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Brian McLaren delivered the Reavis lectures at Campbell University Divinity School this week, and he said lots of good things that were well worth hearing and ruminating upon. I may do a little of that in this space over the next few posts (or I may not). Interestingly enough, the first thing I want to mention is something outside of his usual field.

McLaren is best known for his work in communicating an understanding of postmodernism and its challenges for Christianity. He’s also a major advocate for social justice and a sought-after consultant on things like evangelism and church planting.

He talked about many of those things over the course of two lectures and some time spent responding to questions. It was in response to one of those questions that McLaren painted a mental image that I think many people — especially ministers who care about their mental and emotional health — would do well to hear.

Outlining an imaginary whiteboard, he suggested that we think of a circle surrounded by a larger shape, and both of those within an even bigger space. Think of the smallest circle as your job, he said, and the next largest circle as your ministry. “It’s not good for the soul to do good only when we’re paid for it,” he said. The largest space, he said, represents our life, the place where spouses and children and exercise and personal interests come in (his imaginary picture looked much better than my lame graphical effort).

I’ve heard similar ideas before, and McLaren didn’t claim that his advice was original, but it was a helpful word to hear. Every minister needs to keep a healthy perspective on life, ministry, and work. It’s easy to be consumed by one’s job, miss out on life, and compromise one’s health — setting a poor example in the process.

“You’ve got to smoke what you’re selling,” McLaren said. “We don’t just purvey abundant life if we can’t enjoy it. It’s in your life that you interact with the world.”

This advice came during a week when I learned of a successful pastor’s apparent suicide, and saw multiple students really struggling to find balance. I knew that some of the pastors and other ministers in attendance were also facing heavy stress. It was a good word, and I was glad the 300 or so folks who attended could hear it.

I hope we’ll all — ministers or members — give that advice some thought, and practice what we preach.

[Note: I was able to interview McLaren while he was on campus. Watch for it in the November issue of Baptists Today.]

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