It’s hard to underestimate the impact of traveling around the world to spend time with people. From my perspective, I feel rather insignificant and ask myself, “Who am I?” From their perspective it’s “Oh my gosh. You have spent money to be here, you have taken your time to be with us, and you care about us.” Ministering to 30 people sounds so insignificant, but on the other level it’s not. Some of them will go on for the next 50 or 60 years to share the gospel, minister to people and make a tremendous impact in the lives of tens of thousands of people! It is such a privilege to serve them.
The ministry of a pastor in many ways is 24/7. You’re always on: Preaching inspiring sermons, leading with a compelling vision, managing effective strategic planning, building a healthy staff team, raising money, performing funerals, making hospital visits, counseling, confronting critical issues, absorbing criticism and engaging in ongoing learning. The demand is relentless.
And in our culture we idolize hard work. Many people in ministry are burning out or flaming out [moral failure]. It’s an epidemic. Over time people [in ministry] keep doing what is right, but they don’t have passion anymore. They are working out of fear. They feel stuck and wonder, What else am I going to do? I never want to just go through the motions. I want to have passion!
An assistant pastor described the ministry culture he used to work in by telling me, “My former senior pastor isolated the staff from each other and kept each of us dependent on him.”
Have you ever worked in an environment like that? How about one where the team leader was prickly and unapproachable? Or one where people used what they knew of you to control you. Or one where a staff divided into warring factions?
There are lots of ways to describe unhealthy team cultures—toxic, crushing, dysfunctional, draining, demoralizing—cultures that drive people away from you and pit them against each other. But how do you build the opposite?
In the Gospel of Mark, we hear the incredible story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. Leading up to this event, Jesus and His disciples were in the midst of intensive training and ministry. What did Jesus promise the disciples after a very busy season of healing and teaching? Get away and rest. Did they get it? No and yes.
In Mark 6:31, the author gives a key detail to illustrate the disciples’ need for rest: they had no leisure even to eat (ESV). This already-weary group stepped away with Jesus for rest only to be greeted by another large crowd. And what was their concern with this crowd? Send them away for food. We can’t host them.
Ministry leaders are particularly vulnerable to feeling compelled to present a sparkling “public ministry persona.” It’s not easy to admit that the things we promote (desiring God, pursuing godliness, loving others, etc.) are sometimes the very things with which we struggle. If Papa John ate and enjoyed another brand of pizza would he own up to it? Do we expect financial advisors to disclose previous investment mistakes? Probably not.
Every ministry leader -- whether young or mature -- must lead well, and this often includes navigating through the complexities of multiple transitions as God brings changes, challenges, growth, and even retirement. There are four critical areas a leader must address in order to transition well: Identity, fears, leadership style, and preparation. These challenges have the potential to sabotage you and your ministry unless you intentionally and proactively address them.