Americans celebrate the holiday known as Labor Day on the first Monday of September each year. This day celebrates the hard working men and women on the labor force, offering for many a day of rest. One of the most important things Christian apologists and ministers can do to benefit their ministries is to take a necessary break.
On last week’s podcast, Nick Peters wisely warned that apologists can often become “married to their ministries.” Such is not only true of Christian apologists, the same is also true of pastors and church leaders. In fact, the danger is greater with Christian leaders actively involved in church ministry. Meetings here, study time there, and countless other tasks can drain the minister and lead to ministry failure if the minister does not take necessary time for rest and recuperation.
One of the most important classes I took during my Master of Divinity program at Liberty University was a class called Preventing Ministry Failure. The advice given in that class is invaluable. I would like to share some important truths that I learned in that class.
1. Set necessary boundaries.
It’s important to have boundaries in ministry. Michael Todd Wilson and Brad Hoffman note that “Personal boundaries help us prioritize our relationships…and focus on things consistent with our calling” (Wilson and Hoffman 2007, 140). It’s okay to say no to some ministerial offers. Many ministers think that the eleventh commandment should be, “Never say no.” However, it is often necessary to set time aside for oneself and one’s family.
2. “If you don’t control your schedule, someone else will.”
Dr. Kevin King of Liberty University once quipped, “If you don’t control your schedule, someone else will.” King is dead on the money. One of the things I am learning (and I am still a work in process) is the great importance of time management. The congregation and the minister must remember that the pastor is NOT omnipresent. He does not hold the ability to be in all places at all times. Scheduling helps gauge more important ministerial tasks from those of lesser importance.
3. Your first calling is to your family.
Somehow Paul’s admonition to church leaders is often forgotten. Paul notes that “if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church” (1 Timothy 3:5, ESV)? The minister’s first ministry is the ministry to his family. If this is forgotten, then it does not matter how many degrees he possesses, how expositionally sound his messages are, or how many individuals he has visited that week. The minister will have failed. To sustain his family, the man of God must take sufficient time with his wife and children.
4. Take time alone with God.
Mark’s Gospel documents a noteworthy aspect of Jesus’ ministry–His prayer life. Mark notes that Jesus rose “very early in the morning, while it was still dark…and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35, ESV). Simon Peter and the apostles could not find Jesus. Apparently, Jesus must have walked far into the wilderness to take time alone with His Father. If Jesus (the Son of God) needed time alone with the Heavenly Father, how much more do we? It is critical that the minister and apologist take appropriate amounts of time alone with God. The Christian ministry is a spiritual work. If the minister’s spiritual tank is empty, his ministry will be too.
Randy Kilby was the president of Fruitland Baptist Bible College when I attended the school in the late 90s. He used to say, “You must get under the spout, where the glory comes out. Then the glory you experience will flow out to others.” In addition to the numerous issues the church faces today, there is yet another problem that challenges the church. Many individuals in ministry are leaving. Wilson and Hoffman provide the following startling statistics:
“Of ministers in the United States: 25 percent have been forced out of or fired from their ministry at least once; 90 percent feel inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands; 80 percent believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively; 45 percent say they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence; 40 percent have serious conflict with a church member at least once a month; 20 percent admit to having an affair while in the ministry; 37 percent admit that Internet pornography is a current struggle; 70 percent do not have someone they consider a close friend” (Hoffman and Wilson 2007, 31).
The struggle in ministry is real. To make a long-term impact, the minister must realize that he is not Superman. He is not the Savior of the world. There is only one Savior–Jesus Christ. Understand your limitations and take the necessary rest that is needed. If the minister and apologist does so, then the impact of his ministry will grow exponentially.
(c) September 5th, 2016. Brian Chilton.
Wilson, Michael Todd and Brad Hoffman. Preventing Ministry Failure. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007.