Pastor, how do you stay strong for the long haul? These personal practices for pastors will help you thrive for a lifetime of ministry.
Of all the factors that go into the making of a healthy church, the pastor’s personal health, growth and well-being are at the top. Healthy churches have healthy pastors and growing churches have growing pastors. There’s a one-for-one correlation.
So, pastor, how can you “run with endurance the race marked out for you”? (Heb. 12:1). 40 years of experience have shown me nine habits I must maintain in my personal life if I’m going to keep growing and remain healthy.
1. Walk with God.
Your personal relationship with God is the most important resource you bring to your ministry.
Whenever a member of my church asks, “Pastor, how can I pray for you?” I always answer, “Pray that I walk with God and hear His voice.”
This one practice is so important, it may trump all the others, combined.
In spite of His divinity, Jesus knew this was so important, He practiced it Himself.
Mark 1 records a day when Jesus expended incredible energy in ministry. After preaching the sermon at the First Synagogue of Capernaum, casting a demon out of a parishioner, healing the hostess of His luncheon, and laboring from sundown till midnight healing and casting out more demons, Mark 1:36 says that instead of sleeping in, Jesus sought time with the Father.
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he got up, went out, and made his way to a deserted place; and there he was praying” (Mark 1:35). Jesus believed that close connection to the Father was more important than bodily rest.
Walking with God, knowing Him well, hearing His voice, and gaining His perspective on things are so important, they ought to be in your job description. Schedule time with Him every day. Embed it in your calendar so only the greatest emergency can keep you from it daily.
2. Nurture Your Family.
Your family is your first ministry. The most important person for you to love and care for in your church is your spouse (Eccl. 9:9). Second only to her are your children.
If I can paraphrase 1 Timothy 3:4, “If you lose your family, you lose your ministry.”
One nice thing about the pastorate is that you can work anytime. Which also means, you can work all the time. But don’t!
Use the flexibility of your schedule to be at as many games and performances of your children as possible.
And schedule special times with your family like you do with the Father. Book those times six weeks out so nothing gets in front of them. Put thought and effort into family time.
- What would fill your wife’s emotional tank? What speaks her love language?
- What does your son need exposure to? Where can you help him?
- What would delight your daughter? How can you teach her how a man should treat her?
- What kind of vacation is age-appropriate for the whole family? What can you afford that will broaden their world, deepen their love for God, bond you together, and build a life-long memory?
Pastor, your ideal schedule is: mornings with God, afternoons with the church, and evenings with the family. This won’t be able to happen every day, but it’s a great blueprint.
3. Develop a Few Healthy Friendships.
As iron sharpens iron, so one friend sharpens another.
Friends are different from church members. Friends are peers who don’t have a horse in your race. Everyone needs 2-3 close friends. Hopefully, one of those close friends is your spouse, and the other two are members of your gender.
Cultivate a few friendships with other pastors. If you made a good friend in Bible college or seminary, hold onto that friend. Over the decades, it will prove worth the effort to stay in touch.
Your best match will be pastors of churches your same size, but not in the same city. Like all humans, pastors have a tendency to compare and compete.
Those who pastor churches of similar size will likely be experiencing problems similar to yours. Pastors who live an hour or more away from you won’t be competing for the same congregants you are.
In times of need, you want a friend who does not have a horse in your race.
If you’re a staff pastor, you’ll be able to find friends in your congregation. For the senior pastor, finding a peer in your church who sharpens and inspires you is rare. It can happen, but at some point, it’s likely that this friend will have an opinion about your performance, or a personal need that requires your professional services. At that point he or she will switch from being a friend to being your employer or customer.
4. Maintain Your Health.
Your body is the only tool you have with which to do ministry. Keep it in shape!
Being in shape and in weight enables you to think better, work better, sleep better and feel better. Long before there were neighborhood fitness clubs, the Apostle Paul recognized the cross-over that comes from disciplining your body: “I beat my body,” he says, “and make it my slave,” so I won’t be disqualified from the prize” (1 Cor. 9:27).
Saying no to excess food and yes to exercise builds your willpower. Willpower is a weak mechanism, but it can be strengthened by practice. Exercise yours!
5. Avoid Unseemliness.
A good name is more desirable than great riches;
to be esteemed is better than silver or gold. Pr. 22:1
As a pastor, your reputation is your ticket to trust. Keep it clean, and you speak with authority. Lose it, and you lose your ministry.
Billy Graham made it a habit never to get in an elevator alone with a member of the opposite sex. He knew any accusation could shipwreck his ministry, so he guarded his good name like a Doberman pinscher.
Everyone is tempted. Avoid tempting situations. Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Pr. 4:23
If you’re struggling with a personal weakness, especially a sexual or financial one, enlist an accountability partner to keep you from falling.
6. Endure Hardship.
Hardship is part of the human condition. “In this world you will have suffering,” Jesus said. And then He reminded us that we can overcome suffering because He had overcome it for us (Jn. 16:33).
Look at this list:
- Abraham endured 25 years of waiting for a promised child that seemed would never come.
- Joseph suffered slavery at the hands of his brothers.
- Moses experienced isolation in the backside of the wilderness.
- David’s own sons rebelled against him.
“Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:3).
“As for you, exercise self-control in everything, endure hardship…” (2 Tim. 4:5).
“Endure hardship as discipline, God is treating you as sons” (Heb. 12:7).
Jesus suffered. Peter suffered. Paul suffered. John suffered. If you think for some reason you won’t suffer, you will almost always be discouraged. If you expect suffering and entrust your pain to the Lord, you will make a good minister.
7. Grow in Grace and Knowledge.
“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).
Growing Christians become more gracious over time. It comes from walking with the Spirit, which results in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).
Growing Christians continue to know God better and know more about God because they meet with Him, study His word, and read stretching Christian content, like theology and church history.
Every pastor should have a plan for personal growth. Every pastor ought to have a reading list of books that will add to their knowledge. Every pastor ought to have a long-distance mentor or two they’re learning from, by reading what they write, or listening to their podcasts or sermons. Every pastor ought to figure out how to learn from conferences and roundtables and denominational training opportunities. Every pastor ought to spend a few days at the end of each year reviewing the lessons they have learned and compiling a list of learning opportunities they will participate in in the coming year.
There are no plateaus in personal growth. You’re either going forward, or backward.
8. Practice Biblical Stewardship.
We don’t get a lot of financial management training in seminary or Bible school, so this is something we must learn on our own. Every pastor should be as shrewd as a serpent with regard to the mammon of this world.
First, we must tithe. “Bring the whole tithe into storehouse… test me in this…” says the Lord (Mal. 3:10).
Then, we should learn how to manage our money. Dave Ramsay has a course we ought to go through, and then lead our church members through. It’s called Financial Peace University.
The best book I know on understanding generosity and faith is Robert Morris’ The Blessed Life.
A secular book that has helped me and my family is The Millionaire Next Door. It’s written by two college professors (Thomas Stanley and William Danko), who interviewed lots of millionaires who don’t look like they’re millionaires. In other words, people like you and me who have just carefully stewarded their money and become wealthy without becoming ostentatious or greedy.
9. Adopt a Mentor.
A mentor is someone who has been where you want to go and is willing to help you get there.
I’ve been a senior pastor for over 28 years now, and every year I still hire a mentor. This relationship is so valuable for me that I’m willing to spend my own money to gain the attention and wisdom of a leader who’s been farther than I have.
If you can’t find the funds for a mentor, adopt one inexpensively by finding a pastor you admire and spending the year reading everything he’s written, and watching or listening to lots of what he’s taught or preached.
Timothy was a fairly young and new pastor when Paul told him, “What you have heard from me… commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). Every minister is part of this chain. Someone taught a faithful man, who taught a faithful man, who taught a faithful man, who could be teaching you.
Mentor someone, and the experience transfer will inspire and stretch you. Be mentored, and the same will happen, on a different level. None of us know what we don’t know. Enlist some eyes that can see those things and reveal them to you.
Pastor, your personal life is what will make or break your ministry. Invest it in with these life-long practices and they will serve you well!
My course might be right for you:
- Why your Success will Follow your Faithfulness
- How to be a Church Leader who is a Better, Faster Reader
- Mentoring for Pastors: How to Find the Right Mentor at the Right Time
- 7 Reasons to Start a Pastors’ Roundtable Retreat
Start Here to learn more about the resources available for you at PastorMentor.