What does it take to sustain lifelong pastoral excellence? Why do people leave ministry when they feel called to ministry for a lifetime?
Last month, I was privileged to sit down with Bob Burns, a longtime friend who serves as the Associate Pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in St. Louis. Bob and his team (co-authors Tasha Chapman, and Donald Guthrie) recently concluded seven years of intensive in-depth research and interviews with hundreds of pastors. The result is an amazing new book – “Resilient Ministry: What Pastors Told Us About Surviving and Thriving.” Bob condenses the research into five themes for resilient, lifelong pastoral ministry. In many ways, the book is a blueprint for what we have done for the last fourteen years at PastorServe.
The book addresses several of the foundational questions of pastoral ministry – What makes pastoral ministry so difficult that, although people feel called to pastoral ministry for a lifetime and spend years training in seminary, they often quit after only a few years? “What makes the pastor’s role so difficult, and what can help?”
Bob and his team found five interlocking themes that can lead to long-term pastoral excellence. These five themes are spiritual formation, self-care, emotional and cultural intelligence, family and marriage, and leadership and management. At PastorServe, we continually address these five themes. Each is essential to the long-term health and sustainability of a pastor.
Spiritual formation is the process of growing and maturing both spiritually and personally. Because pastors live their lives juggling a number of balls, they commonly neglect their own spiritual health. When meeting with pastors, the PastorServe team regularly asks them about the state of their heart. While it is much easier to ask about church health or a particular program – the more penetrating question is to simply ask – “So how is your soul?” This commonly leads into deep redemptive conversations – regularly accompanied by tears.
Self-care involves a pastor focusing on their spiritual, emotional, physical, social, and mental needs. Many pastors told Bob and his team that they felt as if their role as a pastor was the only part of their lives that mattered. The PastorServe team has found that many pastors feel as if it is nearly impossible to create the boundaries needed to pursue interests outside of their role as pastor.
Emotional intelligence is essential to the thriving pastor. Bob defines emotional intelligence as “the ability to manage one’s own emotions proactively and to respond appropriately to the emotions of others.” That is one reason why PastorServe brings pastors together in learning communities, where they can learn from each other’s perspectives and experiences. Our church planting gathering will begin its fifth year this fall.
Bob shares other insights in his book that I will highlight in a future letter. I would encourage you to pick up a copy of Resilient Ministry.
At PastorServe, our passion is to help pastors grow and mature in the areas of spiritual formation, self-care and emotional intelligence. Our mission is to provide relationships and resources that will allow every Pastor in America to have access to equipping and care for the challenges and crises they face.
Thank you for caring for pastors. PastorServe couldn’t move forward to extend care to pastors without your faithful prayer and generous financial support.