Remember how Elijah got so discouraged after his mountaintop experience that he wished for death? I have felt the same way, and so will you. If you haven’t already you will.
It is helpful to know that many pastors feel this weight or darkness come upon them at a particular milestone in ministry the four- to five-year mark.
Thom Rainer calls this season your “crossroads years.” Around this timeframe, the honeymoon season is long gone, and you have experienced a few conflicts and challenges. During this season, you have become the actual pastor of the church you now lead. Before this season, you were a leader and gaining relational credibility, but now you are “the guy.”
When you make it through the season of storms those first years — and you are still standing — you have a decision to make: lead them forward or walk away. Sadly, many guys do the latter.
Today I am working on my seventh year as the pastor of the same church. Through my crossroads season, I picked up a few things from other pastors that helped me survive and commit to staying for the long haul. I want to pass them on to you as well. While I don’t believe that you have to stay at a church for any set period of time, I do believe that the greatest work usually happens beyond the five-year mark.
1. Instead of networking for your next gig, network for faithfulness. Networking is the name of the game. If you know the right people you can advance your career in any line of work. Ministry is no exception.On the positive side, friends can help teach you and encourage you. On the negative side, you can fall into the trap of networking to land the next big opportunity. Let me encourage you to make friends with people who care more about faithfulness than they do success. In ministry, faithfulness is success.
2. Celebrate your problems. Often we get discouraged because we focus in on our problem like it is a bad thing. Your challenges are just opportunities to make much of Jesus. For example, a pastor might become upset because the church can’t afford to build a large building and they are running out of room. Many reading this now would like to have that problem. Well, whatever it is you are dealing with, look at your difficulties as opportunities to use your creativity, influence, and the wisdom God gave you.
3. Get a hobby. Most pastors I know eat, sleep, and live the ministry. While that may seem like a good thing at first, it inevitably leads to burnout. Personally, I love reading John Grisham novels. I’ve read every one he has published and can’t wait for the next one to come out. Find a hobby that allows you you unplug and accomplish nothing. Try kayaking, running, reading fiction, or coaching your kid’s team. Experiment and find what works for you.
4. Eat well and exercise. It is no coincidence that many people who struggle with depression also struggle with their health. I have become keenly aware that when I eat a lot of junk and am not active, I feel it emotionally. The impact of an unhealthy lifestyle affects your relationship with your wife, your preaching, and your effectiveness at work. So, eat less, eat healthy, take a walk with your family after dinner, and walk up and down the hall as you read that commentary. Find ways to stay healthy.
All these suggestions assume a baseline of spiritual health. Mainly, that you are reading your Bible consistently and engaging in regular prayer. The suggestions I have outlined above are commonly overlooked and neglected. Some may feel those actions are below them or just too common. If you want to last in ministry and do so with a smile on your face, then spend a little time laughing, learning, and leaning into healthy habits that give life to your soul.
Published March 8, 2018