Don’t Kill Your Horse

By: Alistair Brown

In December I attended a conference for seminary presidents organized by ATS, which is Northern’s main accrediting body. It was held in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and before you imagine I was sunning myself let me explain that the city is over 7000 feet above sea level and, having attended this conference in each of the last three years, this is the first time it has not snowed. This year it was just cold.

The conference has a three year ‘curriculum’, meaning that every fourth year they begin to cover the same themes again. I am now a ‘graduate’, and the four of us who gained that elevated status this year were each presented with a carved Santa Fe angel figure. I am grateful for that, but much more for the knowledge gained, fellowship shared, and fresh energy received for the calling to be an effective seminary president.

Near the end a group of us asked ourselves, “What was your ‘aha’ moment of the conference?” That kind of question does not always have a clear answer. Sometimes there is an overall benefit without one moment as a highlight. I suspect that was true for me.

Yet there was one point that made me think in a new way. One session was on ‘Self Care for the President’, wonderfully led by someone who had been through the good and bad times. He talked about physical, mental, social and spiritual health, and said, “We owe it to our students, trustees, colleagues and to the wider church to be well in order to do the job to which we have been called.”

Somehow I had never thought about rest, exercise, diet in those terms. I have never believed that work must be 24/7; I’ve seen what that does to people and it is not glorifying to God. But there has always been my own drive to make things happen, and perhaps a fear of letting others down if I take too much time away from work. It had never occurred to me I could let others down by not taking time away from work. Of course, the potential to fail others goes beyond colleagues to family and friends, people to whom God has also given me a calling.

I know I am far from alone with my failings. All of us who care about our calling, about our work, can get to a place where life is in imbalanced, and we are too tired to take exercise or too stressed to watch our diet. In the short term some of that is almost inevitable, but when it becomes a normal way of life we get into trouble. I sometimes joke that I am healthier than I should be, but that should not be a joke. We do not live to be healthy, but the reality is that we may not live long if we are not healthy.

Robert Murray M’Cheyne was a Scottish preacher greatly used by God in a revival in the early 1840s. But he became exhausted and then very sick. As he lay dying, he is quoted as saying God had given him a message to deliver and a horse with which to deliver it, but alas he had killed the horse (his own body) so could no longer deliver the message. He was just 29.

Work for God is usually more of a marathon than a sprint. I believe the conference speaker was right in saying we owe it to others to be fit for the work to which we have been called. That is true for every person; it includes me. I guess, then, I have a New Year’s resolution. This is too important to be just an empty moment of wishful thinking; it has to mean accepting a new and higher level of discipline as one of the terms of the calling on my life.

I am not alone in needing to hear that conference speaker’s words about what we owe those who depend on us fulfilling our callings from God.

January 5, 2011

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Alistair Brown

President, and Professor of Missional Theology

ABOUT Alistair



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