Greater productivity in ministry comes from lasting out and not burning out. A mentor once told me,
“In your first year, you can do NO WRONG.
In your second year, you can do NO RIGHT.
In your third year, either you or your critics WILL LEAVE.
In your fourth year, if you are still there, you can begin your real ministry.”
This weekend I am speaking at a retreat for the Blueprint church. They asked me to speak about longevity and lasting out in ministry.
It’s an important topic. Burnout rates among ministers are incredibly high. When i took my first job as pastor in a church, the Senior Pastor burned out within the year. Not my fault, by the way. But what’s sad is that that the pastor I am talking about, who was hospitalized with the shakes and had already taken a 3 month leave, had taken over the job from the previous pastor who also burned out in much the same way.
Here are my first thoughts on lasting out, not burning out. If you have others, please let me know in the comments below.
1. Be yourself. Find out what you love to do and do that. Align your gifts and passions with your ministry. Decades from now, you will probably still find joy in it
2. Minister out of who you are, not what you can do. Character based ministry will outlast accomplishment based ministry. If you accept a position, make sure they appreciate that who you are is more valuable than what you can do.
3. Know that the ministry is Gods, not yours. It is his prevenience that initiates lasting change and his grace that carries it through to completion. You are not as indispensable as you think.
4. Recognize God’s favor as it presents itself to you because it can be a reliable pathway into a God-empowered, God-blessed ministry in which the yoke of Jesus is not heavy.
5. Preaching the gospel is a matter of receiving and passing on rather than reinventing and customizing. It’s not the new twists you put on the message but the substance of it that is important. People can make it relevant themselves.
6. Install an on/off switch and use it. Its OK to be off, to be out of season, to take a break.
7. Accept criticism. Embrace criticism. And learn to dismiss it when you need to. You cannot please everyone. Accept the fact that 10% of your people will be mad at you for something at any one time.
8. Avoid vanity metrics. They are not helpful to you and you will kill yourself trying to live up to them or get back to them when the chips are down.
Who was the mentor I quoted at the top of this post? Bro. Thom Wolf, who also stressed that the goal in spiritual warfare was standing firm. It appears three times in the Eph 6 passage. Spiritual warfare is not primarily about kicking butt, demolishing strongholds, and tearing down the works of the evil one. Its about standing, about remaining, about lasting out and emerging from the fire, ready for more service.
OK – your turn. How do you avoid burning out?
Such good words and reminders. Thank you.
I may re post this with commentary if that is ok to you. I found this really helpful with my own current questions.
I want to affirm the general purpose and intent in this post. Men and women in pastoral ministry must be given the permission to take care of their souls. Burnout is no fun. Yet sometimes burnout is unavoidable. And when it comes it can be the place where gems are found.
There are several potential problems with this post; ones that I don’t think are intended by the author. First, those reading it may be given the impression (emphasis on may) that the “lasting out” label can only be given to those who stay “in the ministry.” (I put “stay in the ministry” in quotes for a reason).
Second, the two men you mentioned that burned out? Their lives are not over yet. While not intended this post may imply that they have left their call. Their calling has not changed. The deep loss of their role will be used by God in ways that we cannot imagine. These two men (and their blessed families) will be given much and be loved by God in a mighty way. God will bring about many good things in the midst of their burnout. (Did Christ get burned out?…see the scene in Gethsemane).
Third, all the suggestions given above are very wise, yet, some may be impossible to employ if the community surrounding the pastor doesn’t support such a way of life.
Thanks Laura. Good response. The pastor that I mentioned, after “burning out” on pastoral ministry found a new profession in Christian education, first at a university and then as a literary agent. In fact, he is one of the best in USA in what he does and has a wonderful family and a great life.
Fantastic tips. I would add having some people to talk things through helps a lot in any walk of life.
I found this post via my twitter feed and it was a timely and perfect word, particularly the “4-yr process” which I relate to (with the exception of “yr 2 – you can do no right” – which I don’t entirely get; as far as we are concerned we are still “doing no wrong” maintaining patience, poise, and non-reactivity) but we are def @ the threshold of yr 3 where toxic elements are leaving and we are holding our ground.
I’ve reflected on this with my wife and we see a similar pattern in other pastor’s lives; a good fraction will leave and then the true work begins; the church finally takes off when the nay-sayers and harmful elements make their exit. Of course we wish it otherwise, being the good shepherds we are, but it is inevitable. Something must go.
I too have a friend / mentor who was in Christian education (per Laura’s comment above) coming out of pastoral ministry after decades in one place. It seems the first 5 were brutal, as he would regale us students with his battle wounds. Ironically, he came out of Christian education, (teaching @ Regent College in Vancouver) to take a pastorate again, in his later years – only to go thru the same first 5-yr grind again. My heart goes out to him.
If it were up to me I would stay in one pastorate my entire career. Fade off into the sunset, or take up work in my later years with the denomination or in education or coaching or something. But one should not have to go thru the gauntlet again and again. Endurance (Hebrews 6 & 10) is definitely needed. Good word.
Great post Andrew. What about support? Surely one of the keys to longevity is having a group of people, your senders, who vouch to keep you accountable and provide practical and financial support?
Also, Stewardship have some good resources on getting the financial side of things in order, so that that is never a reason for leaving after the third year. Would be interested to know what you think of them: http://www.stewardship.org.uk/resources/finance-for-living
Another one is First year the people get to know you; Second year, you get to know the people; Third year, you get to know each other. That’s when the real challenges start. These are all interesting little suggestions with bits of truth. Tony Evans once opened a pastor’s conference asking, “Wouldn’t the ministry be great if it wasn’t for the people?” He got a good laugh and then made his point with force about being shepherds of God’s flock. It’s important to have a clear biblical vision of God’s call when times get rough. Check out this brief summary:http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2011/08/30/so-you-want-to-be-a-pastor-2/
another story. On the first sunday at one of the churches I pastored, I was tempted to pull out a killer sermon and reward the church for their wise choice of me. Then I realized I would be obligated to match it every Sunday and . . . knowing my compulsive self, beat it. Hello burnout!!!! So I decided to drop a normal somewhat boring one on them and that gave me freedom for the next 3 years to do my best, and occasionally pull out a ripper, but not to feel like i had to compete with myself.
know what i mean????
9) have some secret agents praying
ps. Hopefully, i’ll see you in a few months dude!