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Spiritual Dryness

Spiritual Dryness

By Scott Thomas, President of Acts 29 Network

I found myself saying (privately) that I was too busy to attend a worship service—and I was the lead pastor who was preaching! The truth is that I wasn’t too busy; I was too busy to worship someone other than myself. The one thing that drove me was leading people to follow Jesus. This was the wrong motivation. The one thing that should have driven me was my following Jesus.

What happened?

I don’t think it is a rare problem among pastors to become spiritually dry. I just don’t think we admit it. It’s like a doctor who ignored the Hippocratic oath or a mechanic who lost his tools. It’s unimaginable and so it’s ignorable. We keep working like nothing is wrong and we continue to hack at the tree more vigorously with a dull axe. Church planters may be the most susceptible.

What are the Symptoms of Spiritual Dryness for Pastors?

  1. We pursue ministry and not the presence of God. In sincerity we begin by ministering to the needs of others but along the way we forget to minister the gospel in our own lives (Eccl. 10:10). Perceived success in ministry feeds this proclivity to operate outside of God’s power and before long we are too busy to pray, to meditate on the Scriptures or to do good works out of a Spirit-responsive heart. We do these things to perform our weekly act.
  2. We are over-extended in our time, relationships and finances. Dry hearts always seek refreshment. Unrepentant hearts seek it by doing more stuff with people who can advance our goals and costing us money we can’t afford. But we do it in faith that God is opening doors and He will provide.
  3. We focus on the faults of others and we resort to cynicism, sarcasm and criticism. If we can “discern” the weaknesses of others, perhaps our spiritual dryness will not be revealed. And if we can do it in a way that is humorously mocking, we can hide our sin even more stealthily. Those people that we criticize the most are the ones who are radically devoted to a pursuit of God. It makes us feel better if we can marginalize those who could accentuate our dryness.
  4. We resort to creativity or knowledge or charisma to build a ministry. We watch other mega-church pastors online and we think they are ministering from human skills, so we try to emulate them. As I got to know many of these pastors, I discovered that their gifts are secondary to their passion for God. Some are even embarrassed by their rock-star status. Whenever I have lacked spiritual depth, I leaned into my talents and convinced myself that people in the church didn’t recognize my spiritual dryness.
  5. We distract ourselves with other interests—almost compulsively. When our joy and peace and satisfaction is not in God, we have to replace that with hobbies, sports, family, exercise, food, politics, social causes, social media and even ministry.
  6. We entertain sin in our minds and hearts to find relief from the demands and pressures of ministry. We may never sin with our hands—because we are proud of our “holiness”—but we often sin in our minds and in our hearts by lusting after bigger churches or opportunities or relationships. We sin in our hearts before we sin with our hands and giving in to temptation is inevitable over time if we do not repent.
  7. We promote self to impress man. John the Baptist said that he must decrease and Jesus must increase. The opposite seems true today. The Apostle Paul called himself “the very least of all saints” (Eph. 3:8). We justify this by believing that if we get our name out there, it will advance the gospel.

    Let’s get His name out there and not our own. Let’s pursue Him relentlessly. Let’s repent of our self-sufficiency and find our thirst quenched only by Him.

    O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (Psalm 63:1)

    Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37-38)

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    Scott Thomas has served as the President of Acts 29 Network and a Pastor at Mars Hill Church. Scott has been a pastor for 30 years—first as a youth pastor and then as a lead pastor and church planter/church replanter for 16 years.