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:
- Finances-their use and abuse
- Power-its abuse
- Pride-which leads to downfall
- Sex-illicit relationships
- Family-critical issues
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.
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.