–October of 2004
Pastor – Save Thyself
Almost everyone knows someone who used to be in the ministry. Statistics show that for every twenty men who enter the ministry, only one will still be actively involved at the age of 65. No one goes into the ministry expecting to be a casualty. Some have to leave for health reasons. Some wash out because of personal or moral failure (approximately 20 percent are involved in inappropriate sexual behavior). Some burn out from long-term stress. Some are forced out by a church. Some walk out because of a sense of failure. Some never leave the ministry but “check out” mentally and emotionally.
Fortunately, we all know pastors who have given a lifetime of effective service to the church. They are godly men who have grown old gracefully and still serve the church in their advanced years. Is there a word of counsel that could expand their ranks?
Sound Advice from a Seasoned Veteran
Every minister ought to read the letters to Timothy at least once a quarter. The aged apostle gives young Timothy sound advice for staying on course and going the distance. I Timothy 4:16 is a verse every pastor ought to memorize. In it Paul gives a three-fold secret to succeeding.
Pay Attention to Yourself
The minister can become so focused on the public aspect of his ministry that he forgets to keep a sharp eye on his private walk with God. Paul’s advice is clear, “Take heed unto thyself.” The vast majority of ministry failures (no matter what the visible reason might be) can be traced to the neglect of the pastor’s own soul. He fails to cultivate an established pattern of private prayer, Bible study and worship. Pastors who have developed a regular pattern of personal soul care are able to work out of a spiritual fullness. When ministry flows out of a full heart, it is both satisfying and successful. But, men who try to draw water out of an empty bucket will be men that are stressed out, overwhelmed, and constantly looking for a different situation. Whenever we allow our ministry to be motivated by anything other than love for God, or empowered by anything other than His Spirit, it begins to work against us and starts the process of self-destruction. I keep a quote by James Montgomery Boice on my desk that says, “Christian service isn’t measured by the results we see from it, or even by the example we communicate by it, but what we become through it.”
Never Stop Learning
Paul knew the joys of seeing his message accepted and the sorrow of seeing it rejected. But, through it all, he continued to preach the word of God in season and out of season. Regardless of what facet of ministry we are in, we are obligated to clearly, accurately, and persistently communicate Biblical truth. For this to happen, the minister must be constantly learning. He must continue to expand his knowledge of the Bible and all related subjects that enable him to remain fresh and effective. One of the dangers of ministry is that it can keep you from learning. Expanding buildings and activities is much easier than expanding your soul and growing your mind. But to fail here is to fail altogether. Shallow ministers and shallow ministries are the seedbed for emotionalism, liberalism, legalism, and all sorts of heresy.
Just Keep Doing It
Those who have been in ministry for some time understand the temptation to throw in the towel, especially when the problems are large, the crowd is small, and the benefits of leaving seem to outweigh those of staying. But, there is something to be said for just hanging in there and being faithful to preach the Word.
The words of the old apostle seem to lack the smoothness and charm that twenty-first century ears prefer, but if you will simply follow them you will “save yourself, and them that hear thee.”