Pastors and church planters face enormous demands as we try to juggle family responsibilities, ministry, and often, school and part-time jobs. How can we live sustainable lives? We read of tragic pastoral failures on a weekly basis. Most pastors don’t last in the ministry for five years (perhaps the only way we pastors are like pro football players!). I’ve been a pastor for 25 years. Here are ten practices that have enabled me to pastor for the long-haul.
#1 Build a rock-solid daily personal devotional life with God. This simply means that you spend time every day soaking in God’s presence. You can handle an enormous amount of pressure, if your foundation is solid. Pressure is not the problem. Weak foundations are the problem. If your foundation is shaky, you won’t be able to handle very much at all. Maybe you’ve heard the expression: “You can’t fire a cannon out of a canoe.” If you are really going to accomplish something; if you are going to be able to achieve and do the great things that God has in store for you to achieve and do, you need a strong foundation. The cannon of your life needs to be bolted into granite. And the granite of your life is your rock-solid personal time with God every day.
#2 Choose a prayer partner, who is a peer and with whom you can be utterly transparent. What I have personally done in my own life for the past 20 years and what we require of every pastor on the staff of Vineyard Columbus is to have a prayer partner. At Vineyard Columbus we take one day every month outside of the office talking and praying with our prayer partner. We have a set of accountability questions that we ask each other such as:
a. Are you struggling with sexual purity in any way?
b. Have you seen any pornography, or anything on TV or in a movie that you shouldn’t have watched?
c. Have you done anything sexually you shouldn’t have done?
d. Are there any emotional attachments forming with someone who is not your spouse?
e. Have you handled your money and financial dealings with absolute integrity?
f. Have you experienced any breach in any relationship? Are you at peace with everyone?
g. Have you forgiven everyone for everything?
h. Are you experiencing intimacy with God on a regular basis?
#3 If you are married, schedule a weekly date night with your spouse. It is really important to stay current and to fuel romance and intimacy with your spouse. My wife and I have a regular date every Monday. It doesn’t need to be expensive. It could be coffee and a long walk through a park or a leisurely breakfast. But schedule a weekly date with your spouse outside your home.
#4 Get financial counseling from a professional financial counselor. Strongly consider (if you are married, with your spouse) going to a course like Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. Life is sustainable when your financial house is in order.
#5 Ruthlessly avoid all compromising situations with the opposite sex. There are few things that derail people from the plan of God more than sexual impurity. Jim Downing, who is one of the patriarchs of the Navigator organization, was asked some years ago: Why is it that so few people finish well? His response was profound. He said: “They learn the possibility of being fruitful without being pure. They begin to believe that purity doesn’t matter. Eventually, they become like trees rotting inside that are eventually toppled by a storm.” Live a sexually pure life.
#6 Take care of yourself physically. Join a gym. Get into the habit of walking with a friend. Watch your diet. It is not enough that you’re involved in ministry. It is not even enough that you grow in internal purity and intimacy with God. You are a whole person. Your life is integrated - body, soul and spirit. You cannot neglect your body or your emotional life and continue to do well. So, take care of yourself physically.
#7 Do not confuse knowledge or skills or giftedness for spiritual maturity. You are gifted. You may know a lot. You may help many people. None of those things are the same as spiritual maturity. Spiritual maturity is a matter of your internal character, your honesty, your willingness to forgive everyone for everything, your joy during trials, your trust in the sovereignty of God, your endurance in hard times, and your unwillingness to compromise integrity. Don’t confuse knowledge or skills or giftedness for spiritual maturity.
#8 If you are married, take a great marriage inventory with your spouse and have a professional marriage counselor discuss the results with you. Here at Vineyard Columbus we offer a marriage inventory called LIMRI. We have regular marriage retreats. Do a marriage inventory especially at the front-end of pastoring, and every few years after that.
#9 Join a small group (and if married, join with your spouse). Christianity is a team sport. We cannot grow successfully apart from biblical community. Join a men’s group, a women’s group, a coed group, or a recovery group where you can know and be known.
#10 Cultivate the fear of the Lord and a fear of sin. We sinners always dreadfully under-estimate the cost of sin and dreadfully over-estimate our ability to manage the consequences after we choose to sin. Sin costs and once you choose to sin, the consequences are out of your hands. We read in Proverbs 14.26-27, He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children I will be a refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death.
Deuteronomy 10.12-13 says, And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?
Psalm 34.9 tells us this: Fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing.
Psalm 128:1 says: Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways.