Q & R: exciting but exhausting – how have you persevered?

Here’s the Q:

My name is [Joe Smith], and I’m a pastor—a young pastor, [under 30] old. Two years ago I graduated from [an evangelical] Seminary in [the Midwest]. Now I lead a campus ministry at [a midwestern university] and am [leading] a church plant with [a Reformed denomination].
I have found this call to be both life-giving and draining. Every day is exciting but can be exhausting. It is completely fulfilling but can be completely lonely. One thing that has steadied me on the way are the relationships I have with seasoned pastors. Their wisdom from shepherding the church has been so encouraging.
So what I am wondering is….how have you persevered in your call?
If we sat down what would you share about your life, personal call, joy and struggles? I would eagerly listen to your stories and experiences. During that conversation I would probably ask;
How have you survived?
What scripture has been formative?
What practices are essential?
Who are the people I need?
What’s the one thing a pastor should never forget?
Pastors, like me, are asking these same questions. My desire is to grow as a spiritual leader and to love the church more and more like Jesus did.

Here’s the R:

What a great question. As you already know, these questions deserve book-length responses, but I’ll offer some very brief replies to your five specific questions, followed by a few additional thoughts.
How have you survived?
Your descriptions – exciting but exhausting, life-giving and draining – match my experience. Dallas Willard and Keith Matthews offer a really helpful insight about survival – to distinguish between your job (what a particular church pays you to do), your vocation or ministry (which is bigger than your job), and your life (which is bigger than your job and ministry. What happens to too many pastors is they let their job eat up their ministry, and then eat up their life. I think one of the things that sustained me was “getting a life” and keeping healthy parts of my life intact and in some sense protected from the demands of my job. I also had the blessing of a great leadership team who cared about me and supported me – for which I’m forever grateful. Without them, I couldn’t have survived for 24 years.
What scripture has been formative?
Since, like you, I started at a young age, I always go back to 2 Tim. 2.
What practices are essential?
My book Naked Spirituality shares the internal practices that sustained me … especially the idea (I also addressed this in A New Kind of Christianity) of “being a friend to yourself.”
Who are the people I need?
I think there are five …
1. Mentors who are older and ahead of you in the journey
2. Professional peers who are with you in the struggle and who have linked your success to their won.
3. Friends outside the ministry/church with whom you enjoy life as a human being – for me, hiking buddies, fishing buddies, movie and music buffs, colleagues in ecological projects, etc. (Some of these folks may someday want to come to Christ and to your church – but you can’t simply see them as potential church members. That is problematic for many reasons.)
4. Mentorees – people you’re pouring your life into.
5. Poor and marginalized people in whose presence you experience Christ.
What’s [the] one thing a pastor should never forget? [I wouldn’t call this THE one thing, but it’s some thing….]
Your ego, your sexuality, your desire for power, fame, and success, your insecurity, and so on … all these are wrapped up with everything you do. The more you deny that, the more dangerous you are to yourself and others. The more you acknowledge it, the humbler you will be and the more God’s grace can flow through you.
One final comment:
Surviving – meaning staying in the ministry – is one thing. Thriving – remaining a healthy and good person – is another. It’s hard to do the former … and sometimes, the former works against the latter. So, I’d try to focus on actually “living Christ” as a thriving human being first … and then see ministry as a subset of your real calling: to live life to the full, loving God and loving neighbors.
To say the same thing in a different way – just because you’re a pastor doesn’t mean you’re no longer a human being or a growing, struggling Christian.
One last thing – A lot of your best insights come in the second half of life, and they often overturn things you were absolutely certain of in the first half. Keep that in mind.
I hope that helps! (And feel free to use any of this in any way that’s useful …)