The Pastor’s Foundation

Joel Nelson

Director of Church Strengthening, Converge North Central

  • Church planting & multiplication
  • //
  • Church strengthening

Recently Barna released its most recent State of the Paster survey. The survey revealed that the top reasons for pastor burnout are stress, loneliness, isolation, and politics. When you look back over all that’s happened in our country and world the last two years, this isn’t surprising. Some of you that are reading this are teetering on the verge or burnout, or worse.

As a pastor and church leader dealing with the challenges of ministry today, what is the foundation that your ministry is built upon? Jesus speaks to the importance of a good, solid foundation upon which we build. Consider these four elements as you reflect and consider the foundation upon which you are building and living out your current ministry.

SELF-AWARENESS Take a moment right now and ask yourself, what is the condition of your heart before God? Would you say you are closer to a valley or a mountain top?

There is a theme found throughout numerous biblical references that speaks of God’s concern and care for your heart. Soak that in. We serve a God who cares about every aspect of our lives. Nothing is too big or too small. God cares more about the condition of our heart than about our behavior.

CALLING This element calls us to get back to the basics. Pastors don’t typically seek out, and then devote their lives to a ministry that is consumed with monitoring attendance. They aren’t living out a call to keep track of weekly giving. Do you remember your initial call? What was the call to your current ministry?

In some form or another, you were drawn to serve the Church. You wanted to lead and see the church fulfill the mandate of going and making more and better disciples. Pastors get into ministry to make a difference. To change lives. To see people transformed into the way of Jesus.

Somewhere along the line though, the vision to help people discover Jesus and experience the life-changing and purpose-giving power of the Holy Spirit gets blurred. You’re not alone. It’s hard. It seems to have gotten harder. It doesn’t look like it’s going to get easier, if it ever was!

What is a pastor to do amidst this climate of change, confusion, and disruption? Reclaim your call. Write it down. Recommit to your mission and vision of what you do and why you do it. Refocus your call and why it matters in your current ministry.

RESILIENCY Even if you’ve never taken a stress test, you probably seen images of one. Someone is on a treadmill with electrodes stuck to their body that are connected to a computer. The treadmill starts slow and picks up speed. A great deal of information is gathered during the procedure. But they are not testing the speed of the treadmill or how long the patient can keep up a certain pace. What the doctors are looking at among other things, is the heart rate and how quickly it returns to normal after coming off the treadmill. A key marker of health is the rate of recovery. An outcome of the test is to see how someone deals with stress.

We can’t eliminate every occasion that causes angst or anxiety, but we can find out how we hold up during the storm. Take note of the toll stress has on us.

Resiliency is the ability to bounce back, to persevere, to keep going.

Think of the weight pastors and church leaders carry. In addition to whatever is going on their home, family and relationships, there is the stress of bearing other people's burdens and dreams. There’s also bearing the weight of the church as an organization and the expectations or disappointments of what other people think you should be saying or doing.

Resiliency is not something we can create on our own. Resilience is a work of God’s grace in our life. The “church” word for resilience is faithfulness. It’s steadfast, enduring, persevering, and loving. The apostle Paul calls faithfulness a Fruit of the Spirit. But as with every Fruit of the Spirit, we must participate to show the fruit. Regardless of what this may look like or how it happens, we remember that God is the author, the sustainer, and the finisher of the work.

Resilience begins with Jesus. Consider Peter. In the Easter narrative, Peter doesn’t come across as the picture of strength and confidence. He made a bold promise to never turn away from Jesus, but amidst turbulence he was tested and failed. His world was turned upside down and the cause he had committed his life to appeared to be in shambles. Peter ends up going back to what he knows – fishing. But when Jesus engages with Peter on the shore over breakfast, what is the only thing Jesus wants to know? Peter, do you love me? Not, Do you love the church or my teaching or the miracles? It was simply about loving Jesus.

Our first love is not a purpose, but a person. Resilience begins with a renewed love for Jesus.

SUPPORTIVE RELATIONSHIPS One of the greatest reinforcements to resilience is supportive relationships. Pete Scazzaro talks about the need to have “intentional rhythms of relationships.” This often is a challenge for pastors. They don't make time for themselves as they give time and energy to those in need. There’s also an illusion of supportive relationships in pastoral ministry because we are dealing with people in their most vulnerable and intimate moments; preparing for marriage, welcoming a child, dealing with pain, difficulty and disappointment. We are there at the brightest moments and the darkest hours.

Besides a spouse, who do you journey with in daily living? Who is your football-game-watching buddy or go-to lunch friend?

A recent study found it takes 40-60 hours to cultivate a casual friendship, 80-100 hours to transition to “friend,” and more than 200 hours together to become good friends. Hours spent working together don’t count. We need meaningful friendships if we’re going to last in ministry and stay fully human. Cultivating those friendships take time.

When Paul was shaken and discouraged, he found comfort in Titus. Notice in 2 Corinthians 7:6-7, Paul wasn’t just supported by Titus, but Paul also found encouragement in the comfort Titus has received from the others in the church. Paul endured because of the grace of God and the supportive relationship around him.

We need sages to advise us, leaders to direct and hold us accountable, peers to remind us we’re not alone, healers to dress our wounds, and companions who carry us when we can’t carry on. Who in your life fills those roles?

Resilience is reinforced by supportive relationships. Cultivate such relationship. Move beyond the illusion of intimacy. Take the time to seek out a constellation of lives that God leads you to in order to navigate the stormy seas of life.

CNC is here to help. Whether it be a conversation, tool, connection, or resource such as Staff of the Pastor, we are ready to help you address some of these foundational elements to your ministry. Our desire is to see our pastors thrive in the places God has called them.

Speaking of constellations, I saw Ellie Holcomb in concert earlier this year and she sang this song. It’s been getting a lot of time on my playlist.

Joel Nelson, Director of Church Strengthening, Converge North Central

Director of Church Strengthening

Additional articles by Joel Nelson