Being raised in a pastor’s home where my dad served one church for 23 years and serving in the local church myself for more than 31 years, 26 years at my last church, I strongly believe that ministry for the long haul produces exponential results. Here are five characteristics needed to stay in a ministry setting for the long term.
1. I must sense a real and clear call from God.
Walk away if you don’t feel led by God. Do us all a favor and go say, “Welcome to Walmart” or “Would you like fries with that?”
This career is too hard if you do not have a clear and real call from God. Do something else. Go make a lot of money and retire early but save yourself a lot of heartache and pain.
Get over yourself if you think you are the only person who is on call 24/7, works long hours, and must be an expert at many things. Doctors, lawyers, first responders, and many other professions have similar and possibly bigger stressors. If you are in this profession, make sure you have a clear call from God.
2. I must be willing to accept criticism and have thick skin.
Criticism comes with the territory. It doesn’t matter what the size of your ministry, criticism is a fact of life.
When the ministry is small it might seem like little petty criticism can derail you. And it often does. But when the ministry gets larger there are just more critics.
My first year as the pastor I tried to track down every criticism I heard and fix it or talk them out of their view. It was exhausting. My wife will tell you I was crazy and about destroyed myself emotionally.
Learn to develop thick skin. You don’t have to fix every critic. You don’t even have to respond to every criticism. Sometimes your response is like blowing air on a spark. You are just helping someone start a fire that you are going to have to put out.
As a pastor, I never read anonymous mail, emails, or cards that were placed in the offering plate. Never read anonymous criticism. You can’t do anything about it anyway. Even if you could, you have no way of communicating with the author. You can’t have a healthy discussion with the author. They don’t want to help you they only want to hurt you that is why they won’t sign their name. Anonymous is synonymous with chicken. Ignore them.
But be willing to hear and accept criticism and even if the person doesn’t deliver the criticism in a healthy way. Remember this. There is usually at least a shred of truth in all criticism. Ask yourself what is true in the criticism and what can I learn from it?
3. I know that I work and strive for the Glory of God and not man.
This seems like it should be obvious but often it is not with people who serve in ministry. Pride, egos, and our own agendas often get in the way of giving God Glory.
If we have a great attendance on a Sunday, we feel great about ourselves. If we baptize a bunch of people, we feel great about ourselves. The opposite is also true. It If attendance dips, we feel like failures.
I must constantly remind myself that I’m not doing this for me. This is all about God and his glory. I’m to be a mirror reflecting his glory, pointing others to him, always giving God the glory instead of basking in it myself.
When things are going well this is important. But when things are not going well this is equally important. We don’t lead our ministry hoping people will like us, honor us, or sing our praises. We are in this with a single purpose of pointing people to Jesus for his glory.
4. I understand that real and lasting Kingdom work and progress is accomplished exponentially with a long tenure.
If you just go from ministry to ministry setting pulling out your bag of sermons and tricks and using them up until you run out and then move on to another job you will not have a great impact on the kingdom.
If you quit, run, or jump ship every time something gets difficult you will not have much of a kingdom impact. If you quit every time the criticism mounts, you will never grow personally, and your kingdom impact will be limited by your short tenures.
I didn’t set out to stay in one church for 26 years. I had no idea how long I would be there. There were many times it was so hard that I begged God for an out. When opportunities came that seemed to fit me, I prayed and sought God but never felt released. There was a season when Tammy and I would talk every night, often crying ourselves to sleep over how hard and difficult it was, wondering why God wouldn’t release us.
But today, I’m glad he didn’t release us and I’m glad we listened to the Holy Spirit’s lead in our life and stayed put when it was hard. My influence has grown tremendously because I stayed so long.
Every difficult and challenging situation that I stayed through raised my leadership to another level. Every time I worked though something painful and hard it raised my leadership stock and influence among our church and our leaders.
When you are in it for the long-haul people know this isn’t the next gimmick, trend, or program aimed at getting something from them. They know you are the real deal, love them, leading by example, and as a result people are willing to follow because you have a proven track record with them. With time, your leadership influence becomes exponential.
5. I must trust someone besides my spouse with my fears, failures, frustrations, dreams, and desires.
Who are you completely honest with? Who do you trust with anything? Who really knows you? If you can’t name at least one person besides your spouse, then find an accountability partner start being honest and accountable with them. Over the years I have had several accountability partners that have encouraged me and spoke truth when I need confrontation.