Recently, I was coaching a pastor in Louisiana and he was telling me of all he was doing—incredibly wonderful things—but it was a lot. I expressed my concern for his marriage, his family, and his personal health, and then I said something that I’ve said to many a fellow pastor:
"I want you to last. There are other men who can help coach you in ways of growing a church and preaching well and planting—but that’s not my role here. I am here to help you last—to finish well. Those other coaches can help with all that; I just want to help you stay qualified so that their coaching is relevant. I want you on the field. They can help “draw up plays,” I just want you to be qualified to be in the game."
All too often, we put so much stress on the role of the pastor—and that’s fine to a degree—but it's importnat we do all we can to help pastors remain qualified and in the game. It seems that every week another pastor taps out, gives up, or disqualifies himself. I have folder in my Gmail account labeled “CLOSED CHURCHES” and I’m tired of clicking and dropping emails into that folder. I’m tired of it. I hate that. Regardless of what “tribe” the pastor may be from, I hate it. But what are we—you—going to do to ensure that you don’t have to send that email out to your friends and family? What are you doing today to help you stay in it for the long run?
I’ve heard it said that good leaders ask, "Will it work?", but great leaders ask, "Will it last?" Sure, what you're doing now may work, and you’ve probably placed your current pace into the category of a “season,” but it is really lasting 12-16 weeks. You’re not in a season—let’s be honest, this is life. So what needs to change or be tweaked to see that you’ll last? One of the best people to answer that question is your wife. So ask her. Go. Ask her. She’ll probably feel radically loved by you for simply asking her such an honest question. But receive what she says. Don’t shoot down her counsel and advice; she’s probably right.
In addition to this, and first and foremost, believe the gospel. You’ll be fit to last in life and ministry as you continue to believe and hope in the gospel, reminding yourself of the truth found therein. You'll grow as you respond to the truth of God’s love for you, while no longer working to get God to love you.
You can learn to live in your new identity in Christ, where you find you’re perfectly valued, loved, and cherished so that you don’t have to seek out your worth through stuff, money, recognition, personal pleasure, or relationships. There is no longer any allure found in fame, re-tweets, pastor-comparison, and so forth! In the gospel, we find the answer to our question of: "Am I enough?"
You see, we won’t last when we’re constantly looking for value and identity apart from the gospel. When you’re convinced of the its truth—preaching it to yourself often each day—you will be set free. And this freedom plays a vital role in helping you last.
You’ll be freer from the stronghold of pornography, from ministry envy, from trying to match up with that guy’s social media likes, and freer from over-working because you’re scared of not being accepted by your people or scared of disappointing them. You'll even be freer from the concern of trying to be impressive when compared to so many wonderful pastors who get quoted by those in your church more often than you.
The gospel frees you to pastor your people and not to be merely re-tweeted. You’re able to love those in your church and not use them as a means of feeling more important or significant.
Practically speaking, here are a few things you can do to help reorient your life around what's most important:
- Put your phone and computer away when you drop your car keys when you get home.
- Go home early.
- Have fun every day. Do something enjoyable everyday that has little-to-nothing to do with your ministry calling.
- Unplug and rest for 24 hours every week. God calls this Sabbath.
- Every month or so, get away for an overnight stay somewhere—maybe take your wife. Consider camping, a retreat center, an out-of-state friend’s home, a hotel if your wife can go. A break from the routine is the idea.
- Eat less and eat “cleaner”, i.e. more color in your food. Also, work out a few times a week—even if it’s just walking. Build this into your weekly rhythm.
- Pace yourself. Create extra margin for phone calls and emailing so you wont be so behind or pressed for time.
The gospel has, in part, allowed me to better pace myself and not be too concerned with what others think of me—even those on my staff. A few weeks ago, I told the staff at our church:
“Guys, you’re getting the worst of me right now. There’s a lot more I want to do, more I want to create and lead, but I’m a husband and right now I’m a daddy to a 14, 12, 10, 5 year old. I am coaching sports and attending meetings. I’m helping with homework and throwing football. In just a few short years, I’ll be involved more, but for now—I’m giving you the worst I’ll ever be.”
By God’s grace, our staff gets it. It's part of the culture I’ve worked hard to create, based on failure experienced in previous churches. It’s just not worth sacrificing your health or family or marriage on the altar of pastoral fame—not at all. Don’t buy into the lie. It’s not what you want. Don’t over-shepherd your church at the expense of under-shepherding your heart, the heart of your wife, and the hearts of your children.
I love pastors and hate to see them overlooked, assumed, or taken for granted so often—no one likes that. Yet, it happens all the time. This post isn’t really for the congregation; it's mainly for the pastor himself. Pastors, reach out for help. Don't do it alone. Don't be a lone ranger or a "John Wayne." Care for yourself. Care for your wife; pursue her. Remind yourself of your wedding vows; cherish her. Shepherd your family; you're their only daddy, so love them well.
Finish. Endure. Stay on the field and last.