrisy is:

“Do I live a life worthy of imitation?”

And I will ask that same question of you. Not, how many members do you have? Not, how many churches have you planted, or how big is your budget? But:

“Do you live a life worthy of imitation?”

The writer of Hebrews exhorts Believers to, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”

In 1 Corinthians 4:16, Paul says, “I urge you, then, to be imitators of me.” And in 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

And Peter exhorts the elders, in 1 Peter 5:3 to “[be] examples to the flock.”

If pastors are always running 100 miles per hour, if we are always busy, if we struggle to carve out time for physical, spiritual, or emotional health, why would we expect our people to be any different? How can we exhort them to have healthy spiritual lives, if we do not? How can we challenge them to grow in their marriage if we neglect our spouses for the sake of ministry? How can we implore them to treasure Christ above all else while we are chasing after other loves?

Jesus said, “follow me,” and Paul said, “follow me as I follow Christ.” We, therefore, are to live lives worthy of imitation. The focus isn’t on our sermons, systems, or systematic theology; while those things are important, they, in and of themselves, do not make us healthy or faithful.

We are called to exemplify a life of unhurried holiness for our people—a life of disciple-making, serving, and hospitality. Our call is to demonstrate a life that loves Jesus and His gospel first, which treasures God above all else, even above our ministry.

Practically speaking, we must do the frightening work of letting people into our lives. Inviting them into our homes. Letting them see the way we love our spouses. Let them see the way we raise our children. Let them hear about our desire for the gospel to go forth, not just from the pulpit, but from our intentional relationships outside the church. Let them see us pursuing Christ with all our heart and repenting when we fall short. We all want to foster a gospel culture in our churches, but that begins in the hearts and lives of the leaders. It is the hard, unseen work of faithfulness to Jesus, that produces fruit in our ministries. And that fruit, when we are pursuing Christ with all our hearts, will be more than we could ask or imagine.

The result of this type of faithfulness may mean that we are less efficient; it may create struggles when our members get to know us as real people, rather than our persona or performances; it may even mean that we are less put together or less successful to some. But the Bible doesn’t call us to efficiency, it calls us to fruitfulness—a slow process that is directed by God, not by us. So let us all make time to do the slow things, the things necessary to live out the gospel that we are preaching every week. Our congregations will be healthier as they see the Holy Spirit at work in us. And we will be healthier as we rest—not in our own abilities or merit—but in the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.