What Does it Take to Survive and Thrive in Ministry?

5 Essential Ingredients: What Are They?

The old joke goes something like this, "For six days a pastor is hard to find and the seventh, hard to understand." While that may be funny on the surface, it belies a deep misunderstanding of what pastors do from day to day and week to week. It also reveals a significant lack of understanding of the life, pressures and expectations of someone in ministry.

Recently, I  re-read a helpful book on pastoral ministry entitled, Resilient Ministry: What Pastors Told us About Surviving and Thriving. (Bob Burns, Tasha D. Chapman, and Donald C. Guthrie, IVP Books, 2013)

Here is how the book came to be:

This book, based on seven years of research, seeks to answer these questions. Our research focused on gathering pastors and their spouses into peer cohorts, which met repeatedly in multi day retreats called Pastors Summits where we facilitated heartfelt discussions about the challenges of vocational ministry. This book presents the summary and analysis of those discussions in light of our literature research and experiences.

Based upon the discussions, the book identifies 5 areas that are critical for surviving and thriving in Christian ministry. Those five areas are:

  • Spiritual Formation: personal growth in grace and maturity.
  • Self Care: the pursuit of physical, mental and emotional health.
  • Emotional and Cultural Intelligence: Emotional intelligence of oneself as well as others.
  • Marriage and Family: spiritual and relational health with their spouse, children and extended family.
  • Leadership and Management: sharing congregational leadership, building congregational community, effective administration, conflict utilization and responsible self-management.'

No Sour Grapes, Just Reality

As I pondered these 5 areas, I reflected back on my time in seminary and my days in pastoral ministry. Unfortunately, I can't remember when any of these five areas were emphasized in my preparation for ministry, nor my ongoing equipping while in ministry! While much of what I studied in seminary was essential to my work, so much was never addressed. In addition, there was little or no vision for ongoing development and growth once I found myself in a pastoral role. This was virtually missing at the local, as well as the regional and national level in my denomination.

As I reflected back on my circle of friends who have spent many years in ministry, they confirm that these critical areas are where most of their challenges and heartache lie. It is almost always the areas that caused many to leave.

A Way Forward?

If these findings are accurate, what does this say about our seminary training and ongoing support that is provided for those serving in pastoral ministry? I think the conclusions are obvious. But will we take them seriously? We can't afford not to.

For information about an organization that addresses these very issues, follow this link to the Institute for Pastoral Care.

Copyright © 2015 Timothy S. Lane


Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.