The Resilient Pastor: Surviving & Thriving in Ministry
Author: Simon Mawhinney. Simon is the pastor in Moira Baptist Church. He is married to Lynda and together they have five children.
‘The Resilient Pastor: Surviving & Thriving in Ministry’
‘Wait! So, you’re telling me that pastoral ministry involves more than coffee shops and a couple of hours preaching on a Sunday?!’
The role of pastor is often misunderstood and in large part unknowable to those who have never been in the position. The rate of burn out and drop out is extremely high. And that is why the latest ministry seminar at IBC was so relevant and helpful.
Around 20 pastors gathered on Thursday 9th January as Pastor Neil Watson (Ballycrochan Baptist) addressed the topic of ‘The Resilient Pastor: Surviving and Thriving in Ministry.’ Neil has been pastoring in our Association for over 20 years, and knows the challenges, pressures, and graces of the role.
He began by reading from 2 Corinthians 11, highlighting Paul’s experience of ‘the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches’ (v. 29). A pressure that every pastor knows in part. This is part of the calling, it goes hand in hand with the role, so how do those in this ministry both ‘survive’ and ‘thrive’?
Neil focused on three main areas that he has found a blessing and help to him in ministry:
- Know Yourself
Ministry is demanding. If we don’t know ourselves, if we’re not aware of our strengths and weaknesses, abilities and limitations then we will keep running into the same pitfalls as we seek to serve the Lord. We need to have a humble and honest realisation of who we are, and that is often best discovered with the help and input of others.
In God’s wisdom He has not called for His church to be shepherded by one person who has all the gifts (they don’t exist), but rather He has called for His church to be shepherded by a plurality of shepherds (Elders), who will serve the flock with their various gifting.
- Look After Yourself
‘The first person you need to lead is you.’ Often in pastoral ministry there is so much focus on the care of others that we neglect ourselves. But if we are not tending to our own souls we will be of little real use to those around us. Paul counselled the young Timothy in a similar way when he said, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching” (1 Tim. 4:16).
One of the main points to come out of this was the need for ‘guilt free rest.’ Taking regular time off and not feeling bad about doing so, even when others (church members included) see you doing so. A day off can be anything but restful if we are preoccupied with who we may bump into and what they will think.
- Develop Yourself
The last section Neil touched on was the need to continually be developing yourself in every area of life, beginning with your own personal walk with the Lord. Again, the temptation is to read, study, and meditate, with an eye to preparing for public ministry. But it is first and foremost our own hearts that need gospel transformation. Another area touched on that needs to be developed is ‘a sense of humour.’ In ministry, we need to laugh (mostly at ourselves); we need to have those moments of fun and lightness in the midst of a weighty calling.
Our time ended with some Q&A and then we split into groups to pray for one another in the roles God has called us to. The calling is beyond any of us, and with Paul we all say, ‘who is sufficient for these things?’ (2 Cor. 2:16). But at the same time we remember and rest in the truth that, ‘“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me’ (2 Cor. 12:9).