How Not To Overstay Your Pastoral Calling

Letting go is a skill that has to be learned. It takes years of preparation and practice.

When it comes to pastorates, a longer stay at a church is almost always better than a series of short stays.

But it is possible to stay too long. That’s what I wrote about in my previous article, 9 Reasons Some Pastors Overstay Their Calling. If you haven’t read that article, I encourage you to check it out. Here are the 9 reasons I gave:

  1. Their Identity Is Wrapped Up In Being A Pastor
  2. They Can’t Bear To Say Goodbye
  3. Lack Of Financial Options
  4. A False Theology Of Non-retirement
  5. They Have Nothing Else To Do
  6. A Desire To Stay In Control
  7. A False Sense Of Their Own Irreplaceability
  8. Family Complications
  9. Fear

In this article I provide answers to each of those nine reasons.

1. Know That Our Identity Is In Christ

The solution to having our identity too wrapped up in our pastoral role and calling is not to diminish the value of the pastorate, but to understand that we are not defined by what we do – even when it’s what we’re called to do.

We’re defined by our identity in Jesus.

We tell our church members this all the time. We need to believe it and practice it for ourselves.

2. Prepare Them To Walk On their Own

It’s always hard to say goodbye to the people we care about, and to whom we have committed so much time, energy and love. But the solution isn’t to love people less, it’s to understand that the goal of a good, shepherding pastor is to help believers mature to a point where they can walk on their own.

It’s a little like being a parent. Becoming an empty-nester isn’t easy, but our kids being able to live on their own without depending entirely on us is one sign of successful parenting. In the same way, raising mature believers is a sign of successful pastoring.

3. Start Planning Your Finances Early – Really Early

Pastors are regularly among the least well-paid people in our society – especially when our average schooling and experience are taken into account. And that’s okay. We knew that going in (or we should have).

While finances will always be tough for almost all of us, that doesn’t mean we’re destined to be beggars. The Bible is filled with financial principles that will help us stay out of debt, spend more frugally, save more expeditiously and plan more expediently.

If you’re a young pastor, you need to know and plan for this. Your entire pastoral ministry will likely earn you far less than your friends in secular employment. Knowing this should inspire us to prepare. Practice biblical financial stewardship as early as you can – and never stop.

4. Have A Better Theology Of Ministry

The solution to having a false theology of non-retirement is to have a better theology of ministry.

Retiring from full-time, professional pastoring is only a problem if it stops you from engaging in ministry entirely – which no follower of Jesus should ever do.

We can reach the end of formal pastoring, but still engage in lower-energy, but still valuable ministry. Even after retirement we can (and should) worship, minister and bless others. It’s also good for our own hearts, minds, bodies and spirits.

Boredom is a killer. Literally. The death rates for people who retire without something to do are staggering. Which leads to . . .

5. Engage In A Hobby Or A Supplemental Ministry – Now

Rest is an essential aspect of biblical obedience. And it’s practical as well. Daily breaks, weekly sabbaths and annual vacations aren’t a departure from effective ministry, they’re a central aspect of it.

Not only will hobbies, friendships, vacations and other outside-the-church-walls interests keep you going more effectively now, they can help you extend your years of active ministry by a decade or more.

Then, when you do slow down in your senior years, you’ll have something you love to do.

6. Learn To Let Go

This may the biggest reason pastors overstaying. Too many of us are control freaks who can’t let go.

The best way to prepare to let go from a church or into retirement is to make letting go a regular part of our active ministry life.

No one can stay at 100 percent, then let it all go at once. Like anything else, letting go is a skill that has to be learned. It takes years of preparation and practice.

7. Work Yourself Out Of A Job

No pastor is irreplaceable. And, as I wrote in 9 Reasons Some Pastors Overstay Their Calling, if the church truly can’t function without us, that speaks more poorly about us than about them.

Every pastor’s job description should include consciously working to make ourselves replaceable. We’re not supposed to spend our pastoral energy doing ministry for the church, but equipping the members of the church to do the work of ministry themselves (Eph 4:11-2).

8. Don’t Use The Pastorate As An Escape

Years ago I read a newspaper story about commuters who actually looked forward to the long drives between home and work because it gave them a break from a stressful workplace and a chaotic home life.

I’ve met pastors who use their church office in the same way – to escape a difficult home situation. The reality should be the opposite. Creating and maintaining a healthy home life should be our first ministry. Our church ministry is supposed to be an extension of a healthy home life, not an escape from a burdensome one (1 Tim 3:1-5 & 12; Titus 1:6-8).

9. Stay In Touch With The Outside World

The world has changed a lot since you went into pastoral ministry. Leaving the safe haven of the pastorate can be scary.

The solution is not to stay disconnected from the outside world, but to stay regularly “in the world, but not of the world” throughout your entire pastoral ministry.

If you’ve already been engaged in the community around you while in pastoral ministry, it will be far less frightening when the walls of the church, or the pastor’s office are no longer there to be a buffer.

And who knows, you may find yourself better able to minister in and among your neighborhood without the title of “pastor” than you ever were with it.

This month, on the Can This Work In A Small Church? podcast, I’m doing a series of interviews about pastoral longevity and transition.

(Photo by John T | Unsplash)

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