The Marathon of Ministry
This month marks my 21st year as pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church. I’ve been the pastor of a Baptist Church for over thirty years. That’s long enough for some younger pastors to find me and ask, “How do you do this over the long haul? How do you stay engaged and energized over the years?”
My short answer is, “You get up, go to work and do it again the next day. Before you know it, twenty years have slipped away.”
The longer answer isn’t all that much longer. You have to take care of the basics.
No matter how fast your church is growing, regardless of the demands on your time, you have to pay attention to the fundamentals of the Christian faith. That means the pastor, or any spiritual leader, has to maintain a determined discipline of prayer, Bible Study, and worship. Now, you would think that every minister does this every day. A lot of them do. However, most of the time we’re trying to get a sermon ready or prepare to lead some kind of group study. That’s different. I’m talking about Bible study for the sheer joy of studying the Bible. I’m talking about prayer for no other reason than we enjoy the presence of Christ. Worship because we love Jesus… and for no other reason.
Here’s the hard truth: ministry, however you define it is giving your life away. If ministers aren’t careful, we will give and give and give… until we have nothing left to give. Then, we implode. Ministers rarely EXplode. Most of the time, we IMplode. That is, the pressure on the outside becomes greater than the pressure on the inside and we collapse like an empty soda can. Whenever you hear of a minister involved in a public scandal, most of the time, they have neglected the fundamentals of discipleship for a long time before their scandal became public.
To survive in ministry… indeed, to thrive in ministry, we have to minister from the overflow of Christ in our lives. We can’t hold the ocean in a thimble. As we experience Christ, He wells up within like the eternal spring He promised the woman at the well in John 4. Our love for people is the overflow of Christ’s love in our own lives. Our preaching and teaching is out of the overflow of what we’re discovering on our journey as disciples.
One of the overlooked lessons in the life of Jesus was His personal discipline in prayer, study and synagogue attendance. We’re told going to the synagogue was His habit. He memorized Scripture. He would regularly disappear for long periods of prayer. His patterns of living should be our pattern as well.
This means as ministers, we have to have our priorities properly aligned. That means our relationship with Christ comes first. Then, if you’re married, your marriage comes second. If you’re a parent, your children come next and then, your ministry. Get these priorities out of order and we’ll eventually become ineffective or worse, disqualified from ministry.
By the way, I know this is not how most of our members live. They will demand you live in the same sickness they do… but we are called to preach the kingdom of God, by our lives and our words. Our lives should model the kingdom alternative to the world’s destructive narrative.
Successful ministers (successful in kingdom values) will regularly schedule prayer retreats, be engaged in private study and worship and growing daily in his or their love for Christ. Being a pastor can be a long grind. Walking closely with Christ is the only thing that makes it bearable.