What if the Lord were to reveal to you that in 10 years, your life and your ministry would be the same as it is now? Driving the same car, sitting in the same office, singing the same worship songs, preaching the same style of sermons, dealing with the same problems and problem people, attending the same meetings, and struggling to stop the decline.
Would you be happy with that? Most people wouldn’t. Chances are you wouldn’t, either.
So, why are you reluctant to change and lead change? By dragging your feet and resisting change, you deny yourself the many wonderful benefits that come with change.
First, you deny yourself the opportunity for professional development, risking an early plateau. Further disciplined study will sharpen your skills, equip you with new skills, and keep your ministry—especially your preaching—fresh and up to date.
There’s a troubling reality we’re often unwilling to confront. Most pastors reach their leadership peak in a church around seven to 10 years. By year 15, their leadership effectiveness diminishes. Most pastors reach their professional peak in their fifties, after which a slow decline begins.
Another sobering fact we’ve discovered at Turnaround Pastors is that it’s common for pastors to neglect their professional development after Bible college or seminary. Other professions require practitioners to continue their education throughout their careers. Training seminars and conferences keep them abreast of the latest research and best practices in their respective fields. They earn the CEUs required to maintain licensure.
Should we expect anything less of pastors?
By changing how you manage and develop your ministry, you discover that continuing education is exhilarating because it allows you to do a deep dive into subjects that interest you and to polish or gain important leadership skills. These sorts of changes make bottom-line contributions to your effectiveness as a pastoral leader.
Second, a program of personal and professional growth helps you finish well.
Continuous development helps you maintain a fresh, relevant voice. That reduces the likelihood that you will age out, staying in the pulpit long after your sermons are no longer heard by your congregants or community.
Professional development will also keep you on task in finding and training new leaders. In my years as an intentional interim pastor, I found it common for long-tenured pastors to leave their churches in distress because they failed to raise up new leaders.
Church leaders serving under a long-tenured pastor often become maintenance-oriented, just like the pastor. These churches lack a pool of younger people who are ready to take up the reins of leadership.
Besides maintaining a fresh voice and staying on top of leadership development, working with a mentor or a program of continued professional development focuses your eye on the church’s mission. It keeps you in touch with changes in culture and society so your church can sustain effective outreach to an ever-evolving mission field. It prevents you from drifting into maintenance ministry, the bane of long tenures.
Leading change begins with the pastor’s professional development. A program of continuous growth throughout your career will help you avoid the early plateau and help you finish well.
Here are several ways you can begin the process of lifetime change, growth, and sustained ministry effectiveness.
First, hire a coach or connect with a mentor. Pastors who do are far more effective in leading their congregations to grow.
Second, consider enrolling in seminary level courses online or in residence. You don’t need to sign up for a degree program; you can audit the courses that interest you. Many seminaries now offer online courses for a nominal fee.
Third, take charge of your health. Manage yourself by taking control of your calendar and blocking out times for regular exercise. And no excuses! The payoff, in terms of good health, increased energy, and longevity will pay rich dividends that will sustain you for years to come.
Fourth, join one community-based social organization. Whether it’s a book club, a cycling team, a gathering of hobbyists… it could be almost anything.
This will get you out in public, away from your flock, and expose you to what is going on in your mission field. You will discover new ways your church can reach the community with the gospel.
In church, as in life, nothing changes unless something changes.
You’re the pastor. You’re the church’s primary leader. It begins with you. So, take charge, change yourself, and lead that congregation into the needful changes that will more closely align it with what Jesus is doing in the world.