Being a pastor in 2023 means that we have to work on our own godly selves as much as we work on the ministry so that we have the courage and the strength to persevere.
It’s like we have four buckets to fill to find ministry success.
Research from a 2021 Lifeway survey reports that:
- 63% of pastors feel that their role is frequently overwhelming
- 50% of pastors reported that they often feel that the demands of ministry are greater than they can handle
- Over one in four agree that their church has experienced significant conflict this year and
- 90% of pastors agree that they consistently listen for signs of conflict in their church.
Just like Moses. Think about the ministry trial he faced in Exodus 32 when he came down the mountain and discovered the people worshipping a golden calf — that Aaron, his brother and ministry partner, had made!
Moses persevered because of his face-to-face conversations with God.
While we can’t talk with God face-to-face like Moses did, we can put all of our ministry hard work into one bucket, and also pay attention to three other important buckets: our private walk with Jesus, our character, and our relational interactions.
It’s filling all four of those buckets that makes it possible for us to persist in ministry. Let’s take a closer look at four buckets pastors need to fill so that we can persevere, and succeed, in ministry for the rest of our lives.
The 4 Buckets of a Successful Pastor
1. Spiritual Practices
As you know, your spiritual practices are your rhythm of spiritual habits that keep your personal relationship with Jesus fresh. Then you can minister fruitfully out of a full heart and a living faith.
It gets tricky for pastors because our private spiritual life is on display and we’re judged for it. When what is private becomes public it’s easy to forget about the private and think it’s only our public demonstration of faith that matters. And that leads to a heart that loses its first love for Jesus.
Our spiritual practices give us a pace for our private walk with Jesus.
A chorus of mentors tell us why spiritual practices must be a personal priority in our lives:
Spiritual disciplines help us to train our desires, so that we seek God above all else.” ~ Ruth Haley Barton
Through spiritual disciplines, we create space for God to work in our lives and shape us into His image.” ~ Richard J. Foster
Spiritual disciplines enable us to break free from the distractions of the world and focus our hearts on eternity.” ~ Timothy Keller
What spiritual disciplines do you practice? My favorites are Bible Study, worship, prayer, solitude, sabbath, Scripture memory, and retreat. But I’d like to do them better.
Richard Foster, in his classic, Celebration of Discipline, lists: meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, and worship.
Ruth Haley Barton, in a broader look at spiritual practices in her book Sacred Rhythms: Arranging our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, lists these practices: solitude, silence, sabbath, discernment, lectio divina, prayer of examen, rule of life, hospitality, generosity, and self-care.
Are you satisfied or are there changes you would like to make in your spiritual habits? Simply making a new plan helps you have more spiritual discipline which helps you keep your love for Jesus fresh and growing.
2. Character Strengths
Traits like persistence, integrity, and the fruit of the Spirit, mixed with your personality and spiritual gifts give you character to draw on to pastor with inner strength.
Here are some strong character traits mentioned in the Bible:
- Integrity: The one who lives with integrity lives securely, but whoever perverts his ways will be found out. ~ Proverbs 10:9
- Courage: Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. ~ Joshua 1:9
- Humility: Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. ~ James 4:10
- Perseverance: Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. ~ Romans 5:3-4
- Self-control: Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. ~ Titus 1:8
You can become more aware of the strengths you possess with a modern-day personality assessment like StrengthsFinder, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or the DISC Assessment. There are others, too, that are valid assessments like the Five-Factor model and the Hogan Personality Inventory.
Your spiritual gifts play into your character strengths because your gifts are the things the Holy Spirit has empowered you to do well for the building up of the body of Christ. They are different from character because they are what you do, not who you are, but they belong in this discussion because they make what you do strong. Your spiritual gifts are strengths in your ministry life.
My wife tells me that I have a titanium core. I guess that’s the strength inside me that has caused me to persist for 30 years at my church. Building up your mighty inner strength (Ephesians 3:16) will help you refuse to quit when it seems the easy out.
3. Relationship Skills
Develop your relationship and communication skills, and you will see your family and church life improve as you naturally interact with thoughtful wisdom.
Let’s start with your emotional intelligence. Daniel Goleman made the concept popular in his book, Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ.
Goleman on managing our feelings,
“It might seem at first that our feelings are obvious; more thoughtful reflection reminds us at times we have been all too oblivious to what we really felt about something, or awoke to these feelings late in the game.
This awareness of emotions is the fundamental emotional competence on which others, such as emotional self-control, build.”
Self-awareness is the key according to Goleman and his fellow thinkers. Self-aware people naturally recognize their emotions and are able to process them sooner… before they act on them, and get themselves into trouble.
Beyond emotional intelligence, other relationship skills include active listening, conflict resolution, empathy, non-verbal insight, and a growth mindset.
If you want to learn more about relationship skills, Ken Sande leads an organization called Relational Wisdom that offers courses that will help build relational skills for you and your staff.
4. Ministry Expertise
We put most of our personal development attention on collecting ministry competencies like preaching and leading, but somehow it’s never enough. We still have problems and our churches don’t grow.
Ministry expertise is more than the competencies of being a pastor. It’s the wisdom that comes with learning, experience, and reflection so that with broad knowledge you can do the right things to see your church grow.
- We read, go to conferences, and listen to podcasts to gain information.
- We try things at our church and see what works and what doesn’t.
- We evaluate, and think and pray about what to do and how to improve our ministry.
- With time we become more capable. We gain expertise. We know what to do to get a good outcome. We can do things that lead our churches to grow.
If you’re not there yet, it’s because you need time and intentional practice. There’s Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours to mastery, but remember that it is 10,000 hours of good practice. Running aimlessly around the same track doesn’t get you to expertise.
Good practice is when you are 1) self-aware about wanting mastery, and 2) you have opportunity to learn and grow.
Do you have a plan for increasing your ministry expertise? It’s why I offer my mentoring program, ChurchEngines. It’s a program for pastors to gain broad knowledge about leading a growing church in the context of their practice and reflection.
There’s four buckets, pastor, to fill to find lasting success in your ministry.
- Your Spiritual Practices
- Your Character Strengths
- Your Relationship Skills
- Your Ministry Expertise
Find something easy to fill up this week. If you are spiritually dry, choose to renew your spiritual habits first so you draw near to Jesus (James 4: 7) and deepen your first love for him.
Then take some time in the next week to think about how to fill up your other buckets.
Blessings on you, Pastor!
- Why your Success will Follow your Faithfulness
- ChurchEngines Academy: A Proven System to Grow a Better, Bigger Church with Systems, Salvations, and Joyful Confidence
Start Here to learn more about the resources available for you at PastorMentor.