By Mark Dance
When I saw the dart board on the wall of a Nashville restaurant, I was compelled to challenge my coworker, Allan Taylor, to a match. Neither of us knew the rules, or cared for that matter. We hadn’t thrown darts in decades so we just started slinging them wildly.
Soon, the entire restaurant knew just how bad we were at darts. New holes were forming in the walls, so we gave up before anyone got hurt or arrested.
The very first Greek word I learned in Dr. Franky Rainey’s class was hamartano—“missing the mark.” As an avid archer, I’m better with arrows than darts, but I still miss the mark sometimes. I’m also familiar with failure as a pastor and a Lifeway employee.
Quite frankly, no pastor is proficient at everything, although there’s one bull’s-eye we should all be laser-focused on—our growing love for God. I’m convinced a great commandment love for God is a pastor’s greatest priority as well as his greatest challenge.
According to Jesus, loving God is every believer’s “first and greatest” priority. Why, then, is spiritual growth such a challenge for pastors?
1. Spiritual growth is difficult to measure.
When our children are growing, we can chart their growth with a measuring tape. How can we measure something as nebulous as spiritual growth? Even the fruit of the Spirit is difficult to discern sometimes.
The best way to measure spiritual growth is to seek feedback from those you live and serve with regularly.
2. Spiritual growth is seasonal.
Spiritual growth is not a temporary challenge we’ll age out of. Nobody lives in a constant state of revival.
After Barna interviewed 14,000 pastors, 1 in 4 pastors (24%) said they experienced a period during their ministry when they significantly doubted their faith.
An abundant life shouldn’t be confused with a perfect one. Even some of the pastors we see smiling on social media are occasionally crying behind the scenes.
Preach the Word both in season and out of season, because both are inevitable.
3. Spiritual growth is intentional.
About a decade ago, I stalled spiritually. After 20 consecutive years of pastoring, I’d allowed spiritual erosion to slowly creep in and rob me of my passionate love for God.
I grew tired of missing the mark, so I made some changes on my calendar to reflect my priorities. I stopped taking breakfast meetings and moved my morning workouts to allow my first love to take first place in my day.
4. Spiritual growth is simple.
Don’t roll your eyes. I didn’t say it was easy; I said it was simple.
Shortly after Pentecost, the disciples temporarily stopped devoting themselves to “prayer and the ministry of the Word.” The Church stopped growing because the pastors stopped growing.
The solution was as obvious as the problem was. After the church deployed deacons to solve the “widow war,” they simply re-devoted themselves to prayer and the Word (Acts 6:4).
Do you think God has changed His growth plan for pastors and churches?
At the end of the day, there’re no secrets or shortcuts to spiritual growth. Jesus’ simple solution is to “be zealous and repent” when we get off track. “Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first” (Revelation 2:5).
If you’ve been missing the spiritual mark for a while, ask God to refresh your love for Him. Then show the fruit of repentance by making sure He’s first place in your life and ministry.
MARK DANCE (@markdance) serves as director of Lifeway Pastors. He speaks at churches, conferences, and retreats–often with his wife Janet. Mark has contributed to several books and offers weekly encouragement at MarkDance.net.