Going into ministry used to be considered a life-long calling, but we see increasing numbers of people leaving the ministry well before retirement.
Recent seminary graduates will leave the ministry within five years after graduation, on average.
There are many reasons for these trends, but rather than discuss these I would suggest that we consider what a person could do to make it more likely that he or she will remain in the ministry for an extended period of time.
There are at least six practices that can help:
1. Commit to being a life-long learner.
Anyone who believes that his or her education ends at graduation doesn’t understand the realities of the 21st century. We must continually sharpen the tools God has given us if we want to serve new generations.
It doesn’t take long to become irrelevant or out of touch, so it’s imperative that we continue to expand our knowledge base.
2. Set reasonable boundaries.
Many ministers are people pleasers, and it’s difficult to tell someone “no.” You can easily find yourself working 60- to 70-hour weeks just trying to meet the various requests people make of you, but such a schedule is not sustainable over the long haul.
There will be times when such workloads are necessary, but you will find yourself getting into trouble if they become normal for you.
3. Develop a prayer team.
One of the best things that happened to me when I was a pastor was when a group of leaders came to ask if we could meet each week for a time of prayer. Prior to our Sunday evening service, we met. Each person present would begin to pray for me, my wife and our church.
It was one of the turning points in the life of our congregation, and it was a tremendous blessing to my wife and me.
4. Have the support of your family.
As a judicatory minister, I have seen clergy families separate and even divorce because the minister’s spouse became fed up with ministry life. Sometimes, this was due to a sense of feeling neglected for the ministry.
One pastor’s wife told a counselor that if her husband was cheating on her with another woman she could address that, but what can she do when his mistress was the church?
There are other times when the minister isn’t doing anything wrong, but the spouse decides that living in a ministry fish bowl is no longer tolerable.
We all have also heard stories of pastor’s kids getting into trouble and rebelling against the church.
It’s important for ministers and their families to have regular discussions about any issues that ministry may be creating in the family and address those issues immediately.
5. Request a fair salary and benefit package.
It is not uncommon for family issues to revolve around finances. Scripture is clear that believers are to provide for their families, and there is no exception for those in ministry.
More than a few pastors have left the ministry in order to provide for their family financially.
I realize this can be a difficult subject for many pastors to address with their churches, but we must learn to advocate for ourselves.
Each minister’s family must decide what is needed for them to live comfortably, and that information then needs to be shared with the appropriate people.
Sometimes, the church just needs to have that information and is quite willing to meet that need. Sometimes, they cannot afford to do so, which should lead to a discussion about the possibility of going bivocational, or you may need to find another place of service that can meet the financial needs of your family.
Ignoring the financial aspect of ministry and family will eventually cause the minister to leave the ministry.
6. Develop friendships and interests outside the ministry.
For several years, I owned a bass boat and enjoyed fishing. My wife and I would even fish in some local tournaments.
I have owned a motorcycle, which we would ride just to get away. One year we even rode it 2,700 miles on vacation.
I still enjoy golfing and going to the beach on vacation. I enjoy going to auctions and two years ago got my auctioneer license and started an auction business.
The ministry is serious business and deserves our best efforts, but if that is all we do, it will soon eat us up. Having interests outside the ministry helps bring balance into our lives and keeps us fresh.
There are many more things that could be added, but the point is that it’s important that we make a commitment to the ministry to which God has called us, see it as a life-long calling and then identify the things we can do to help make that a reality.
Dennis Bickers served as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana, for 20 years before accepting his current position as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky. He blogs at Bivocational Ministry, where a version of this article first appeared. It is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @DennisBickers.
Dennis Bickers is a church consultant and author. He served previously as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana, for 20 years followed by a 14-year ministry as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky.