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.
Not long ago, my worship was radically changed, for the better. It was not because I was listening to better music or singing more songs, instead it was because of the way I sang the songs. Rather than singing just words on a JumboTron screen, I began to pray with a singing voice.
This is not a new idea by any means. For the past 2000 years, followers of Christ have sung songs that were rich in theology and they did so with the idea that the songs were psalms that were meant to be prayed. I just feel many of us may have lost this somewhere along the way as music and songs have been reduced to a “set” or a “list”. It’s what we do before the really important stuff like preaching and teaching happens. It has become a warm-up when it was meant to be the fire.
What if the song list became a prayer list? What if worship pastors paid attention and called attention to what God was doing among the people and then responded with selections that guided the congregation into prayer, reflection, and declarations of truth? Suddenly the fellowship is not a crowd waiting to be wowed, but a spiritual force praying in unity for what God is doing on the earth at that moment, at that very time.
I imagine more people would arrive early instead of showing up halfway through the “opening act.” Worship pastors and senior pastors would be required to meet and pray, and then listen. Then maybe, the song list would become prophetic anthems, speaking encouragement, comfort and strength to followers who are desperate for a cup of cold water.
Let’s arrive early for the next gathering intent on singing only words that we really believe. Let’s trust that praying in unity with a singing voice really matters.
“Be responsive to your pastoral leaders. Listen to their counsel. They are alert to the condition of your lives and work under the strict supervision of God. Contribute to the joy of their leadership, not its drudgery. Why would you want to make things harder for them?” Hebrews 13:17 MSG
I wonder if I brought joy to the pastors I served when I was a staff member. I wonder if I am a joy to the Overseers and Elders who lead me now. I sure want to contribute to the joy of their leadership, not its drudgery. What can all of us do better to make sure we are more responsive to the leaders in our lives?
1. Pray for them always.
2. Find ways to shoulder the burden. What can I do to take stress off them? Is there something they are doing that I can do for them.
3. Show up on time. Their time is important and so is mine. Let’s honor each other’s time.
4. Only complain when we have some solutions to offer.
5. Give them grace when they do not recognize my good work. They will see my success in due time.
6. Give them sincere compliments when they do a good job. They probably feel overlooked sometimes, too.
7. Don’t listen to gossip about them. Spread good news about them. Brag on them and you won’t gossip about them.
8. Bring innovative ideas to the table. Share the burden for creativity and vision.
9. Finish the tasks assigned to you ahead of time. Never need a reminder about a deadline missed.
10. Ask for their counsel before you make a big decision. Your trust in their wisdom means a lot to them.