Ministry Can be Exhausting.
Many who start don’t finish. Many others who start well, don’t finish well. Too many fall by the way side because of faulty perspective on how to prepare and sustain long-term health in ministry.
A little background to give context for this post.
I have taught at three seminaries.
- The International School of Theology in California (1984-1990),
- Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL (1995-2013), and
- Moody Graduate School, Chicago, IL (1997-2007), The Moody dates are approximate.
- I have been mentoring church planters and pastors since about 1986.
I love books.
I love education.
I love time to study my Bible.
I love ministry and have been involved in reading, studying and teaching the Bible almost since I was brought to faith in Christ 45 years ago.
That’s right, I’m also old as dirt.
For many years I counseled my students who were about to graduate from seminary, “Take every conference and seminar advertisement that comes your way in the first three years of your ministry and recycle the paper without even reading the brochure. Don’t read the email invitations either. Instead, adopt the 5-5-5 plan for your ministry.” And the students would ask, “Why and what is the ‘5-5-5 plan?'”
Why This is Good Advice
A student graduating from a Seminary or Bible College has (hopefully) gotten a great education. He/she has spent a lot of time and money and effort in getting a basic handle on the flow of biblical truth and the tools of a biblical ministry. This is a great foundation for future ministry in most cases but, and here is the dirty little secret, it is inadequate for long-term endurance and success in ministry. Lots of people go to seminary or Bible College in the hopes of a lifetime of ministry serving Christ and His church who are selling insurance, working as baristas or doing something other than ministry.
There is nothing wrong with doing something else. There are no little people and there are no little jobs when one is serving Christ. But why are there so many doing something other than what they thought they were going to do with their biblical education? And why are so many others caught up in the treadmill of programs and fads to stimulate growth or numbers?
Long term ministry is not sustained by education.
It is not sustained by will power or pragmatic programs.
It is not sustained by maintaining a positive mental attitude or a healthy exercise program and periodic ministry sabbaticals.
Long term ministry is built on a passionate pursuit of Christ in the pages of His word.
There is simply no substitute for a daily pursuit of a deeper relationship with Christ. Count Zinzendorf, missionary, reformer, man of peace and founder of the group that came to be known as the Moravians, memorably stated it,
“I have but one passion: It is He, it is He alone.”
And that’s it. There is no substitute.
And that’s where the 5-5-5 plan comes in. I have written about this before here and here and here. [The first link gives the fullest discussion.] Our souls have got to be trained to pursue Christ and the word of God is the means. He has to become the consuming passion of our ministry, but before He can become the consuming center of our ministry, He has to become the consuming passion of our hearts.
And there is no substitute. There is no pill you take, no counsel or mentor who can magically give you the formula, or person to model. Much that glitters will burn tomorrow. Don’t follow a formula or a hero. Follow Christ. Be intoxicated with Christ.
Run the right race. Run to exhaustion. But run the race with one prize–Him who died and rose for you.
Run for Him. No. Run to Him.
Zinzendorf can help us, not because he had better methods or ideas but because he was consumed with Christ. He was mesmerized by the beauty of the Gospel and the Christ who purchased him as His own possession (1 Peter 2:9).
“These wounds were meant to purchase me. These drops of blood were shed to obtain me. I am not my own today. I belong to another. I have been bought with a price. And I will live every moment of this day so that the Great Purchaser of my soul will receive the full reward of His suffering.”
There is no substitute for that intoxication. None.
Other help in a similar post from another angle:
Confessions of a Recovering Pragmatic Pastor
And here’s a book that might help as well:
Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome, (Kent and Barbara Hughes)