By Kelsey McFaul
How Pastor Jeff Mueller found balance through surrender
“Lord forgive my rush to perform that has distanced me from true intimacy with you: Lord forgive the imbalance that I have allowed to take hold in my understanding of who I am in you…”
Performance, imbalance, surrender: the first two lines of The Steward’s Prayer capture the themes of Jeff Mueller’s leadership journey. But they’ve never come together in quite this way until Jeff participated in the Becoming a Steward Leader Experience, a course led by Dr. Scott Rodin, last year.
“The stewardship prayer helped me a lot because it’s the very first thing I do when I sit down the Lord in my devotion time. I know it’s working because I’m constantly catching myself saying my church, or my children’s home. I correct myself constantly. And that’s good because that’s showing the Holy Spirit is reminding me of my surrender.”
Jaff pastors Immanuel Lutheran Church in Hood River, Oregon, where he grew up, and he is also president of Child Beyond International, a children’s home in Cristobal, Guatemala. In his 25 years as a pastor, Jeff’s also led churches in California and Hawaii.
“In my rookie days as a pastor, I was so driven by building a kingdom. Sometimes it was God’s. Most of the time it was mine, and I was doing it all on my own power and not on the Holy Spirit’s power. These days my terminology has changed. It’s not my church; it’s God’s church that I get to serve.”
Recognizing his own rush to perform helped Jeff realize he wasn’t the owner of the churches or other ministries he leads.
“There were times before where I’d be so stressed by the challenge of fulfilling my schedule and my deadlines by my own bootstraps and just getting it done. I was working 80 hours a week and neglecting my wife and kids. Even now, I’ve got obligations as chaplain of a hospital, chaplain of the fire department, the president of a global mission, and the pastor of a church, along with being a husband, father, grandfather, and son.”
When Jeff relinquished ownership of the ministries under his care, he was surprised to discover surrender didn’t mean losing those commitments or cutting ties.
“When I surrendered my ministries, and I say my ministries, I’ve realized that I haven’t had to completely close down or stop doing some of these things. I haven’t had to resign anything or step down. God is just filling in the gaps for me now.”
But surrendering and ownership did require looking more closely at how much time he allocated to those commitments.
“I was so out of balance. But I realized you do not have to and you should not have to invest 80 hours a week of blood, sweat, and tears in the ministry if it’s the Holy Spirit doing the work. So there’s been a transition in my mindset from ‘I’ve got to do everything I can to make this happen and I’m going to have to work late’ to ‘I’ve done everything faithfully and God’s in control of this. I’m not going to be unbalanced and go down that road of panic.’”
Practical changes in Jeff’s life reflect this conviction, including the way he manages his calendar.
“I started to implement changes in my schedule and changes in the way I saw my life. Every Friday is protected, unless it’s an emergency or a death or something like that, and I only go outside my protected evenings with my family twice a week. I have lunch with my dad every Thursday, and visit my brother on Wednesdays, and those are irrevocable. If I don’t schedule it, my balance tends to be messed up.”
Scheduling time helps Jeff balance his relationships with God, himself, and others, and provides the space and energy to steward them well. At the same time, achieving this balance frees him from feelings of inadequacy and guilt.
“It doesn’t ever occur to me that there’s going to have to be a sacrifice of something important. The Holy Spirit is constantly letting me relax and reminding me that as long as I’m faithful to what He’s asked me to do, whatever happens is His, not mine.”
Surrender also changes the emotions associated with ministry from stress to freedom and joy, or as The Steward’s Prayer describes it, deep contentment.
“It’s truly a balance in my mind….I have so much more peace. I have so much more confidence. I have so much more hope about the future.”
For Jeff, it’s stewardship of his relationship with God and the second line of the prayer that hold the key: asking God’s help to maintain His sense of priorities and proper balance.
“I’ve counselled a lot of other pastors who unfortunately are going through divorce or burnout, things like that. I think it often goes back to our relationships are out of balance. We can’t really have truly positive, healthy, balanced relationships with others until we have a truly balanced, healthy relationship first and foremost with the Lord.
“Don’t worry about setting your expectations high for whatever God has called you to do. Let those go according to His will, but make sure you’re in line with his balanced relationships.”
Incorporate The Steward’s Prayer into your own spiritual practice or devotion time. The full prayer is below:
Lord forgive my rush to perform that has distanced me from true intimacy with you;
Lord forgive the imbalance that I have allowed to take hold in my understanding of who I am in you;
Lord forgive my use of relationships for my own means;
Lord forgive my poor use of time and my lack of care for your wonderful creation;
Grant me a heart that daily hungers and thirsts for authentic intimacy with you;
Help me see myself as you see me and give me deep contentment with that view;
Grant me a passion to love my neighbor and a willing heart to be present with them;
Grant me the wisdom to use my time, talents and resources to build your kingdom, and the heart of a true steward of your beautiful creation.
In the name of the one who sets us free, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.