I know you want to say you’re a resilient pastor, but before you determine whether you are or not, let’s define what it means. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from setbacks. Some describe resiliency as the ability to recover readily from a crisis. Everyone who has been in ministry for a while has faced a crisis, setback or even burnout.
Resilience is a popular term people have used a lot recently at conferences and conventions as well as in blog posts and books.
The subtitle of my new book Start to Finish is “The Pastor’s Guide to Leading a Resilient Life and Ministry.” Even the official mission statement of GuideStone, where I serve as the director of pastoral wellness, is: “We enhance financial security and resilience for those who serve the Lord.”
Although “resilient” is not a biblical term, biblical terms like “persevere” and “endure” strongly imply its meaning. Here are four marks of resilient pastors.
- Resilient pastors get back up; they don’t give up
Hopefully, you have experienced a few fun and fruitful seasons of ministry so far. You can also expect “out of season” experiences to come. When that happens, will you give up or get back up?
“We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:8-9, CSB).
John Wooden, Hall of Fame basketball coach at UCLA, famously said, “It’s not so important who starts the game but who finishes it.”
Hall of Faith apostle Paul had a few motivational lines of his own. “Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up” (Gal. 6:9, CSB); “But as for you, brothers and sisters, do not grow weary in doing good” (2 Thess. 3:13, CSB).
Do you have enough spiritual and emotional bandwidth to get back up from the next ministry disappointment?
- Resilient pastors bounce back; they don’t bail
Many of us who pastored through the pandemic experienced an abundance of spiritual fruit in our ministries as well as an abundance of spiritual fatigue. It seems that one year of pastoring during that season should have been measured in dog years because of the exponential challenges and opportunities.
Several pundits wrongly predicted a mass exodus from the ministry last year. I think they underestimated God’s power and our resilience. A 2021 Lifeway Research study found just 1.5 percent step away from the pulpit each year for reasons other than retirement or death—a rate statistically unchanged from 2015. Researchers from the Hartford Institute for Religion conclude, “Overall, our data just doesn’t provide much evidence of a pending mass exodus of clergy.”
“But we are not those who draw back and are destroyed, but those who have faith and are saved” (Heb. 10:39, CSB). Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase simply says, “We’re not quitters.”
Pastors, missionaries and other ministers of the Gospel are more resilient than culture gives us credit for.
- Resilient pastors accelerate across finish lines; they don’t coast through them
I have a stack of books in my home library with the spine facing inside so no one can read the title or author. Every time a minister disqualifies himself, I add whatever books I already owned from that author to that pile. This pile is a healthy reminder that I will never age out of stupidity.
Coasting casually through the finish line is not an option for the men and women who have accepted God’s call into ministry. Our intent is to do more than just start ministry well, but to finish well, both to and through retirement. Our race is not over at retirement. I believe it is possible to have one of your most impactful seasons of ministry after your vocational ministry is finished—if you stay focused on both your life and your ministry.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got” (1 Cor. 9:26, MSG).
- Resilient pastors pay close attention to their lives; they don’t wing it
Paul told Timothy and his leaders, “My purpose is to finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:24b, CSB). Later he added, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock” (Acts 20:28a, CSB).
In his first follow-up letter, Paul tells Timothy again to pay attention to his life: “Pay close attention to your life and your teaching; persevere in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16, CSB).
Resilient pastors who hope to finish their course pay attention to their heart, soul, mind and strength as well as to their relationships and finances (Acts 20).
Research reveals not enough pastors are practicing soul care.
Barna’s Resilient Pastor research revealed a decline in pastors’ physical health between 2015 and 2022. The percentage of those who ranked their physical health as average or poor more than tripled since 2015 (7 percent to 22 percent), and the percentage rating their health as excellent declined from 24 percent to 9 percent.
The share of pastors who reported their mental and emotional health as below average increased from 3 percent in 2015 to 10 percent in 2022. And GuideStone’s mental health claims have gone up 40 percent in the last three years.
Another study found “almost 40 percent of all clergy report low satisfaction with their overall life … and high levels of daily stress.”
“Now also finish the task, so that just as there was an eager desire, there may also be a completion, according to what you have” (2 Cor. 8:11, CSB).
The difference between being a resilient pastor who perseveres and a pastor who becomes another sad statistic is whether or not you pay attention to your life. So, are you a resilient pastor?