According to research shared from Barna Group, 29% of pastors thought about quitting during the pandemic. Our local paper, the Wilkes Journal Patriot, ran a national article reflecting on the difficulty of the pandemic year for pastors, and how some had stepped away. Anecdotally, I know of several pastors who have stepped away from ministry of their own accord or were encouraged to leave by their churches. Also anecdotally, the associate pastor at our church shared that 5 of the 7 close ministry friends he has worked with over the past 20 years are no longer in vocational ministry.

Personally, the past 15 months have been challenging and at times overwhelming. I understand the sentiment and concerns for many of these pastors who have stepped away. But I long for something more. I long to finish well.

In this post, I’m writing to pastors and church leaders. My aim is to encourage you to apply some of the strategies for finishing well. In a subsequent post, I’m going to write to churches and church members encouraging you to support and encourage your pastors and ministers on their journey.

In his book, The Making of a Leader, J. Robert Clinton reflected on several barriers to leaders finishing well. They are:

  1. Finances-their use and abuse
  2. Power-its abuse
  3. Pride-which leads to downfall
  4. Sex-illicit relationships
  5. Family-critical issues
  6. Plateauing

The strategies below will not specifically address each of these barriers. But they will help us as leaders to build habits and character traits into our lives that will help us finish well.

No leader plans not to finish well, but leaders who finish well make plans to finish well.

Leaders don’t finish well accidentally.

Strategy #1. Create spiritual habits that keep you close to Jesus. If you examine the barriers above, many of them relate to sin issues. Fame, flirtations, and finances have been the downfall of many pastors/leaders better than us. Avoiding sin issues that disqualify leaders requires spiritual habits that keep us close to Jesus. We need to read and study the Bible devotionally, to pray dependently, to preach the gospel to ourselves regularly, and to confess and repent consistently. When we drift from Jesus, we will drift into sin.

Strategy #2. Keep your family a priority. Some ministers are forced to step away from ministry because ministry itself became an idol and destroyed their families. The leader who wants to finish well must prioritize healthy family relationships and interactions. Eat meals together. Talk. Have a family devotional time. Do fun things together. Go on holidays and vacations.

Strategy #3. Stay physically active and healthy. Vocational ministry is largely sedentary. Sitting, writing, reading, counseling, and relational interactions are not physically active parts of the job. Physical activity helps me sleep better and encourages better eating habits. Physical sloth encourages poor health habits. Take walks. Go running or hiking. Play an active sport. Physical activity is a natural stress relief and longterm health benefit.

Strategy #4. Never stop learning/growing. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is 2 Timothy 4:13: “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.” Paul was in the latter days of his ministry, but he still wanted to read, study, learn, and grow. I was convicted by the reality referenced in Clinton’s book that many ministers don’t burn out of ministry, they plateau. Develop a reading and study plan. Write. Take a course. By continuing to grow and learn, we remain pliable and teachable as pastors/leaders.

Strategy #5. Develop friendships and accountability. I need people in my life to look me in the eye and call me out for folly or sin. God has graciously given me several people who will regularly speak truth into my life and ask the hard questions. If you don’t have these people in your life, pray that God will give them to you. Finishing well means that God has protected you from foolishness and sin, and often God protects us by using friends as our accountability. Get in a discipleship group. Find an accountability partner. Open up to your spouse.

Strategy #6. Ask for help. You can’t do everything you are responsible for. You need help whether that help comes in the form of staff members, assistants, or lay leaders. Pastors (leaders) that last are pastors (leaders) who don’t try to do it all. Delegate. Train others. Disciple fellow workers and leaders. Turn over key tasks and responsibilities. During the pandemic, our church has remained strong because we have so many key leaders (staff and lay) who have taken ownership of everything from technology to cleaning to other protocols.

Plan to finish well.

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

This week’s word is not specifically theological, apologetic, or evangelistic. Rather, the word accountability is a term embedded in the concepts of spiritual growth and discipleship. It is sorely needed in a culture defined by deception and debauchery.

The confirmed immoral and abusive behavior by Christian leader, Ravi Zacharias deceased head of the RZIM Organization, is the latest in a long line of examples. In recent years pastors, Carl Lentz of Hillsong Church, NY was fired for adultery, and James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel was fired over abusive behaviors.

I could cite too many other examples. And unfortunately for every public example like these, there are countless other resignations, forced sabbaticals, and firings of pastors or Christian leaders that will never make news headlines.

For all these leaders who have failed, there are thousands of others who remain faithful, godly examples. What is the difference? What keeps some from falling? While I won’t pretend to have all the answers, it is clear to me that those who have regular and real accountability in their lives are far more likely to remain firmly in the path of Christian sanctification than those who do not.

In the case of the recent Ravi Zacharias discoveries, not only was their deception at the root of the sin, but there was also a toxic culture that lacked accountability. If people are too afraid to call a leader out for disconcerting, inconsistent, or even deceptive behavior, then there is not a culture of accountability.

In a recent conversation, a friend observed, “When all you have around you are sycophants, there is no one to keep you accountable.” But we are accountable, and we should pursue accountability in our lives.

We are accountable to the Lord. God sees all things. Paul affirmed to the church at Corinth, “It is the Lord who judges me” (1 Corinthians 4:4). We might hide things from family and friends, from acquaintances and co-workers, or even from church members and accountability partners. But we can never hide things from God. We must take heed. God sees. This very fact should drive us to examination, confession, repentance, and behavior that pursues accountability.

We are accountable within our churches. Whether you like it or not, the spiritual growth of those around you in church is partially dependent on your spiritual walk. Sunday school classes, discipleship groups, and accountability relationships are important ways that the body of Christ can function for the spiritual accountability of believers. Knowing that others are struggling with temptations and challenges is motivation to keep our lives close and clean. Discipleship groups and accountability partners have provided enormous benefit to my spiritual growth. We need others to ask us hard questions, challenge our faith, and encourage us to be holy in our conduct.

We are accountable in our homes. The spiritual health of your home is in part dependent on your holiness as a spouse and parent. A number of years ago, my wife and I had a very difficult conversation that resulted in confession of sinful behaviors, forgiveness, and reconciliation. It was difficult for me to be confronted, but I would not trade that conversation for anything today. While my wife is not my accountability partner, we don’t hide anything from each other. She has access to all my devices. I have access to hers. We monitor our children’s screen and media access as well. Believers, we need to take seriously our responsibility to encourage holy conduct in our homes.

Here are several specific action points related to accountability that you could pursue today. If you need help with these action points, let me know. Or if you are a part of another church, reach out to your pastor. You can message me in the comments section below or on the social media platform that I post on. Or you can find my email on the About page of this website.

  • Confess and repent to God and to any person you’ve sinned against. God already knows your hidden sins (Psalm 19:13; 51). Confess hidden sins to your spouse, family, or fellow church members. Remember, God already knows and offers cleansing through Christ (1John 1:9). You should not feel any more shame or embarrassment at another finding out your sin than God knowing your sin. You cannot carry the weight of sin. And you cannot imagine the freedom that awaits a repentant heart.
  • Participate in a group. Spiritual accountability begins by growing in your faith with other believers. Participating in Sunday school and discipleship groups offers encouragement and the beginning steps of accountability. We need each other. In order to grow, we need to be anchored in the church. If you don’t have a discipleship group, start one. Other than my own personal devotional time, no other discipline has benefited my spiritual growth like my discipleship groups.
  • Find an accountability partner or partners. My accountability partner and I talk regularly. We pray for each other, confess to each other, challenge each other, and correct each other. I am deeply indebted to him for helping me work through several struggles and sins over the years. It would help to ask one another specific questions. Here’s an article by Ed Stetzer that suggests some classic and helpful accountability questions for groups and partners.

Reach out if you’d like to know how to begin a discipleship group or find an accountability partner.

Accountability can and does protect ministers and Christians from spiritual disaster. A number of years ago, one member of my accountability group began behaviors detrimental to his marriage and ministry. Another member of the group and I confronted him. This confrontation coupled with the subsequent confrontation with his wife saved his marriage and ministry. I wonder how many Christian leaders’ marriages and ministries could be rescued if there was someone to speak honestly into their lives.

In a conversation on this subject, my accountability partner observed, “Pastors who have led through this pandemic will need accountability. They’ve made more decisions and garnered more power than ever before.” I believe he’s right. But not just about pastors.

Here’s the bottom line. You need someone you can trust to look you in the eye and be able to call you out on a sin or behavior. If you don’t have that person, you need one.

I’ve tried to make this post practical and helpful. But if you are not sure where to go from here, let me know. Share in the comment section that you’d like some further conversation on this subject. Or you can encourage someone else by sharing your story of how accountability helped deepen your faith or restore relationships.

Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash