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The Adventurous Pastor

A few years ago, I played hooky from church. Instead of going to our Saturday night services, my son and I hit the ski slopes. It was the last weekend of the ski season so it was our last chance to go after one of the life goals we share in common:  learn to snowboard.

We were awfully sore at the end of the day. Especially my backside! But it was one of those unforgettable days. And there is one moment in particular that is frozen in my mind. Literally. We were riding up the chairlift as the blizzard-like snow was coming down. And I heard the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. I realized in that moment on that chair lift that my life had completely revolved around National Community Church for the better part of a decade. On one level, when you plant a church, you’ve got to pour your heart and soul into it. Sacrifices are par for the course. But I came to the convicting realization that I didn’t really have much of a life outside of church. It was as if the Holy Spirit said, “Get a life!”

I’m afraid that many pastors, if we were completely honest, would have to admit that we have no life outside of church–no hobbies, no relationships, no interests, no goals, no margins. And we wonder why we’re bored with ministry. So let me share a few ways to adventurize your life.

Create Some Margin

I have always struggled with being a bit of a workaholic. And part of the reason is the simple fact that I love what I do. But if you aren’t careful, work can become home and home can become work. It’s not like I’d abandoned my family. In fact, we have a saying at NCC that I have drilled into our staff:  put your family first. But I’m not sure I was fully walking the talk.

I know this isn’t an article about balancing family and ministry. And I’m getting to the adventurous part. Hang in there. But I first have to explain how I tried to reorder my priorities to create some margin. For me, it started with a New Year’s Resolution. Actually, it was three of them.

1) Don’t check work-related e-mail on my day off.

2) Don’t be away from home more than thirty nights per year.

3) Use all of my vacation days.

Here is why those resolutions were so critical in reordering my life:  I had no margin. Someone recently asked me the greatest challenge I face as a pastor. The answer is easy:  margin. Between pastoring and writing and parenting, there is very little margin in my life. And I’ve discovered that when your margin goes away, you lose the adventure in life because you don’t have time for anything except the routine. So the first step in recapturing the adventure called life is creating margin. Call it a “Sabbath” if you want to. But you need time to smell the roses or, in the words of Jesus, consider the lilies.

Change the Routine

One of the formulas I share in my book, Wild Goose Chase, is this:  change of pace + change of place = change of perspective. Listen, routines are a good thing. Most of us shower and put on deodorant every day. On behalf of your friends, stick to the routine! And routines are one key to spiritual growth. We call them spiritual disciplines. But once the routine becomes routine, you need to change the routine!

When I’m in a spiritual slump, I try to mix up my routine. Sometimes, it’s as simple as changing the Bible translation I’m reading. Other times, it takes a personal retreat or forty-day fast of some sort. But you’ve got to find ways to stay fresh spiritually.

One of the great dangers of leadership is this:  we stop doing ministry out of imagination and we start doing ministry out of memory. We learn how and forget why. We stop creating the future and start repeating the past. And that is the beginning of the end for leaders.

Here is one thing that has helped us at National Community Church. We have a core value:  everything is an experiment. We honestly view everything we do as an experiment. If it doesn’t work,  we’ll stop doing it. And that takes the pressure off. It also gives you tremendous latitude as a leader. If people oppose the vision, you can remind them that it is “just an experiment.” We’ve had lots of failed experiments–things we’ll never do again! But we’re not afraid of making mistakes. We’re afraid of not making mistakes, because it means we’re not trying enough new things.

All of us are creatures of habit. But that is how you lose the adventure. So you’ve got to find ways to mix it up. By the way, if you want a cure-all, go on a missions trip. I just got back from a trip to Ethiopia. Nothing reintroduces the element of adventure like getting out of our little universe and embracing the needs around us.

Pray, Pray, Pray

Nothing will adventurize your life like prayer! If you cultivate the prayer routine, it will keep your life from becoming routine. Prayer is where I get God ideas. Prayer is where I cultivate a sense of destiny. Prayer is where I discern the promptings of the Holy Spirit. And obeying those Spirit-led promptings is the key to spiritual adventure!

The Celtic Christians had a name for the Holy Spirit that has always intrigued me:  An Geadh-Glas, or “the Wild Goose.” I love the imagery and implications. The name hints at the mysterious nature of the Holy Spirit. Much like a wild goose, the Spirit of God cannot be tracked or tamed. An element of danger and an air of unpredictability surround Him. And while the name may sound a little sacrilegious at first earshot, I cannot think of a better description of what it’s like to pursue the Spirit’s leading through life than Wild Goose chase. I think the Celtic Christians were on to something that institutionalized Christianity has missed out on. And I wonder if we have clipped the wings of the Wild Goose and settled for something less–much less–than the spiritual adventure God originally intended. If you chase the Wild Goose, He will take you places you could never have imagined, going by paths you never knew existed.

“The wind blows wherever it pleases,” said Jesus. “You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

What I’m getting at is this:  there is no substitute for prayer. Nothing will add an element of adventure to your life like prayer!

Set Life Goals

I recently accomplished three life goals in one week. My son and I hiked the Grand Canyon from rim to rim. We rode mules on the rim. And we went on a helicopter ride over the Canyon. It was an amazing week. By the way, it was more than a vacation. It was a spiritual pilgrimage. On my son’s last birthday, he signed a discipleship covenant that included three challenges:  spiritual, intellectual, and physical. The trip was a reward for meeting those challenges. And for what it’s worth, it’s impossible NOT to worship while riding in a helicopter over the Grand Canyon. It’s also good for your prayer life!

You know why most of us don’t get what we want out of life? Because we don’t know what we want!

If you want to adventurize your life, you’ve got to set some life goals. Make sure you do it in the context of prayer. If all you do is set a bunch of selfish goals, you’d be better off if you didn’t accomplish them! But if you set them in the context of prayer, then life goals become an expression of faith.

“Faith is being sure of what we hope for.”

If you need some help getting started, you can get a free download I wrote titled “10 Steps to Setting Life Goals.” One of the ways I “got a life” outside of pastoring was by setting goals. I have family goals, influence goals, physical goals, and travel goals. Notice that I don’t have “spiritual goals.” The reason is simple. I hope all of them are spiritual. I hope each goal is an expression of stewardship. And it has to pass the true litmus test:  does it glorify God?

Now I know that not everybody is a “goal-setting personality.” But if you don’t have goals you’re going after, most of us settle for the routine! And we start living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death!

One of the themes of Wild Goose Chase is this:  play offense with your life. The ultimate adventure is living courageously for the cause of Christ. Dream some God-sized dreams. Set some God-sized goals. Then go for it. And remember this:  it’s never too late to become who you might have been!

Chase the Wild Goose!

To purchase Mark Batterson’s book Wild Goose Chase, visit ChaseTheGoose.com.   

Originally published on SermonCentral.com. Used by permission.
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Mark Batterson is the lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C., a multi-site church and a leading fellowship in the nation’s capital. Meeting in movie theaters and Metro stops throughout the D.C. area, NCC is attended by more than 70 percent single twenty-somethings. Mark’s weekly podcast is one of the fastest growing in America. His book, In A Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day: How to Survive and Thrive When Opportunity Roars peaked at #44 on Amazon.com’s best-seller list. He has just released his newest book entitled, Wild Goose Chase: Reclaiming the Adventure of Pursuing God. He and his wife Lora live on Capitol Hill. They have three children.