I never made it far as a Boy Scout. It wasn’t for lack of trying though. As an ambitious fourth grader, I plowed through merit badges like there was no tomorrow, snagging the coveted “Arrow of Light” before any of my peers (That’s the last step a Cub Scout takes before making the full transition into a Boy Scout, in case you were wondering). Then my family moved to another region of the state, and for whatever reason, I failed to get connected with a scout troop in our new community. Thus, my promising career as a Boy Scout came to an abrupt end.
One thing that I have carried with me from my Boy Scout days, however, is the simple motto: be prepared. Perhaps because of my early departure from the scouts, I seem to often find myself in situations I feel completely unprepared for. For the past few weeks, I have been commuting to work and school on a motorcycle. While there have been a few unseasonably pleasant November days, so far it seems that my motorcycle riding experience has included nearly as many rainy mornings as dry ones. My first torrential downpour came just three days after bringing my motorcycle home from the dealership. I knew the forecast included a chance for rain, so I packed my snowboarding pants in my bag for work, just in case I were to get caught in bad weather on the way home.
Sure enough, as the day came to an end, the sky opened up, sending huge drops of water tumbling through the frigid evening air. I donned my winter garb that had served me well through years in the snow, confident that I would make it home warm and dry. Just a few miles into my journey, I realized I had made a serious mistake. While my snowboarding pants do a fine job of keeping the frozen, powdery variety of water crystals away from my skin, they were not up the task of keeping me dry from a constant onslaught of water barreling into my body at hurricane-force speeds on Interstate 40. I had chosen the wrong gear for this situation. I was unprepared.
While my failure to adequately prepare for my commute made for a pretty unpleasant ride, being unprepared for other tasks can result in serious suffering. I was asked this past week how ministers — often moving from one crisis to the next as they work to meet the pastoral needs of congregants and field requests for assistance from struggling members of the community — can avoid becoming depressed while spending so much time immersed in the painful side of life. While ministry can be overwhelming, one of the most important steps pastors can take to prevent burnout is simply to be prepared. Knowing that the work of ministry is spiritually and emotionally demanding, ministers must make time to care for their own spiritual well-being. Meditate on scripture. Devote serious time to prayer. Reflect on ways God is moving in your own life. If ministers aren’t constantly filling and refilling their own spiritual and emotional reserves, then it won’t be long before they come up empty and have nothing left to offer to those seeking guidance and encouragement under their care.
Sooner or later, the road ahead will get messy. Be prepared.