The burnout rate among pastors and ministry leaders is alarmingly high but easily preventable. The number of leaders who leave ministry because of discouragement is just as high. Recently, I was talking with a long time pastor friend, and we were talking about sustainability in ministry and crossing the finish line as old pastors who still loved the church. We decided there were three crucial elements that must be present for this to happen.
1. Ministry must be for the kingdom
Our motive for everything we do must be for building God’s kingdom and not our personal church empires. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference, but if we keep our hearts honest, we will know when we are promoting ourselves instead of Jesus. Empire building is marked by a competitive drive to build bigger stuff, work harder than everyone else, and laying the expectation on your staff to do the same. Nobody can live long term under the stress of comparison and keeping up. Families crumble, marriages turn into mirages, and pastors quit out of exhaustion.
2. Ministry must be innovative
Nothing robs me of joy like being stuck in some religious church rut, shackled to traditions that are no longer fruitful. The only things that are sacred in church are the sacraments, the Scriptures, and our relationships. Everything else should be constantly evaluated. Wisdom says too much change is just as damaging as no change, so I am not advocating chaos. However, I am a fan of honest discussions about processes, events that are no longer relevant, and methods that need honing so people can be helped better. The Holy Spirit is always at work in our lives changing us on the inside so we can better accept the changes He wants to make on the outside.
3. Ministry must be done with friends
I usually hire people I like, and I do not apologize. Ministry is too difficult not to work with people that are fun and know how to laugh. They do not have to be Brady clones, and I can even tolerate people who root for teams other than the SEC. But if they do not know how to laugh and have some fun ever so often, they usually are not a part of my inner circle. For sure, they must have character and competency for the assignment, but an equally essential element for the team is chemistry. Sometimes, I say no to a possible hire because they just don’t fit in with the culture. I do that for their sake and mine. Friends make ministry sustainable for the long haul, and that’s what I want for them and me.