Seven lessons from Paul on how to last in ministry

by Rick Warren

Admit it pastors. Sometimes we get tired, burnt out, and all we want to do is quit. But God has called us to keep going. Ministry isn’t a 100-yard dash. It’s a marathon. If you’re going to fulfill your calling, you’ve got to keep going. But how?

The Apostle Paul understood the demands of ministry. He understood what it was like to sacrifice everything to fulfill God’s calling. He understood what it was like to be misunderstood, underappreciated, and physically exhausted. In 2 Corinthians 4 he shares seven principles for lasting in ministry.

1. Learn to enjoy the grace of God. “Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up” (2 Corinthians 4:1 NLT). Paul knew the only reason he had a ministry was because of God’s grace. So often we hear Satan whispering in our ears that we’re not good enough, not smart enough, and not „spiritual” enough to be a pastor. We need to remember that God does everything to us, through us, and for us by grace through faith. It’s all a gift. God knows every stupid thing I will ever do in ministry and he still chose me.

Give up the pretense that there’s anything you’ve done to earn your place in ministry. If you don’t get it, you’ll be in the performance trap all your life. You’ll never be good enough. And you’ll burn out in no time.

2. Be authentic. “Instead, we have renounced shameful secret things, not walking in deceit or distorting God’s message, but in God’s sight we commend ourselves to every person’s conscience by an open display of the truth” (2 Corinthians 4:2 NLT). Paul tells his readers, “What you see is what you get.” He wasn’t hiding anything. If you’re going to last in ministry, you’ve got to be what God has called you to be. You’ve got to take off the mask. If you try to live your life on someone else’s script, you’ll always be afraid of being exposed, and you’ll always be under stress. You don’t have to be perfect for God to use you, but you do have to be honest.

3. Remember it’s not about you. If you don’t, you’ll either get bitter or prideful. When you don’t remember it’s not about you, you take everything personally. Someone looks at you cross-eyed, and you’re ready to quit. The average pastor quits because of seven critics. In 29 years as pastor of Saddleback, I’ve discovered that the critics leave. On the other hand, if the critics stay, the pastor goes. You’ve got to decide, who is going to stay – you or your critics? If it’s not about you, then the criticism isn’t about you either.

To last in ministry, you’ve got to check your motivation. The why always determines the what and the how long. If you’re doing ministry for yourself or the approval of others, you’re not going to last. If you want the approval of others, there are far easier ways to do it than being a pastor. So you’ve got to be constantly asking the question, “Why am I doing what I’m doing?”

Twice in this passage (in verses 5 and 11), Paul tells his readers why he does what he does – for Jesus’ sake. Why does he deal with the whippings, imprisonments, and criticism (2 Corinthians 11)? For Jesus’ sake. His motivation isn’t his own well-being, but the global glory of God. And he’d do whatever it takes to see that expand.

You’ve got to live for an audience of one. If you don’t get over the fear of criticism, you’ll never last in ministry.

4. Accept your own limitations. “Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7 NLT). Paul says we’re all fragile and breakable. And that’s a good thing. It’s through our weakness that others can see God’s power.

Unfortunately, we don’t like being clay pots. Instead we try to be invincible. The quickest way to burn out in ministry is to try to be Superman. You can’t solve everyone’s problem. The pastor who is available to people all the time isn’t worth much when he’s there. Even Jesus couldn’t be everywhere at one time when he was on this earth. Why would you think you can be in four meetings at the       same time?

I remember the end of my first year at Saddleback. We had about 150 people. About 80 of those were new believers. I felt like the caretaker of an orphanage. And I was burnt out. I was working 18 hours a day and doing everything. The last Sunday of 1980, my exhaustion led to me fainting during a sermon. I couldn’t do everything. Neither can you.

5. Do everything out of love. “For all this is because of you, so that grace, extended through more and more people, may cause thanksgiving to overflow to God’s glory” (2 Corinthians 4:15 NLT). Paul says everything he does is for the benefit of others. He doesn’t do it for himself; he does it for others. He does it for love. Many people throughout the years have criticized Saddleback for using seeker sensitive services. Being seeker sensitive is just about being polite. It’s thinking of people who don’t know Christ before yourself. When you have guests over for dinner, you do some things differently than you might if it were just family. You use the right utensils, you use the nice dishes, and you make every effort to be extra friendly. Why? You recognize that you have guests.

Ministry has to be based on that kind of love. You’ve got to think of others before yourself. If you don’t love those you’re ministering to, ministry will be a long, almost unbearable road. You won’t make it. You must be motivated by love – love for God and love for others.

6. Make time for daily renewal. “Therefore we do not give up; even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day”      (2 Corinthians 4:16 NLT). We’re all getting older and breaking down physically. We can slow the process, but we can’t reverse it. But we don’t have to break down internally. How do we avoid that? Paul says we get renewed “day by day.” Paul got recharged every day, and we should too.

I once owned a car that lasted 20 years because it was serviced regularly. You’re not going to last 20 years in ministry if you aren’t serviced regularly. You’ve got to divert daily, withdraw weekly, and abandon annually. Do something fun every day. Take a Sabbath day of rest every week. Get away for a vacation every year. You need to rest and recharge. In fact taking a Sabbath is so important that God commands it right along with not lying and not killing people. You need rest if you’re going to last in ministry.

7. Live in light of eternity. “For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen; for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17 NLT). Remember Paul experienced all kinds of trials. He was beaten, shipwrecked, and criticized, but he called them just momentary afflictions. Why? He had an eternal perspective.

That was Jesus’ perspective. The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before him. If we’re going to deal with the demands of ministry, we must focus ourselves on eternity. When you have your eyes on eternity, your struggles will seem small. Only he who sees the invisible can do        the impossible!

You’ve been called to be on the front lines of what God is doing in the world. I’m convinced that pastors are the most underappreciated change agents on the planet. God wants to change the world through you. But it won’t happen today. And it won’t happen tomorrow. You’ve got to be committed to ministry for the long haul. These seven principles can help you do just that.

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