14 February 2007

Practical Thoughts on an Enduring Ministry

Over the last couple of days, Pastor John MacArthur has shared his “Practical Thoughts on an Enduring Ministry” via Pulpit Magazine. After 38 years of pastoring the same church (the average pastor today stays at a church for five years, down from seven years twenty years ago), his advice is worth consideration. He shares ten. I’ve benefited from reading them and thinking through my own convictions and lessons learned along the way. I agree with the points he makes. Though geared to fellow Pastors, I’m sharing them with you. Maybe they’ll raise some issues that you’ll find interesting to consider. At the very least, they’ll give you some insight into understanding strange guys like me who do this pastor-gig. If you want to read his full comments, click here to go to Pulpit Magazine Online.

1. Don’t arrive unless you plan to stay.
Consider your committed relationship with your church to be similar to a marriage.

2. Learn to be patient.
Spiritual growth takes time—decades, not months or years.

3. Don’t be afraid to change.
Your understanding of the Scripture and the way you conduct your ministry should change and the church should be flexible to allow this.

4. Study to know God, not just to make sermons.
Personal spiritual vitality on your part is key to your congregation’s spiritual life.

5. Be thankful and be humble.
God has placed you where you are and it is a privilege. Success is measured in faithfulness.

6. Don’t lose sight of the priority.
Teaching people to understand and live divine truth is you purpose and responsibility.

7. Expect to work hard.
If you are faithful, it will be difficult and relentless task that continually consumes you, but brings the purest joy and most enduring satisfaction.

8. Trust the Word to do its work.
Though they often don’t even know it, people starve for the Word of God to feed them. Nothing else will substitute.

9. Always depend on the Lord.
A lasting spiritually transforming ministry is built on God’s power released through His truth.

10. Don’t leave just to leave.
If or when you leave, be sure that your reasons are spiritually compelling. Remember that you are, generally, called to a people, not away from.

Well, what do you think? From your perspective in the pews, is there anything you would add? Leave a comment and let me know.


George Hamilton said...

Number 5. spoke to me where it says success is measured in faithfulness. The service we do may not always be the way we think is best, but that fact that we are there serving is a privilege. God will show his faithfulness to us if we are patient enough to give him the time to do so. That is when we will reap the true rewards.

L & J Olafsson said...

In terms of longevity, what is the cause for the decline in committment to stay? Some of it has to be a culture shift. We use to see people work their entire career for one company, now people work for mulitple employers over their lifetime.

I wonder how much of the switching is due to the personal ambition to be a super pastor. We have become a christian culture that believes that if his church is bigger than mine than he's a better pastor or their a better church. I think there is more pressure to make a name for yourself in the pastorate then there has been in the past. To do that you can't waste time in a church that by location or demographic will never achieve status by size or bank. Saddleback, Willow Creek, Kensington, Mars Hill..while I so appriciate these churches hard work and we as family celebrate their succes ... being part of a small church seems dissatisfying in the drive to be a Christian superstar. We want to be the church that makes it on the front page of the Press, or the one thousands flock to for conferences. Pastors cannot be so much different than Christians in other careers, they want to soar as high as possible, they want to make an impact. So five years in a church that doesn't look like it will make a name for itself may prompt pastors to move on.

Mike Yankonelli use to say he grew his church from 300 to 30. We all want to be part of something bigger. There is little reward in taking something small and making it better. But better is always better than bigger.

L & J Olafsson said...

In addition to the previous comment, I wonder how much of the change in ministry duration is related to changes with in congregation's culture.

Unquestioning respect for authoritative positions is not the same as it was a generation ago. In medicine if a Doctor said something the patient would just go with it, now people are looking for second opinions and alternatives. Does this transfer into the way they view the Pastorate? Do they (we) fail to give the pastor due respect for his authority and "bully" him out of a church?

Has the culture come to value change to the extent that the congregation gets "bored" with their pastor? Quality television shows have on average a 5 - 7 year lifespan. Even though the quality remains the same, the viewers are looking for something new and different. Does this occur in the church do we get bored with the current pastor and under appriciate their qualities? Have we as a church come to see a 5-7 year run as acceptable or even (though unspoken) desirable?

Longevity is a two way street.

GUNNY said...

After a depressing night of hockey, it's good to have something to read to take my mind off it.

This seems like what Johnny Mac did for his bit at Together for the Gospel last April.

Pretty good longevity, I must say.

etoc said...


Great posts! I think you're on to a couple of significant factors in this. Longevity IS a two-way street.

First, the aspirations of pastors who are now confronted with the comparison of the mega-church and conference-speaker pastors--the celebrities of our Christian subculture--is a real issue. That can be hard to face for some. Similarly, some churches would be a lot better off if they shook out some dead wood. Smaller and better is a great trade-off for bigger and badder, though most won't view that as success on a pastor's part.

Two, in a post-Christian culture, churches are often more challenging and filled with more dysfunction. People are often coming not fundamentally as Christians, but as consumers or polititical conservatives. The water can be pretty muddy. At the same time, anyone can hear the greatest preachers in the country and world online or on the radio. Today's local pastor faces a heightened bar of comparison when compared to those who pastored in the past.

I buy the general premise--better to stay for a long time. Facing the issues that both parties have and understanding how they can be dealt with is critical if that is to be a shared premise. It seems both have to give something up in order to gain something far superior.

Good stuff--thanks for the comments!

etoc said...


"good mornin' to ya'!" Sorry your Dallas boys are seeing starts. The mighty wheeled-wings pulled it out. If it's any comfort we did have the motivation coming off a 6-1 loss in Philly the other night (of course, that came after our 7-4 win over the Flames Sunday evening--a game I had to miss going to...but that's another story).

WCC had a 17-year pastorate recently. He was a great pastor. What I've realized being here is that you're going to have problems one way or the other--whether guys come and go, or whether a guy comes and stays and eventually goes. There's a set of issues and difficulty that comes either way. You just have to decide which one has the greater corresponding benefit and be ready to really face the issues that will come.

GUNNY said...

Oddly enough, that offers no comfort.

In my mind, Little Wing has had the Stars' number since knocking us out in the WCF in '98.

I HATE playing the Red Wings and will be the first to admit that we were fortunate in '99 & 2000 to avoid them.

Danke to Lanche!

Of course, it's not nearly as bad now that the Glaucoma dog isn't driving up to my house flying his Red Wings flags each time the Stars eat it Reno-style at the hands of Wing. ; )