Ministry Stages

When I was a young minister in my late 20s if a meeting at church finished by 9.30 pm, then I’d go out visiting. I reckoned that I could always knock on the door of most people up until 10 pm – with my leaders I believed that I would be welcomed up until 10.30 pm! Now 40 years later, if a meeting ends at 9.30 pm I am delighted to be able to go back home and read the paper!

The fact is that my energy levels today are no longer what they once were. Indeed, in the last five years I have begun to take the occasional power nap: if I have had a heavy day, and there is still work to do in the evening, I will often put my feet up and listen to the news – and almost immediately I will be lost to the world for 20 minutes. I used to feel guilty about such naps, until I listened to an Anglican cleric in his late 50s tell of how every day after lunch he went to bed for a siesta!

Bill Hybels, the founding pastor of Willow Creek, tells in his book Courageous Leadership that the day came when shortly before he turned 50, he too had to change his pattern of ministry. In the first place, he says, he changed the pace of his life: realising that he was in danger of burning himself out, he resolved every summer to take a three week vacation. Amazingly in the States most pastors do not have the luxury of long holidays! Secondly, he changed how he did ministry: instead of speaking at every service, he decided to share the teaching load with others. Thirdly, he made changes to his personal life: he bought a boat and took up sailing!

Although I have not bought a boat, I too have realised the need to change the pattern of my ministry. I confess that I found it a personal struggle to change – for if the truth be told, I like to be in control of all that happens in the church. In terms of how I do ministry, I am now much more focussed on leading rather than managing the church, which in turn has freed me from attending all sorts of meetings during the week. As far as Sunday is concerned, I have accepted that my responsibility is for the morning service alone – and I allow my younger colleagues to develop the evening service. Although I still work hard, I have been persuaded to take a more relaxed approach to work. Indeed, at my last appraisal I was told in no uncertain manner that the white-haired are paid not for what they do, but for their knowledge and experience. I have agreed to reduce my workload by at least 10% – and with the encouragement of my deacons I even take off the occasional Sunday evening!

So with less than three years to go before I retire, am I on the downward slope? Is it true that the older ministers become, the less effective they are? I believe not. I endorse the way in which Andrew Blackwood divided active ministry into three stages:

  1. Years full of promise (25-40);
  2. A period of transition (40-55); and
  3. A time of fruition (55-70).

“The closing years of full-time ministry”, wrote Blackwood, “ought to be the most fruitful and the most joyous”. This certainly has been my experience up to now – and I look forward with anticipation to all the positive and creative developments of the last two and a bit years of ministry.

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