Last week, I blogged about three habits that sustain ministry: public worship, personal devotion, and private service. When we do these three things consistently, not only will we avoid burn out, but we will set ourselves up to finish well.
Whenever we do an “autopsy” of a pastor who burned out or dropped out of ministry, we usually find that not only did they neglect the good habits that sustain ministry, but they picked up a few bad habits that destroy ministry.
Here are three of the most common (yet lethal) ones:
1. Uncontrolled Busyness: This may seem like a strange way to start the list. Isn’t being a pastor or church planter all about hard work? Isn’t it a good thing if you can manage to teach an early morning foundations class, then preach multiple services, then teach a membership class, then grab a quick lunch with your family before you head across town to preach at your new evening service? Isn’t it a good thing if you can squeeze in online seminary courses and work on a book project and maintain a blog all while pastoring your church? It depends. Being a pastor requires hard work and holy ambition. It requires that we wear lots of different hats. But it also requires that we learn the art of saying no. It requires that we learn how to distinguish what activities are most important, and which ones can be delegated or dropped altogether. If we regularly fall prey to uncontrolled busyness, our church may look great, but something else will suffer—usually our families, our health, and our souls.
2. Unexamined Success: Like uncontrolled busyness, unexamined success is deadly because we can pick up the habit and have no idea that anything is wrong. Your church is growing rapidly. You’re receiving invitations to speak at conferences. Your church bank account is overflowing. As much as I love church growth, increased influence, and financial blessing, these are all terrible indicators of ministry success. Personally, I care more about about how many people are showing up for weekday discipleship groups than for weekend worship services. Big conferences can be great, but they’re not nearly as important to me as a weekly staff meetings with my core team. Financial surplus is a blessing, but the best indicator of ministry success is what we do with our surplus (hint: give it to missions). Success can be blinding, so make sure to examine it carefully. And make sure you don’t lose sight of what is most important.
3. Unconfessed Sin: This may seem obvious. Of course, habitual hidden sin can reap terrible consequences in the life of a pastor. But there is nothing easier for a pastor to do than to encourage everyone in their church to confess their sins to one-another and assume that somehow they are the exception. Sometimes pastors are trying to hide, but other times they simply feel like they don’t have a peer in the church with whom they can be vulnerable. It’s normal for pastors to feel this way, but it doesn’t excuse us from finding and cultivating these crucial relationships. Whether it’s a close friend from another city or a pastor in your own city from another church, it’s important to find people who you feel comfortable being vulnerable with. Confession is always awkward and always requires humility. If we try to deal with sin on our own, we will not win. We need the power of the Holy Spirit and the encouragement of others to walk in victory.
In reality, uncontrolled busyness, unexamined success, and unconfessed sin are most prevalent in leaders who isolate themselves and live an unaccountable life. These habits that destroy ministry are easy to slip into, and they are difficult to detect.
That’s why we can’t walk alone.