Finishing Well: Keys to Pastoral Sustainability
Seminary can’t prepare you for everything you will face in the pastorate. How is that for stating the obvious? Seminary primarily educates and prepares you for understanding and communicating God’s word. Over the length of my pastoral career (40 years), it has become obvious that we need more training and skill in interpersonal relationships and organizational leadership and development. A few courses can’t adequately prepare you for the realities you will face in these two critical areas. Unfortunately, when faced with these difficult challenges, some pastors become disillusioned, disappointed and discouraged. Sadly, that leads to their departure from pastoral ministry. Others may not consider leaving the pastorate, but they think about changing churches. Sometimes this can be the right move, but not always. It may be a way to get out from under the current pressure or avoid the conflict they are experiencing. The church I founded and pastored for the past 19 years is going through a major transition. Due to a terminal medical diagnosis, I had to resign and they began a search for my successor. At first, we posted the need through an on line church staffing service. What an eye-opener! Within one month we received over 200 resumes. Some were in their current church less than two years and a few less than six months. In response to the question, “Why do you want to leave your current church to come to Faith Community?” Answers ranged from, 60
“I want to live in Florida,” to “I looked at your website and I am the perfect fit for you.” So, there are a lot of pastors on the move. My concern for pastoral sustainability became acute about two years ago. Within one week I talked to three pastor friends who decided their only option was to leave the pastorate. One felt this way after 23 years. He could not take any more criticism, conflict and subversive opposition. He was deeply depressed and in need of counseling. The second was leaving after six years. He went into a traditional church that said they wanted change. But such was not the case. Wanting change and experiencing change are two very different things. The resistance wore him out and he could see no other way but to leave the pastorate all together. The third planted a church but after eight years he was disillusioned. The church wasn’t what he dream of. He closed the church and pursued a different career. What these men faced is not unusual. You may have heard some shocking statistics of pastors leaving the ministry. Thankfully, most of them are exaggerated. Pastors are not leaving in droves though there is enough departure to be of concern. What can help pastors sustain their ministries over the long haul? Let me suggest two broad areas that I have seen neglected and at times have neglected myself.
By Glenn Stewart
When the apostle Paul gave his farewell address to the Ephesian elders he exhorted them to, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood,” (Acts 20:28, ESV). Notice, taking care of self comes before attending to the flock. One of the maxims I share often is, “You can’t do good unless you are doing well.” Pastors must be healthy if they are to lead a healthy church. The following are three key areas of self-care.
• Spiritual formation
How is your spiritual life? Not, how is your preaching, sermon study or small group preparation? How is your personal soul feeding time with God? At one church I pastored, the church board needed a spiritual transformation. They viewed themselves as a corporate board and not as a spiritual body to care for God’s people. So, we spent time focusing on our own spiritual growth and each month we shared where we were in reading God’s word and how we were applying it to our lives. One of the men began to call me on his break at work and ask, “Pastor, where are you reading the word today and what are you taking away for your life?” That was encouraging and eventually three or four men took that kind of interest. They wanted their pastor to have a vital, personal walk with God. This is essential if you are to stay healthy.