4 Keys to Thriving in Full Time Ministry: Surviving the Circus Act

At times it feels like walking a tightrope without being able to see the safety net below. Trying to thrive in life is something we all strive for, adding full time ministry into the equation can complicate that act. When the winds of doubt, meetings, sermons, sick kids, criticism, hospital visits, relationships, leaky toilets, etc. begin to blow, sometimes all at once, we can quickly find ourselves being knocked off balance.

Disclaimer: I have been in full time ministry for over eleven years. I do not claim to model what it means to thrive in life and ministry 100% of the time nor do I hold the secrets to such, I am simply offering a few suggestions that have helped me experience seasons of fruitfulness within my life and ministry over the years.

1. Lead by saying ‘NO’

If you asked many of the families within our churches, I would guess the majority of them feel overextended and overscheduled. Whether it’s in our professional lives, family lives, or church lives, many of us struggle to say ‘No.’ We see opportunities and possibilities but fail to see the ones we miss when we overcommit.

Often times in full time ministry, the ability to thrive begins to take shape when we start to prioritize our time by saying ‘No.’ Saying ‘no’ to this meeting or that event can not only help model healthy priorities, it can display strong leadership by empowering our volunteers to make things happen, even without us there. Help your people learn how and when to say ‘No.’ God will continue to use your ministry, even if you don’t go to that meeting.

2. Cultivate Your Relationships

Relationships take time and energy. If all of your resources are swallowed up in ministry, your relationships will surely suffer. When our relationships suffer, we will also surely suffer. Neglecting the relationship with your spouse, kids, supportive friends, or God for “the sake of ministry” will not help your ministry. Sacrificing any of these relationships on the altar of ministry is not what Christ has called us to.

Ministry is about people. Sometimes, those very same people can be the cause of stress. When we spend too much time on relationships that are emotionally draining or otherwise unhealthy, we quickly lose our ability to thrive. Make it priority to cultivate healthy relationships. Make quality time for your significant other, family, and friends. Find a coach or mentor. Become a coach or mentor.

3. Sow Holiness

In his recent post entitled, “One Necessary Thing: Starting and Ending Seminary Right,” Chad Holtz shares this quote from Scottish preacher Robert Murray M’Cheyne, “The greatest need of my congregation is my own personal holiness.” This may be the single most important piece of advice when striving for fruitfulness in full time ministry.

Actively pursuing Christ’s holiness in order that we might “be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect” is essential for thriving in life and ministry. Lasting fruitfulness apart from Christ does not exist, which is why we must be intentional about finding ways to sow holiness in our lives and the lives of others. The best tool for full time ministry is a strong relationship with God. We must continually place ourselves on the path of holiness and invite others to join us on the journey.

4. Create ‘Mini Sabbaths’

The idea of Sabbath is so important it made the ultimate top ten list, coming in at number four, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8). Rest is something that many of us struggle with. We don’t know how to find it and often times feel guilty when we do. Our to-do lists don’t get any smaller and our culture has convinced us that we should be going non-stop, giving ourselves hardly a moment to breathe.

Full time ministry can be a tricky thing when it comes to finding Sabbath. Many of us work weekends which means we are forced to find time during the week, if we find any time at all. If there is any hope to thrive in full time ministry, we must experience Sabbath. Perhaps our schedules don’t allow us to carve out an entire day but we can certainly make time throughout the week for ‘Mini Sabbaths.’ Create pockets of time where you are able to simply be, enjoying God’s renewing and refreshing presence. Go for a walk. Play a round of golf. Go see a movie. Take a nap. Find something that brings joy and renews your spirit, and then be sure to work those times of Sabbath into your schedule.

I believe the ability to thrive in life and ministry is possible, not easy, but possible. I also believe fruitfulness in life and ministry makes for a more meaningful, effective, joyful, and sustainable experience. These are a few things I focus on to help me thrive while in ministry, what about you? What are the ways you thrive in your life and ministry?

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Matt Lipan is the Lead Pastor at Gateway Community Church, a new United Methodist congregation in Indianapolis, IN. He received his M.Div. from Asbury Theological Seminary with an emphasis in Leadership. Matt's blog, In The Neighborhood of Holy, is like a casual walk through the neighborhood exploring the places where faith + culture intersect. Look for conversations on music, leadership, culture, Wesleyan theology, discipleship, church, and everything in-between.

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