I have written this blog out of a heart that wants to see young ministers or those who are new to ministry thrive. There are those who have been in ministry much longer than I have who could write much more about their many years of experience in a very helpful way. With that said, there are some things that I have learned in the pastoral and leadership roles that I have held over the past fifteen years or so. While I haven’t fell into all of these five pitfalls, I’ve had my share of missteps and don’t want to see any other young minister fall into the same pits. We are seeing a growing number of pastors with well established ministries fall victim to traps, with some of them losing their churches and ministries never to return. This is sad. Its pretty safe to say that none of them ever thought they would be where they are today, but who does? This is why I believe that setting boundaries early and taking inventory often will lead to a long and prosperous ministry that will leave a lasting legacy. Before you are quick to read the titles of some of these and say that’s not me, take a long hard look at your life, whether you think you’re successful or not. Just because you have successes doesn’t mean that there is not room for improvement.
1. Ministry Over Family/Marriage
This is probably one of the biggest downfalls for a minister. It is a fundamental misunderstanding of what God expects out of us as pastors and ministry leaders. One of the reasons that so many pastors have horrible marriages is that when they felt the call to the ministry, their relationships with their wives took a back seat. It doesn’t happen over night, but in time they look up and realize that their connection with their spouse has been lost. Think you are to young and in love for this to happen to you? Its happening to the best of them. Our call as leaders is to first love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength Deut 6:5, Matt 22:37. This is where a lot of ministers go wrong. We start off loving Jesus and wanting to use all of our talents and abilities to get the gospel out to as many people as possible, then something bad happens. Slowly without even realizing it, our focus is not loving Jesus with all of our heart, soul and mind, but rather we give all of that to the ministry. It is a ploy of the enemy to take the calling for which God has given you and turn it into an idol that shuts God out. Because when you’re no longer loving God, but still love ministry, God is not involved. Everything you do in ministry must flow out of your relationship with God. I know from my own life what it means to be driven. The passion and the intensity you have to see the vision that God has called you to come to pass. But ask yourself this, Do you have the same passion and drive to see your marriage thrive? How many hours are you willing to put in to see that your wife and family are tended to? See, the next thing that God has called leaders to do is to love our wives as Christ loves the church Eph 5:25. Notice the scripture doesn’t say love your wives as you love the church, rather you are to love them as Christ loves the church. It doesn’t matter how much you love ministry if you don’t love your wife or she comes second to ministry. You are probably thinking that this doesn’t apply to you because you say you love your wife, but have you read 1 Cor 13 lately? How patient have you been with your wife lately? How about the times that you keep record of her wrongs in your mind? See, its easy to love those that you are over at church because you don’t have to go home with them and make major life decisions with them. You don’t have to help raise their children, but you do have to do those things with your wife. I know what its like to spend ten to fifteen hours or even longer each week preparing a sermon. Trying to find the perfect illustrations and everything else that will tie that masterpiece of a sermon together. Yes, you need to study to show yourself approved unto God 2 Tim 2:15, but Paul didn’t write that to Timothy so that he could make study and research an idol.When you stand before God, He’s going to want to know what you did for your first church, (your family) before he wants to know what you did for your extended family (the church) When you truly love God with all of your heart, your focus will be on pleasing Him, in turn you will be a great husband and father first, then a minister. Notice I said great, not perfect. God is not looking for perfect men, but surrendered men. I believe this is one of the reasons men of God fall into sexual sin. They simply are not rejoicing in the wife of their youth Prov 5:18, rather they have replaced that with a passion for ministry. I do not write this in judgment, but rather out of a heart that wants to see health come to ministers around the world. There was a time in my own life that ministry became number one. I went an entire span of ten years in various pastoral ministry positions without one vacation. I spent hours researching and studying for sermons at the expense of time with my family. I thought I was doing a noble thing when in reality I was living contrary to what God wanted for my life. As long as you will sacrifice your family, people will let you. You are not immune to falling into this trap. Make changes to your schedule now and go on dates with your wife. Take out time at least one time a week to have an uninterrupted time out doing something you both like to do. You will never get that time back. My wife and I have what we call “face time” every week. This is a time where we can be focused just on us. What I’ve found is that it is a kind of pride to think that you can’t take a vacation because you think things will fall apart if you’re not present. If you were Jesus that would be true, but you’re not, so go on vacation, spend time with your wife and keep God first. Everything else will fall into place.
2. No Family Vision
If I were to ask you were you see your ministry in five years, you could probably rattle off a lot of things in a short amount of time. Now, if I were to ask you where you see your family in five years the list would probably be much shorter. What I have found is that some just coming into the ministry are super excited about whats ahead for them in ministry but not a clue where their family should be spiritually, emotionally, and financially. Why emotionally? Ministry is very hard on a pastor/ministry leader and his family. It is very important that as a husband and father, he is listening and addressing their concerns as they take this journey together. Sometimes leaders go years without addressing the concerns and frustrations of their wife and children and it leads to a wife that is bitter towards ministry and sometimes even God. It sometimes also leads their children into rebellion and even suicide. The Bible states in Prov 29:18 that “where there is no vision, the people perish”. Do you have a vision for your family like you do for your ministry? How about finances? Are you just living day by day hoping that things will work themselves out? does that ever happen? Absolutely not. We must be intentional about our finances. If you’re in ministry you know that finances are not always abundant, and there are times that you could move to multiple states where salaries may vary depending on the size and circumstances of the places you may serve. This can be an added stress to your wife and children if you don’t have a vision for your finances.You can endure unnecessary hardships due to poor financial planning which can also lead to distractions in ministry. Its tough to have a razor sharp focus on the ministry when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from. It is also irresponsible. What about spiritually? So many leaders are so focused on how their church or youth groups are doing spiritually, that they forget how their own family is doing. How is the atmosphere at your home? Is it conducive to the workings of the Holy Spirit? What kinds of music are your children listening to? What and how much TV and social media are all of you consuming? Is there bible reading and prayer? These are things that all of us should be asking ourselves, but especially if we are in leadership. What will we say to God if we boast about how healthy our church or ministry is but our family has no vision, nothing to attain to, no goal ahead. Think about it. We as husbands and fathers have to have our ears attentive to the Holy Spirit to know what His desires are for our families as we go through different seasons. Fantasy football is great, baseball season is great, but what about God’s seasons? What if His plan is to draft one of your children for the greatest missionary team this world has ever seen? What if your son is the first round pick for a new church plant? See, if we can’t see what God sees, some dreams may perish. Don’t let it happen to you! Your family should have a vision before your church, youth group, or small group has one. Get with your wife and discuss your goals and dreams together. Sit down with your kids and share with them what God is showing you about their lives, then set up a plan to make it happen! Go!
Prov 16:18 Pride goes before destruction and haughtiness before a fall. Scoot in real close because there’s something I need to tell you. You are not amazing. Christ Jesus and He alone is amazing. Whatever success you have gained has nothing to do with you, but has everything to do with God. We are depraved and utterly useless without God. There is no quicker way to lose your anointing than to start thinking God shows up because you walked in the room. Nothing can be farther from the truth. As young ministers begin to see small successes in their ministries, it is easy to start thinking that it is your planning and strategy that’s making things happen. Don’t be fooled. It is neither your plan or your strategy that gets anything done, but rather the workings of the Holy Spirit. Do everything you can to deflect praise from you and redirect it to God. This does not mean that people can’t compliment you on being a willing vessel, but train your soul to always give honor to who it really belongs to. You need not worry, God will elevate you. Cast down early in your ministry enemies of the heart such as lust, pride, and greed, seeing that those three enemies are the most enticing, but yet the most lethal. Its cool to be called pastor so and so, but if you need to be called that, that’s a red flag. The only person that needs to recognize us is God. If heaven doesn’t know you, that’s a problem. If people don’t, who cares. And if you’re making strides in the kingdom, Hell will know you as well and will try to entice you to do just as the devil tried to do in heaven and take some praise for yourself. That didn’t work out to well for him and neither will it for you. Early on in my ministry and sometimes even now I have a hard time accepting compliments from people because I’m deathly afraid of pride. But what I’ve found is that its ok to accept compliments, it’s what you do with the compliment that’s important. Accolades from people are false floors. You are amazing today and fit for the gutter tomorrow. Keep your eyes on Jesus and forsake all else.
4. “My Sermon Prep Is Sufficient Time With God”
Think of a buzzer in a basketball game or when someone gives the wrong answer on a game show. This has got to be the most fatal flaw in a minister’s life. There is no amount of studying of the word for a message that can replace your personal time with the Lord. Trust me, this is a fatal mistake to you, your family and your ministry. Everything you do flows from your personal times of refreshing in the presence of your heavenly Father. This common misconception is what I feel is causing early burnout in pastors. You cannot survive without the source of life for your own soul. You need to drink deep from His wells in a very personal way. You must allow the Word to pierce deep into your own life before you can help others. God longs for you to be healthy mentally, spiritually and emotionally. The only place that you find that is in the throne room, for yourself and by yourself. As you lay hands on the sick, you need to be continually healed on the inside. As you speak life over others, you need to allow the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to speak life into your own spirit. Make time to sit and soak in His presence. If your schedule is too busy for that, you are to busy to be the leader God has called you to be. I know what it’s like to read the Bible and even when you’re reading for yourself the scriptures are coming alive to you and you begin to write down notes for a sermon. But what if that word was for you and you missed it because you were to busy being a preacher instead of a sheep hearing the voice of your shepherd for your own life. I will never forget when my lovely wife and I were at a marriage conference. She looked over at me as I was feverishly taking notes. For a moment I think she thought she was going to come home to a new husband as it seemed I was holding on to every word the marriage experts were saying. Part of that was true, I was holding on to every word those men of God were saying. The problem was that I wasn’t writing down those things for me and my marriage, rather I was writing them down for a future sermon! I was stuck in pastor mode and could not extract with clarity what I needed for my own life. Needless to say my wife wasn’t exactly running the aisles with excitement that she was bringing the man of her dreams home that night, but rather the same old stuck in the mud, priorities wrong, church vision driven pastor husband that she was stuck with. That’s not what she signed up for. She wants a man that has more passion to see his marriage thrive than a great sermon preached. But when you’re stuck in leader mode all the time you will never get the nourishment you need for your life. Study the Bible for your own life. Pray for your own soul. An unhealthy pastor cannot build a healthy church. If this is an imbalance in your life, fix it today. After I transitioned from my last pastorate, I felt God wanted me to take a sabbatical before I went back into full time ministry. I’m still in it today even though I have small leadership roles in my local church. My desire is that my personal house is in order, then I can entertain what God has for my future. So I encourage you to check for imbalances in your own life. Don’t be legalistic about it, but make sure you’re spending time with your amazing Father. It’s worth every minute.
This issue is directly connected to our culture. We live in a very consumer driven society. The entitlement mentality of the teens and twenty somethings has gotten out of control. It’s amazing how many twenty somethings think they should be living like their parents who are many times in their late forties and early fifties. The same goes for young ministers who get their first position right out of bible college. Many young ministers want to live like their spiritual mentors when it took their mentors years to get where they are today. Its ok to drive a clunker the first few years in ministry, we did. When some young ministers finally get a position they go and make big financial purchases like getting cars with payments on them and buying homes they can barely afford. This is a grave mistake and a hardship on your family if anything were to happen. If you’ve been in ministry any length of time you know that it can be touch and go sometimes with finances at the church depending on size and the economic status of the area in which you serve. Some young ministers don’t plan for things not working out and having to move their families. All they are thinking about are the things they would like to have. You are not defined by a car, house, Iphone or what other ministers including your mentor has. It is healthy both spiritually and naturally for you to go through seasons of waiting and putting money away for emergencies. Be smart. No one owes you anything, even in ministry, and you certainly are not entitled to anything but what your education and experience can gain you. Do not put your family under strain trying to live where you think you deserve to be, but rather seek to be where God wants you to be. I hope these have been a help to you and your families. God bless!