Influence

 the shape of leadership

The Persevering Pastor

Six habits for building endurance in ministry

Kristi Northup on June 20, 2022

It’s quitting time. In recent months, a record number of U.S. employees left their jobs amid the pandemic. Some opted for early retirement. Others changed careers. Still others took time off to reevaluate their priorities.

There is evidence church leaders may be heading for the exits, too. In a January 2021 Barna Group poll, 29% of pastors surveyed said they had considered leaving full-time ministry during the previous year. By October 2021, the share of pastors contemplating quitting had jumped to 38%.

Ministers are exhausted. Since 2020, they’ve endured shutdowns, diminished attendance, the departure of key volunteers, and angry confrontations over issues beyond their control. They have comforted the grieving and preached messages of hope to the anxious, but many are themselves struggling to stay the course.

I was reflecting on this recently while reading through 1 and 2 Samuel. David was well acquainted with difficulties. Between the moment of his anointing as king and the time he finally ascended to the throne, David experienced years of turmoil, facing homelessness, starvation, violence, and betrayal.

Through it all, David never gave up on his calling. He was far from perfect, but David truly had a heart set on loving and trusting God — even through tough times.

These words in Psalm 27:13–14 are attributed to David:

I remain confident of this:

I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.

Wait for the LORD;

be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD.

During his years of waiting, David grew in faith and allowed God to prepare him for a leadership assignment. The Lord honored his perseverance, promising to establish David’s throne forever (2 Samuel 7:16).

Unlike David, Saul was always getting ahead of God and getting off track. He rushed into battle, made rash vows, usurped priestly duties, and even turned to occult practices instead of turning to God. Saul’s insecurity led to such paranoia that he had 85 priests murdered because of suspected disloyalty. In the end, Saul’s kingdom did not last.

Perseverance requires faith through difficulties, not shortcuts around them. James 1:2–4 says this:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

The New Living Translation puts it this way: “When your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow” (verses 3–4).

My husband, Wayne, has coached middle school soccer for years. During the first match, kids frequently request subs because they get so tired. After that, he has them spend a significant portion of every practice running. The goal is to build endurance so they can make it through a 60-minute match.

Wayne tells them, “You only think about endurance in a game when you don’t have it. When you have it, you just play your heart out all the way to the end.”

As ministers, what habits will help us endure this race to the end? Here are six to put into practice right away:

 

1. Practice Patience

Perseverance through trials requires a patient, eternal perspective as we wait for the fulfillment of all God’s promises.

Perseverance
requires faith
through difficulties,
not shortcuts
around them.

James 5:7–8 says, “See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.”

Our culture is far removed from the slow process of planting, watering, watching, and waiting for a harvest. We live in an instant, on-demand, high-speed world. Yet the truth of Scripture has not changed.

Practice patience by unplugging from television and technology, fasting, and sitting quietly in God’s presence.

Start with small changes. For instance, turn off the radio during your daily commute and listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying in those moments.

 

2. Practice Joy

Outlook can make all the difference. As believers, we must allow God to renew our minds rather than conforming to the negative and destructive thought patterns of the world (Romans 12:2).

My grandfather, Monroe David Grams, died last year at age 94. As an Assemblies of God missionary, he helped establish a ministry in the highlands of Bolivia that has since planted more than 1,200 churches. Not only was he a great leader with great character, but my grandfather also had an unsinkable optimism that led him through many trying circumstances.

At the funeral, I heard about a time when my grandfather and father both had their wallets stolen while riding a bus in Guatemala City. Realizing they had no money or identification, my grandfather burst out laughing. He thought it was funny!

That story made such an impression on me I later posted this question on my office wall: “What would Grandpa do?”

It reminds me to trust God, practice joy, and laugh in the face of adversity.

 

3. Practice Lament

This may seem incompatible with the previous habit, but joy and lament can coexist. And both are important. David wrote psalms of lament, pouring out his heart in the presence of God — which is the best place for lament.

The past two years have been a time of tremendous loss. It’s important to acknowledge this reality so we can experience growth and begin to see our circumstances as God sees them.

Denial will not make it easier to move on. In fact, it will keep you stuck. Ask God to help you process struggles in the right way, and in the right place.

 

4. Practice Diversion

Over the years, I have learned the value of finding healthy diversions from the demands of ministry.

You need time to rest and recharge. Take up a hobby you enjoy. Read fiction, join a sports team, fish, paint, run, or take photos. Find an activity that inspires, calms, and energizes you.

Nate Zinsser, who directs a performance psychology program at the U.S. Military Academy, says diversions are vital for soldiers in high-pressure situations. In his book, The Confident Mind, Zinsser explains that the ability to relax on cue and take micro-breaks can help people avoid burnout.

 

5. Practice Abiding

As Christ followers, we should be spending time with Christ. Remarkably, however, even ministers can lose sight of this.

No one can pay us to be spiritual people, which is why too many ministers lack a deep and abiding devotional life. Prayer, Bible engagement, and worship should be daily practices for every believer.

Jesus said, “If you do not remain [or “abide,” ESV] in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers” (John 15:6).

 

6. Practice Accountability

Song of Songs mentions little foxes that ruin the vineyards” (2:15). What may seem like a small thing can lead to big problems.

Nothing breaks my heart more than seeing a ministry crumble because of a lapse in a leader’s integrity.

Sometimes we don’t even recognize the pitfalls until it’s too late. That’s why we need godly friends and mentors who aren’t afraid to call out the little foxes in our lives. Such people can also encourage and strengthen us to persevere when our faith is faltering.

Your mentor doesn’t have to be in your church, or even in your state. But having someone — and being that someone — can make all the difference in our ability to finish strong in ministry.

 

This article appears in the Spring 2022 edition of Influence magazine.

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