Tip #9: Protect Your Schedule for Solitude, Prayer, and Reflection

[for context, see the original post Ten Tips for Becoming a Better Pastor]

Young pastors – especially those in missional churches – are usually good at disciplines of engagement: study, preaching, evangelism, mercy, hospitality. But they’re notoriously bad at disciplines of abstinence: solitude, silence, fasting, prayer. If you want to become a better pastor, you need to rigorously protect your schedule to allow for regular times of solitude.

Don’t tell me you don’t have time. You DO. You just have to plan for it. Either you control your calendar, or it controls you. Stop living in the tyranny of the urgent and use your calendar to set boundaries: “I’m sorry, I can’t meet with you on that day, I’m already booked.” The fact that you’re “booked” with an appointment with the Holy Spirit shouldn’t give you pause at all… after all, he is a person.

I recommend one day of solitude every 6-8 weeks, with longer periods of solitude once or twice a year. The benefits of this rhythm are myriad:

  • It helps you live proactively instead of reactively. You’ll find yourself doing more planning ahead and less working from behind.
  • It equips you to listen to the Spirit. One of the most common questions I get from young leaders is: “How do I learn to discern what is the voice of God and what is just the voice in my own head?” Answer: it’s called wisdom. You only get it through time, faithfulness, and reflective, listening prayer. You can’t get it from podcasts or Twitter feeds.
  • It makes you a better shepherd. As you learn to interact with the Holy Spirit through prayer, he shows you things. I returned from a recent time of extended solitude with a list of six people God was stirring me to have pastoral conversations with.
  • It helps you know yourself. Theologian Richard Lovelace says that every human being has a “characteristic flesh” – a particular way he or she is bent by sin. Knowing yours is crucial to fighting sin, standing up under temptation, and finishing well.
  • It helps you understand your people better. Douglas Wilson says that respectable people think a lot about sins, but godly people think a lot about sin. You need to think a lot about sin – especially your own. Knowing the contours of your own heart – being in touch with how Fall and Redemption are playing out in your life – is one of the best ways to lead your people more faithfully. Sin in them looks a lot like sin in you. Gospel change in them looks a lot like gospel change in you.
  • It helps you live in the present. Most leaders live in the past (what I’ve done) or the future (what I’m going to do). Few know how to live in the present – and yet this is exactly what God requires of us. “Give us THIS DAY our daily bread.” What is God doing right now, in you and around you?

The reason you “don’t have time” for solitude is because you don’t value solitude (if you did, you’d make time). And the reason you “don’t know what to do” on a day of solitude is because solitude is really… quiet. Of course you don’t know what to do. You’ll figure it out. Stop fretting and start setting aside the time. The point is to meet with God. He tends to graciously show up whether or not you “do it right.”

Oh, and one more thing: don’t excuse your lack of reflection by playing the “I’m an extravert” card. Sure you are. So you need to shut up and listen to the Spirit. And don’t worry: solitude will pay for itself. You’ll get more done in four days than you usually do in five. Trust me on this.

If you want to become a better pastor, set aside time for solitude, reflection, and prayer.

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