When we opened the doors to the complex for the West African medical clinic, I had never seen anything quite like it. Sick mothers and malnourished children rushed in to get a spot at the front of the line. Their ailments ranged from allergic eyes to sour stomachs to endangering lesions. Once we became accustomed to the swarming flies and potent smells, we could get busy helping others.
Something happened in me as I moved from situation to situation. I became enraptured with the idea that someone had done what I was doing previously to people I loved. Someone before me had fought for my loved ones to make sure they were safe and healthy, and I now had the opportunity to do that for someone else’s child. I couldn’t stop. While hearing the missionaries’ advice, I ignored the warning signs as my body began to shut down. The hours baking in the dry heat while refusing to seek rest or nourishment began to catch up with me. I kept telling myself to push through the discomfort and help others. The needs were never-ending.
Through my ignorant obsession, someone finally reasoned me: “You won’t be able to take care of anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself.”
At about that time, my body concurred.
As I recuperated, I rehearsed that line in my head over and over again.
I won’t be able to take care of anyone else if I don’t take care of myself.
The Needs Are Endless
In ministry, the needs are always endless. As soon as you meet one request, another one garners your attention. You could spend your entire life addressing significant issues in needy people and still have left billions in want.
I am not advocating for a selfish, me-centered type of ministry. Away with the lazy disposition that always chooses personal desires over others’ needs. But there is a limit. We are finite. And if we don’t take care of ourselves, we won’t be able to take care of others for long.
What is the single most necessary nourishment that all ministers need?
To leave a legacy for my family and my congregation, I need to ensure that my personal relationship with Jesus is the closest relationship in which I am involved. By nurturing that relationship, all other relationships benefit. By developing more Christlikeness, his ministry through me is more effective than what I could do on my own.
Sometimes leaders can get so busy doing things for Jesus that they miss Jesus entirely in the process.
Your Need Is Urgent
To feed others, I must stay nourished myself. I have to have the spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical stamina to persevere in my calling. I cannot sell a bill of ministry that I have not purchased on my own account.
When Dwight Moody founded a Bible college in 1886, he had a clear desire. He was concerned about the spiritual health and depth of those around him in the ministry. During his day and ours, he witnessed people rehearsing the truths of the Word without representing them in their own lives.
“The greatest problem among ministers in my generation is they are trafficking unlived truth.”
Am I trafficking unlived truth? Have I been telling people to make Jesus a priority while he remains in my second position? Am I presenting the accurate responses without vouching for any authentic realities?
I cannot encourage others to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Ps. 34:8) if crumbs haven’t fallen into my lap.
Sure, you can do ministry in your own strength for a while, but who wants the type of results that our talents can explain? What a pathetic waste of a life! When I entice others to this feast, let my satisfaction be evident. And if he isn’t the source of my strength, the fruit will rot on the branch.
No matter how much you try to improve yourself, you are useless if you disconnect from the vine (John 15:5). You can’t do anything on your own. What appears like vibrant fruit is just a temporary fluke.
As you eagerly meet needs around you, are you seeking the type of nourishment that your soul requires to continue?
You can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.
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