In Resilient Ministry: What Pastors Told Us About Surviving and Thriving, authors Bob Burns, Tasha D. Chapman, and Donald C. Guthrie ask:
What does it take for pastors not only to survive but to thrive in fruitful ministry over the long haul?
Their study examined 5 areas:
- Spiritual Formation;
- Emotional and Cultural Intelligence;
- Marriage and Family;
- Leadership and Management.
Unfortunately their study drew only on married male pastors and their wives, so I decided to answer the authors’ question for myself.
How have I managed to thrive as a pastor?
Two years ago, I responded on my writing blog with My 22 Best Practices in 22 Years of Pastoral Ministry, and each year since then I’ve added another practice in another short article (13 Best Practices for a Healthy and Happy Sabbatical and What is the Secret to Flourishing?).
Today I’m gathering them together in one re-edited list for When You Work for the Church–some more over-arching concepts and others more specific life hacks, all based on my experience working for the church. Below are my best practices so far for surviving and thriving in church ministry.
1. Do what you love.
Long before I ever thought of being a pastor, I loved to plan worship, preach, and connect with people of all ages. What a delight then to be called to do what I love!
2. Share ministry and leadership.
Long before my congregation called me, they were a multi-voice congregation, with the pastor preaching just twice a month, and I’ve continued that practice. As much as I love ministry, I also love to give it away.
By hand, on a device, or just in your head, find space to reflect on Scripture, pray, write poetry, dream, rant, debrief.
4. Have a great support system.
Including but not limited to a support group designated by your church or organization, plus family, friends, colleagues. One time when my husband was asked what he thought of my being a pastor, he replied, “She’s the best pastor of any church I’ve been a part of.” (and yes, he preaches on occasion, and shares the cooking and dishes at home too!).
This might seem obvious, but never take prayer for granted.
6. Read Scripture.
Not just for sermon preparation, leading a Bible study, or teaching a Sunday school class, but for the sheer joy of Scripture. If the Word doesn’t move and transform me, how can I possibly share it in a way that moves and transforms others?
7. Aim to arrive a few minutes early for any appointments.
Instead of rushing to make it just in time, use the extra moments to gather your thoughts, pray, organize your schedule, take some deep breaths, or just spend some time in silence. I find I’m better prepared for whatever follows, and true confession, last time I arrived early for an appointment, I straightened up the back seat of my car which was sorely in need of attention.
8. Eat healthy.
Last night I made sole with black bean sauce, corn, rice, and a cabbage/kale salad. The night before, supper was brown rice noodles, tofu, and sui choy.
9. Be physically active.
I’m not as consistent with this as I’d like to be, but my mostly-on-but-sometimes-off work-out includes step aerobics and/or walking, plus free weights.
10. Get a good night’s sleep.
11. Track your time.
In ministry, it’s easy to blur the lines so it feels like you’re always working even when you’re not. Tracking time can clarify boundaries and make room for Sabbath time, which benefits both work, family life, and personal time.
Everyone makes mistakes, and it’s better to ‘fess up than cover up. Instead of being defensive and refusing to take responsibility, you’ll gain the respect of others and sleep better too.
13. Invest in on-going learning.
When I began as a pastor, I had no training or experience in pastoral care, so I focused all of my professional development there. Now I put more even weight on biblical/theological learning and the more practical nuts and bolts of ministry.
Taking risks on new initiatives is a form of learning by doing. Our first attempt at church planting in another community didn’t last long, but with our Vietnamese ministry we’re now moving ahead more strongly by planting a church within our church.
15. Go home for lunch.
I live just a few minutes from the church, so if I don’t have a lunch meeting or errands, I go home for a mental stretch break, do a small chore like unloading the dishwasher, or play the piano (badly and for therapeutic reasons, I might add).
16. Take all of your eligible vacation time.
43% of working Canadians don’t take all of their annual vacation days. I am not one of them.
17. Hold ministry lightly.
In one of my journals, I started a list of jobs I could do other than working for the church–college teaching (which I did before being called to pastoral ministry), temporary office work (also a pre-pastorate job), real estate agent (although I’d have to study for that), working in a book store (once my dream job), and more.
18. Don’t start your office day by responding to email.
It’s too easy to get drawn into other people’s agenda instead of focusing on my ministry priorities. Instead, I usually start by checking in with other staff, then turn to my key tasks for the day. I rarely find God’s priority for me to be email.
19. Have a sense of humor.
“Oh, so you’re a woman pastor?” said a first-time visitor. “Are there more of you in the Mennonite Church?” Well no, there’s just one of me, but yes, I’m glad there are other women in pastoral ministry in my own denomination and beyond.
20. Develop a thick skin.
“We don’t like it when women come in and try to change everything,” said one man who apparently disapproved of women as pastors. “Well we don’t like it when men do that either!” retorted his wife. Fortunately I was only a guest speaker at their church.
21. Have a life apart from the church.
While I’m fully engaged in the life of my congregation, I write and have a social and family life apart from the church too. That’s healthy for all of us.
If your church or Christian organization allows for sabbatical or study leave time, what are you waiting for? If not, consider whether the time is right to talk about developing a policy. My regular study leaves have helped keep me fresh as part of a strategy for long-term ministry.
23. Discover a sense of wonder again and again.
When I started pastoring, one of my biggest fears was that I might become cynical about the church. Certainly some of what I’ve seen and experienced has disappointed and dismayed me, but as I’ve become more deeply involved, I’ve also found a deeper compassion for our woundedness and a greater wonder at God’s grace.
24. Run to Jesus.
Early in my ministry, I met regularly with my then conference minister, and I still remember his counsel, “When you feel like running, then run to Jesus.”
Which of these resonates with you?
What best practice can you share from your own experience?
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