Sunday, March 16, 2014

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

Last week I attended a conference in Florida. The conference featured preaching by several men who have been influential in the development of my pastoral ministry. I anticipated the conference greatly as the last few months had been quite draining. Pastoral ministry can do that. Providing pastoral care for Christ followers often means walking with people through some of the most traumatic stages of their lives. Repeat that several dozen (or several hundred) times and the effect is very real. And, of course, that is only one aspect of ministry.

As I sat on the plane waiting to push back from the gate, the flight attendant said something that caught my ear. Indeed, it sounded like something far more profound than I would have expected in a safety talk. The flight attendant was talking about what would happen if the cabin were to lose pressure. She said that, if that were to happen, an oxygen mask would drop down from a compartment overhead. We were to take the mask and put if over our nose and mouth and breathe normally. What she said next seemed to be why I was on the plane. She said, “be sure to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” It seemed to me that was why I was on the plane.

It seems that in a low oxygen environment, you have to make sure you can breathe so that you can think clearly enough to assist someone else. Despite the instinct to want to help your child or someone else in need, without oxygen yourself, you will be rendered helpless. For pastors, this is instructive. We must put on our own oxygen mask before assisting others.

For me, putting on my own oxygen mask meant going to my first conference in about 8 years. The conference was designed to challenge and encourage my walk with Christ. More than that, it was a chance to break out of the regular routine and spend some focused time hearing from other great preachers and scholars. Literally, it was a chance to feed my soul.

Looking back, I wonder why I had waiting so long between attending conferences like this. Several reasons come to mind that I do not think are unique to me. So, I thought I would share three of the reasons I had not attended a conference in a while in the hopes of encouraging others to put on their own oxygen mask so they are better equipped to assist others.

1. I don’t have the time.
We are busy. We are all busy. You are not alone, nor are you unique because you are busy. In fact, it is your busyness that necessitates that you take some time to slow down and allow the Lord to use others to pour into your life. None of us have the time, but we all make time for things that are truly important. Ask someone who has been diagnosed with cancer where they found the time for chemo treatments and doctor visits. They made the time because their life was on the line. So is yours. Make the time.

2. I don’t have the money.
This is a very practical problem. Ministers typically do not receive large paychecks and, in the current economy, many churches are curtailing expense accounts. Add to that the fact that conferences are not cheap. Conference organizers have significant costs for producing the event and that cost is usually passed along to attendees. There are options, however, to fund a conference trip. Consider driving instead of flying. Then, consider attending with one or two other pastors. Splitting the costs of hotels and travel will help considerably. Finally, consider sharing your need with several key leaders in your church. You might be surprised at how generous they may be in helping making sure you are ministered to.

3. I don’t know which conference to attend. 
Once again, this can be a practical problem. It is especially a problem if you have attended a handful of conferences in which celebrated pastors share all of their “victory” stories. You know, those stories that make you feel like you will never measure up, that your church will never “get it,” and that make you feel more inadequate than refreshed? Yeah, I’m not talking about those conferences. I’m suggesting you seek out conferences where the focus is on the preaching of the Word. Putting on your own oxygen mask is not about trying to find a “better way” to do ministry. You don’t need a new paradigm or a radical new insight. You need to hear from Jesus in his Word.

I’ve given you my top three reasons…eh, um….excuses for not attending a conference in several years. Now, I want to hear from you. What other reasons do you have for not attending conferences on a regular basis?

No comments: