The last few years have been filled with news of famous ministry leaders who are falling morally, abusing finances and leading by intimidation . I can't think of a time, other than the Swaggert/Bakker scandals of the 1980's, where more ministry leaders have fallen in some swirl of ethical disgrace.
But, for every leader that falls morally, there are ten who burn out emotionally and spiritually. I've seen far more ministry leaders leave the ministry out of discouragement than disgrace.
So how do we keep from being another ministry statistic? How do we finish well?
Although my race is not yet completed, God has blessed me to have been in ministry for 30 years. This week marked the 30 year anniversary of a church I co-planted and co-pastored for ten years before launching into Dare 2 Share full-time. Over the last three decades of starting a local church as well as a global ministry, God has given me a few insights into some of the keys to longevity in ministry.
Here are four of them:
1. Take care of your body.
I know this may seem like "carnal" thinking, but taking care of our bodies is vastly underestimated by many ministry leaders. After all your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit according to 1 Corinthians 6:19,20. For the first five years of my ministry experience I had allowed the temple God had loaned me to become a mess.
By the time I was 28 years old I had ballooned to almost 225 pounds of mostly mushy fat weight. Not only did I have a weight problem, I also had a "wait" problem. I thought I'd just "wait" to get in shape when I had more time. Besides, I was too busy taking care of important "spiritual" matters to address the "worldly" focus of my own personal fitness.
But one day I realized that my lack of health was impacting my ability to work hard over a sustained period of time. I had to take what I came to nickname "fat naps" during the day and was often crabby to my wife at night. Concerned friends confronted me and, finally convinced me to do something about it. Over the course of several months, through hard work and exercise, I pushed my weight below 200 pounds.
By God's grace (and through a ton of sweat-drenched exercises) I now weigh 185 pounds and am probably in the best shape of my adult life. As a result I have the energy to do the work of a traveling evangelist with a relentless schedule.
So, as I challenge you to do something about your own personal fitness, I want you to know I relate. And I know the challenge before you...because that same challenge was/is before me. Eat healthy, sleep well, drink water and work out. Take care of the temple. It will help make you more fit for the ministry challenges ahead.
2. Take care of your soul.
Are you spending consistent time in the Word and prayer? Do you listen to music and podcasts that minister to your soul? Are you walking in a day-by-day, moment-by-moment declaration of dependence on the Holy Spirit? Do you take time to reflect and to rest?
But, in the midst of the busyness, I find time to get away to pray, to read Scripture and to meditate on God's truth. Without this time I couldn't operate. Without this time I would burn out.
I've also found creative ways to combine taking care of my soul with taking care of my body. For instance, I often work out while listening to podcasts from great preachers like Chuck Swindoll and Charles Spurgeon. I can build my soul muscle, my brain muscle and my body muscles all at the same time.
For me, my time alone with God usually begins at 5 am. It's my quiet time. Before my wife and kids I get up because, for me, it's my best time to dive into the Scriptures, reflect on life and pray.
Of course, when I'm on the road I make adjustments. If I get to bed late then I'll make sure I get enough sleep (if possible) but I always try to keep my time with God (as well as my exercise routine) consistent.
Take care of your soul. Never forsake your time with God. Improvise, adapt and overcome if your schedule is hectic, but prioritize it. If you want to keep from burning out then take time to care for your soul by spending time with the only One who can energize it with divine energy (Colossians 1:29.)
3. Take care of your relationships.
This has not always been easy for me. My early years of ministry were defined by marital conflict and relational frustration. I often left my wife high and dry emotionally during my ministry travels and this led to tons of arguments and tension.
In the early years of my marriage I subconsciously assumed that, because I was out "saving the world" ,that gave me some sort of pass to be an emotionally present husband. After being confronted in a Bible study 25 years ago or so, I broke down...hard. And God used that time to mark a long road of relational recovery.
With the help of Godly men and women in our church we fought through to break through as a couple. Sure, we still have tension from time to time, but we are a couple who loves each other deeply from the heart. Thank God for the power of the Gospel to redeem marriages!
But it's not just marriage relationships that need redeemed. Its the relationships between fathers and son, moms and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and enemies (remember that according to Matthew 5:43-48 we're supposed to love our enemies?)
Are you walking in bitterness or unforgiveness toward anyone? These become closed shades in the windows of our hearts that keep the light of Christ from shining in. Walking in this brand of self-imposed darkness can rob us of the spiritual Vitamin D that we need from basking in the presence of the Son.
And that can lead to burn out.
Take care of your relationships. And, finally...
4. Take care of your ministry.
"But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry." 2 Timothy 4:5
These are some of the last words of Paul to his protoge Timothy. He is reminding him to take care of all the duties of his ministry. This includes implementing ministry values like teaching God's Word, building a culture of intercessory prayer and raising up leaders who are leading in all the right ways.
When Paul told Timothy to "do the work of an evangelist" what exactly did he mean? We know from Ephesians 4:11,12 that God raises up evangelists " to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christmay be built up." An evangelist doesn't just evangelize. An evangelist equips others to evangelize.
Are you equipping your teens to evangelize? Are you modeling this with your life? Are your student and adult leaders setting the pace for your youth group?
For help in building this type of Gospel Advancing ministry check out Gospeladvancing.org then go to your favorite podcast platform and subscribe to the Gospelize with Greg Stier podcast. It will be your monthly infusion of Gospel spiciness that can keep you energizing, mobilizing and Gospelizing your teenagers.
How does taking care of your ministry (in a Gospel advancing way) help you not become a ministry statistic? The answer is simple. When you are equipping teenagers to reach their friends and watching them step out in faith you can't help but be energized for the tough times in ministry.
Just like hate and hurt became Adam Sandler's fuel in The Waterboy, evangelistic momentum and disciple multiplication can become our tackling fuel in ministry. It gives us the courage and determination to keep pounding through all the problems. Typical youth ministry done in the typical away doesn't come close to giving you the emotional horsepower you need to keep driving through the all challenges of youth ministry.
But a Gospel Advancing approach gives you tackling fuel!
Refuse to become a ministry statistic! Don't burn out, fall in sin or fade away!
Take care of your body, your soul, your relationships and your ministry. Do the work of an evangelist. Gospelize your youth ministry! And, in the power of Christ, finish well!