16. You have agreed as a candidate for the sake of the mission of Jesus Christ in the world and the most effective witness of the gospel, and in consideration of their influence as ministers, to make a complete dedication of yourself to the highest ideals of the Christian life as set forth in Para. 304.2, and to this end agree to exercise responsible self-control by personal habits conducive to bodily health, mental and emotional maturity, integrity in all personal relationships, fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness, social responsibility and growth in grace and the knowledge and love of God (Para. 304.2,3) What is your understanding of this agreement?
John Wesley spoke of the concept of “holiness of heart and life.” Article XI of the Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church states that “those who have been born again” are called to “strive for holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Discipline ¶103). In other words, all Christians are called to holy living. As a candidate for ordained ministry, this calling applies to me to a higher degree than to the laity. Given this calling, it is imperative that I, and all other clergy, sustain “the highest ideals of Christian life” in both word and deed.
Methodist tradition holds to the concept of the “priesthood of all believers.” God calls all Christians to minister to the world. “All Christians are called through their baptism to this ministry of servanthood in the world to the glory of God and for human fulfillment” (Discipline ¶125). As such, the clergy are not set apart from the laity in the sense of being a higher class or live out a higher calling. They are called, instead, to “specialized ministry.” To put it plainly, the clergy are no better or more important than the laity. Similarly, they are no worse than the laity either.
The clergy, though, are held to a higher standard of holy living than is the laity. One standard for seeking ordination is an expectation that the candidate will “nurture and cultivate spiritual disciplines and patterns of holiness” (Discipline ¶304). Again, this expectation does not differ from what is expected of laity. The required, if unspoken, higher standard arises from the position of leadership in the church. As the leader of a local charge, the pastor is often seen as the face of the church. The level of visibility and scrutiny inherent to the position of ordained clergy necessitates a higher level of higher living. Clergy, rightly or not, are seen as representatives of the church and of God. Therefore, the appearance, behavior, and lifestyle of clergy reflect on both the church and God.
The role of pastor also puts the clergy in a position of role model for the laity. Many of the laity observe the actions and lifestyle of the pastor as an example of Christian living. A pastor who regularly practices spiritual disciplines, who treats others with love and respect, and who practices responsible living sets a high standard to which the laity can look for inspiration and example as they pursue holiness. Conversely, a pastor who does not uphold those standards gives the laity no reason or inspiration to move toward sanctification. As Christians, we are called to proclaim the gospel in word and deed. In the reality of life, deeds are evident before, and even in the absence of, words. To live a life led by the Spirit is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Behavior affects ministry. Beyond the issues of lifestyle and actions reflecting on the church and God and of being a role model to the laity, as well as young clergy and/or candidates, personal habits and actions affect the physical, mental, and spiritual abilities to perform ministry tasks. A pastor who does not take time for Sabbath rest in order to recharge spiritually will quickly burn out and become ineffective. A pastor who does not regularly pray and study scriptures, apart from teaching and sermon preparations, cannot uphold their responsibility and vow to move on toward perfection. Clergy who are not faithful in marriage or celibate in singleness are separated from God in their sin. A pastor who does not maintain mental and emotional health risks numerous hindrances to effective ministry, including depression, bitterness, jealousy, and apathy toward congregants and the community. A pastor who does not maintain their physical health chances an abundance of missed time due to illness, disability due to disease, and early death.
By agreeing to uphold these standards of personal behavior and lifestyle, I am committing to making every effort to maintain physical, emotional, and spiritual health. This means that I will need to take steps to ensure health, as opposed to leaving it to chance. I know that this will take a concerted effort on my part. This means prioritizing my life and managing my time well. It means dedicating non-negotiable time to my marriage and my family. It means committing to a regular regimen of exercise. It means devoting time to personal study and prayer. It means remaining conscious of my diet and maintaining healthy eating habits. It means not ignoring signs of mental strain and stress and seeking counsel when needed. For me, it means finding and remaining committed to a group for support and accountability in ministry and in life. Each of these steps must remain intentional.
The busyness of ministry will consume as much time and emotion as you give it. It is critical that those in pastoral ministry establish and maintain healthy boundaries with their congregation. That means boundaries of time, boundaries of emotion, and physical boundaries. It is imperative that I prioritize the commitments in my life and, in turn, honor those priorities. I have pledged that my family will always come before church matters, barring a true emergency. This is one example of a priority I must preserve in order to maintain my own spiritual and mental health.
Although I hope I will always be seen a person as imperfect and fallible as any. I realize the level of esteem to which many hold the office of pastor. I also realize that by my position I must remain diligent in maintaining my emotional, spiritual, and physical health. By virtue of the office to which I aspire, I must commit to a higher level of integrity and moral purity. Through setting boundaries and prioritizing my life, and by the grace of God, I will honor that commitment.