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The Five Key Factors to a Long and Fruitful Ministry

Have you ever wondered why some pastors make it and others don’t?

fruitful ministry

One of the best books I’ve read so far in 2017 has been Resilient Ministry: What Pastors Told Us About Surviving and Thriving. Co-authored by Dr. Bob Burns, Dr. Tasha Chapman, and Dr. Donald Guthrie, the book seeks to answer this question: what does it take to have a fruitful ministry over the long haul?

The book is based on seven (seven!) years of research. After gathering pastors and their wives from varying denominations for years of study and research, they discovered five key factors that are needed for a fruitful, lifelong ministry.

The five key factors are:

1. Spiritual formation
2. Self-care
3. Emotional and cultural intelligence
4. Marriage and family
5. Leadership and management

The book goes into depth about each factor, though you can find a brief snapshot of each one below.

The Five Factors of Resilient Ministry

1. Spiritual Formation

The authors define spiritual formation as “the ongoing process of maturing as a Christian, both personally and interpersonally.” This involves the private spiritual disciplines, things like Bible reading, prayer, journaling, and personal worship. Spending regular time with the Lord is a crucial component of an effective ministry. As Diane Langberg once said, “Before you were called to be a shepherd, you were called to be a lamb.”

Notice, however, that the definition includes maturing both personally and interpersonally.

Ministry leaders need to be relationally-wealthy. Just like any Christian, pastors need to cultivate rich, enduring friendships with others. It can be difficult for pastors to find friends since the people they lead may act weird around them (oh no, it’s the pastor!). It can be hard to be yourself when you’re the spiritual leader everyone looks to. Nevertheless, it is essential for pastors to have confidants, other Christian friends that they can go to for regular self-disclosure, accountability, and genuine friendship.

2. Self-Care

The second key factor to a long, fruitful ministry is self-care. “The idea of self-care,” the authors say, “involves the pursuit of physical, mental and emotional health.”

Peter Brian defines self-care as, “the wisdom to ensure, as far as humanly possible, a wise and orderly life work that conserves and lengthens a pastor’s ministry.”

The authors provide helpful examples as to what self-care looks like:

  • Getting to bed on time.
  • Saying no to work by establishing sabbath, sabbatical, vacation and days off.
  • Building in regular exercise.
  • Maintaining a nutritious diet.

Many pastors don’t put an emphasis on self-care, probably because it seems selfish, unnecessary, or because of personal bad habits. But the statistics show that self-care is a must for pastors.

In his book, Pastor As Person, Gary Harbaugh points out that “Nutrition, physical exercise, and other forms of self-care were at lower levels (for pastors) than for the general population.”

This is a factor that ministry leaders must not overlook.

For more practical tips, read my article on loving God and self-care.

3. Emotional and Cultural Intelligence

The authors describe emotional intelligence as “the ability to proactively manage your own emotions (EQ-self) and to appropriately respond to the emotions of others.”

They continue, “Without the ability to understand our emotions – as well as our strengths, limitations, values, and motives — we will be poor at managing them and less able to understand the emotions of others.”

Pastors and ministry leaders must be able to recognize anxiety, fear, depression, and other emotions when they feel it. They must be able to name it and learn how to deal with it. If you played a sport growing up, especially an aggressive one, you can tend to overlook your feelings. You may even envision your high school coach screaming in your ear: “Quit whining, you big baby!” But that’s not what Jesus is screaming at you. He says to come to him, all who are weary and burdened (Matt. 11:28).

Jesus Christ is the perfect Chief Shepherd who can empathize with your weaknesses. He can help you, brother pastor, with your current trials and tribulations in the pastorate — even the trials of unwanted feelings.

For many guys, it seems cowardice to talk about feelings. At least this is how it feels for the circles I ran in growing up. But this way of thinking must be fought against.

One pastor from the book said:

“When I was in seminary, I was taught how to preach and how to exegete the Scriptures. I wasn’t taught how to exegete people . . . I didn’t know that pastoring is dealing with people and their messiness.”

The EQ of others, they say, has a two-part challenge: it requires “discerning accurately what others are feeling; second, it means responding to those feelings well.”

So, again: not only must Christian ministry leaders respond well to their emotions, but also to the emotions of others.

Cultural intelligence, furthermore, is also an important aspect of ministry, which the authors define as “the ability to recognize and to adapt to different cultural contexts.”

They continue, “It involves an awareness of ethnic, geographical, socioeconomic, educational and generational differences in one’s perspective and behavior.”

One example of cultural intelligence is Tim Keller. You may know him as the former pastor from the vibrant city of New York, but before being called to the Big Apple, Keller was a pastor in Hopewell, Virgina, a town of fewer than 25,000 people. Hopewell and New York are two vastly different cities, and yet, Keller enjoyed fruitful ministries in both places. It takes cultural intelligence to pull that off.

4. Marriage and Family

The fourth key factor to a long, fruitful ministry is the pastor’s marriage and family. Before being able to shepherd the church, the pastor must able to shepherd his wife and kids. This must be a priority. As the book shows, if the pastor puts his ministry over his family, this will damage both his church and family. As one pastor put it, “The most effective way to develop a healthy church is for me to be healthy and maintain the health of my marriage.”

The authors continue: “A healthy marriage and family strengthens pastors. At the same time, marriage and family difficulties can derail ministry leaders. Therefore, the health of a pastor’s marriage and family is also a priority for the well-being of a congregation.”

One wife shared this experience:

“. . . I resent the fact that he’s so exhausted (mentally, physically and emotionally) from dealing with the church’s problems all day long and that he just wants “down time” when he’s home. I often feel we get the leftovers, if that.”

The pastor (or prospective pastor) must make it a priority to shepherd his family well. As Jason Keith Allen puts it, “You can have a great marriage without a great ministry, but you can’t have a great ministry without a great marriage.”

5. Leadership and Management

Pastors love loving on people. It’s one of the reasons why they are a pastor. But one thing that many prospective pastors don’t realize is that pastoral ministry comes with a lot of administrative tasks. That is, according to the book, pastors without leadership and management skills will hinder their progress and fruitfulness as a pastor. There’s more to ministry than just preaching, teaching, discipleship, and evangelism.

One pastor said:

“When I got out of seminary, I was sent out as a church planter. I didn’t know what I was doing. I found I was so deficient in the area of leadership. I had to self-educate — and I’m still doing that.”

Suffice it to say that leadership and management skills are important skills for ministry leaders to learn in order to be able to handle certain aspects of the ministry well.

As a seminarian, I’m thankful for Resilient Ministry as it exposed me to some of the biggest issues and hardships that come with ministry, and provided keen insights on how to handle those issues well. I can’t think of a single ministry leader who would not benefit from it. The book is excellent and one that I plan on turning to over and over again in the future.

Yoy may also like: 

  1. Tim Keller on the Three Biggest Idols in Western Churches Today 
  2. Should Pastors Host a Q&A After the Worship Service? 
  3. 10 Lessons Learned After 10 Years of Ministry

About David Qaoud

Thanks for reading! I'm David. And this is my personal blog. I'm a husband, writer, and MDiv student at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO. Most importantly, however, I am a follower of Jesus Christ. Learn more>