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Surviving Your First Five Years In Ministry

One of the clearest memories I have of my first week of full-time Christian study is a professor telling the class that within five years, 80% of us would not be serving in full time ministry. I was shocked — ministry in Australia has an 80% burnout rate?! (Yes, I am an Australian, so feel free to read this in an Australian accent) Out of the 40 or so new students (I was at a small Bible college), only 8 of us would still be in ministry in five years!


Five Years and Counting

I am fast approaching the five-year mark in vocational full-time ministry. And I now have a greater appreciation for a statistic I once scoffed at as a student. To say that my time in vocational ministry has been easy would be an exaggeration. To say that I had never thought of quitting would be misleading. And to say that I hadn’t seen this statistic play out all around me would be an outright lie.

Over the last few years, I have seen attacks on pastors and ministry staff from within and outside the church. I have been on the inside of a mega-church collapse. And I have personally experienced the discouragement and pain that comes from watching the effects of the sins of others play out in my life and the lives of those whom God has called me to love and shepherd. Not failing to mention the deep and resounding effect that ministry has had on confronting me with my own insecurities, frailness, and sin.


I Understand the Temptation to Quit

One of the times I felt the closest to quitting was when I received a letter sent via certified mail. It was from a family who were members at our church. I didn’t know them very well, but I did recognize their names. Inside the letter, I found their resignation of membership. There was also another letter threatening to personally sue me if I mishandled their resignation.

I am not sure if those outside of pastoral ministry can grasp the shock and pain that pastors experience through trials like these. I think most people get into ministry to serve the people of God, no matter what it looks like – it was a contributor to why I wanted to become a pastor. But the visibility of leadership means that my mistakes and sins will be broadcast to my congregation through gossip and slander. In our internet age, those same mistakes and sins are broadcast to the world through blogs and websites dedicated to “revealing hidden sin”.

I can understand why 80% of pastors and those in full time ministry pull the plug and find work elsewhere.


Convicted to Continue

So why haven’t I pulled the plug yet? Why would anyone continue on in such a diversely demanding and exhausting job?

Quite simply, I am called.

Strong conviction is not especially popular in our day and age, but I have it surrounding a few things, and it has served me in the times where I have felt like pulling the plug and quitting.

My convictions are as follows:

  • Jesus Christ lived a perfect life, died in the place of sinners like me, and rose again.
  • Through Jesus Christ, I am a forgiven and redeemed saint, a recipient of God’s undeserved, amazing grace.
  • God has called me into his service.
  • God in calling me to his service has placed people around me to teach, train and encourage me as I serve him.

Obviously, I hold strong beliefs surrounding other things, but quite simply I am convinced of these three.

When times in ministry have been dark, when I have felt the need to draft my letter of resignation, God the Holy Spirit has gently reminded me of these three truths again and again.

God’s Grace

God has been faithful in so many ways, and when I hear from him, I am always reminded that I am free in Christ to do whatever I would like, but the reality is that nothing would rob my joy more than giving up the opportunity to love and serve the Church and the congregation the Lord has blessed me to serve and to lead.

God has given me a deep love for the faces that look back at me on a Sunday. I have a deep love for those who I get to share my life with in church community. I have a deep love for those who sit across from me in my office as we fight together to believe the gospel of grace. And for no other reason, that is why I am fast approaching becoming part of the 20%.


Every Timothy Needs a Paul

Surviving the early ministry years cannot and should not be a solo effort. The Gospel makes us a part of something much greater than our own efforts and wisdom. The gospel call makes us a part of a community. And to survive, you need to surround yourself with men who hold the same convictions as I outlined above.

The relationship of Paul and Timothy serves as a great example to all of us, especially those who are younger in ministry. You need older, wiser, more experienced pastors and ministry leaders to serve alongside you. I have been blessed with men like this. And i’ve been able to lean on their wisdom and experience in good times and hard times. You are not meant to do ministry alone.

It is tough, and Satan loves to tempt and destroy an isolated pastor. Surviving and flourishing can only happen in relationships with those who are not at all impressed with you. Trust me on this. You need people to call you on your sin. You need people to correct you when you are beginning down the path to quitting. It helps if these people view you as a fellow human and not “The Pastor”.


Don’t Become a Statistic

If you are thinking about pursuing ministry, are a younger pastor trying to make it, and/or are a pastor who has thought about quitting, stick it out – the harvest will come! You have people who look to you as an example (1 Tim 4:12). Pray about God’s call to you into his service. Surround yourself with experienced and mature believers to love you, serve you, and support you. You can’t prevent the slings and arrows, but you can buffer their effects.

I pray that we would commit to change this statistic and strive to be men and women who will serve our King no matter what comes our way.

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