The road to ministry is filled with pastors who burned out, committed moral failure or simply walked away from the ministry. For many, what started out as an exciting adventure ended up as a nightmare. Peter Drucker, who Business Week has called “the man who invented management,” said the four toughest jobs in America (in no particular order) were: President of the United States, President of a University, CEO of a Hospital, and Pastor of a Church.
Going the Distance
Not all ministry ends in disaster, failure, and frustration. Many clergy can and do thrive in various contexts. I want to encourage and equip church leaders to thrive and grow wherever they are. Several years ago I began a research project in which I interviewed more than 30 long-term pastors throughout the United States. The clergy I interviewed were examples of ministry health, longevity and mission.
Who are they? They come from 19 different states and their churches vary in size from 150 to 4500. The average tenure was 20 years. They come from 13 different denominational backgrounds including Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist, Anglican, Pentecostal, Charismatic and non-denominational.
Though their backgrounds vary they all share the commonality of ministry health and longevity. They had weathered the highs and lows of ministry, leading their churches to a place of vitality.
My research highlights 10 overarching themes for ministry health, but the following five things ranked among the most recommended among the pastors. My prayer is that you will find a few golden nuggets of wisdom that will encourage you in your pastoral journey.
Top 5 Signs of Healthy Clergy
- The Power of Vision
Vision matters in ministry. There is a direct correlation between having vision and longevity in ministry. Most pastors do not have a God-sized vision for their ministry. Habakkuk 2:2 says, “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. The clergy I interviewed had a long-term vision for their ministry context. As James Boice once noted, “We tend to overestimate what God will do in one year and underestimate what He will do in twenty.”
- Marriage and Family
Healthy pastors know that you have to take care of your family. They don’t let the church come before their family life. Paul says that a pastor must manage his household well (1 Timothy 3). The health of your family will ultimately influence and affect the health of your church.
- Self Care
Healthy pastors take care of themselves. Healthy pastors seek to maintain a balance of spiritual, emotional, and physical health. Paul says in 1Timothy 4:16, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” It is good to periodically check to see how you are doing in these different areas of your life. Ask yourself, “Am I emotionally and spiritually healthy?” “If not, then what do I need to do to get there?” Remember, the church will only be as healthy as its leader.
- Prayer is a Priority
Prayer matters to God and it should matter to us. These pastors make prayer a major priority in their life and ministry. Prayer is how we stay centered and focused on Christ. We are told in Luke 5:16 that Jesus often withdrew to pray to God the Father. He knew the secret of staying connected to God through prayer. Without prayer, we end up doing ministry in our own strength and power, which will result in burn out. Healthy pastors are praying pastors who depend on God in prayer.
- Healthy Relationships
There are no lone rangers in the kingdom of God. Healthy pastors know the value of healthy relationships. God made us to live in community with others. Martin Luther said, “God has created man for fellowship, and not for solitariness.” Fellowship is an intimate union in which Christians share together in Christ. Healthy pastors seek to have healthy relationships inside the church and outside. Don’t go it alone. Surround yourself with people who can encourage and build you up. Remember, pastors you need fellowship too!
Dr. Winfield is the Director of Church Planting at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He also directs Asbury’s Anglican Formation program. As a seasoned practitioner, he has helped plant several churches and has used his experience to train leaders from around the world. He is the author of several books including his forthcoming book Ever Ancient Ever New: The Allure of Liturgy for a New Generation (Zondervan, 2018). As an author, one of his passions is the intersection of spiritual formation and mission. He and his wife Kay, have three school aged children and live in the Bluegrass state of Kentucky.