habits

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

To replicate means “to make a copy of; to reproduce.” When used in the context of the Christian mission, replication carries with it the expectation of making disciples.

This is the fourth and final article in a series about the habits of spiritually healthy pastors. In the previous articles, I addressed the worship habitslearning habits, and serving habits of spiritually healthy pastors.

When we worship, learn, serve, and replicate, we embrace the mission of Christ to become his followers in action and attitude. 

While worshiping, learning, and serving should be personal habits and community experiences, we must guard against them becoming merely church activities. We have plenty of church activities. 

What we need more than activity is to make sure we’re replicating the life of Jesus into another person. The following three habits build discipleship into our daily decision-making. 

HABIT #1: SHARE THE GOSPEL PERSONALLY. 

No doubt, most of us share the gospel regularly in our preaching. We must do this. In fact, during these days of streaming church services, we may be communicating the gospel to more people than would ever visit our church. 

But public preaching doesn’t take the place of personal witnessing. Paul instructed Timothy, “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). Personal evangelism is work, but it’s a necessary habit for the pastor/church leader. 

Opportunities and relationships are the keys to sharing the gospel regularly. As pastors, we need to create opportunities for witnessing by getting into our communities and around unbelievers. 

Volunteering at local ministries and non-profits, coaching a kids’ sports team, and contacting visitors to your church will provide numerous opportunities for sharing the gospel. 

When those opportunities arise, we must be willing to engage the work of building relationships and continuing gospel conversations. 

A husband and wife who became followers of Jesus last year in our community did so after several years of relationship and numerous gospel conversations. 

These days of social distancing provide obstacles to face-to-face witnessing, but also many opportunities. 

In just the last three weeks, I’ve had several gospel conversations with those in and around my church who needed counseling, support, and ministry. 

Simply put, we as pastors need to look to include the gospel in as many conversations as we can. 

HABIT #2: INVOLVE OTHERS IN YOUR MISSION CONSISTENTLY. 

In Acts 11:25-26, Barnabas sought out Saul (the Apostle Paul) and brought him to Antioch to help him teach the young church there. Barnabas realized the job in front of him was bigger than he could handle on his own. 

We need to be big enough to admit we’re not big enough on our own. For us to fulfill the mandate of making disciples, we can’t go at it alone. 

Whether we have a church staff or we’re the entire staff, we must engage in the regular habit of involving others in our ministries. 

None of us are irreplaceable, and none of us are permanent. 

By involving others in our mission and ministries, we can replicate the life of Jesus and the ministry of the church in the lives of others who’ll carry on making disciples even when we’re no longer around. 

Practically, this means sharing responsibilities and inviting people to do ministry alongside you. 

HABIT #3: EQUIP OTHERS TO SUCCEED YOU SIGNIFICANTLY. 

Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19-20 is to make disciples. He expected His followers to lead others to follow Him. 

Jesus’ method of disciple-making wasn’t large events. It wasn’t come and see worship experiences. It wasn’t seminars and leadership conferences. It wasn’t even miracles. 

Jesus’ method was the training of the apostles who’d preach and teach the gospel and disciple others. 

Friends, we’re the product of Jesus’ method. Jesus spent only three years in personal ministry but has had an impact for 2,000 years through His disciples. 

The beauty of Jesus’ method is that it’s reproducible. There’s coming a day when you won’t be the pastor, staff member, or disciple-maker at your church. Have you prepared for someone to succeed you? 

Even if you don’t train your successor per se, when we equip and disciple others, we embrace Jesus’ method. 

If you know of ways pastors and churches are embracing the challenges of social distancing and continuing to make disciples, I’d love to hear about them.

Originally published at here Lifeway Facts and Trends.