by Alan Small, Creekside Community Church, Elizabeth, CO
A common theme in the New Testament is endurance. In Revelation 3, Christ’s letter to the church in Philadelphia, Christ commends and blesses the church for following the command to endure.
At times, we endure trials (James 1:12), we endure discipline (Hebrews 12:7); we endure health issues, conflict, financial insecurity, societal changes, and the list continues to grow. Recently, I heard the average tenure of pastors continues to hold steady at about three and a half years. In too many cases, churches have acted like God has placed us in a spiritual sprint and not a spiritual marathon. Tenures for pastors setting in at less than five years have little chance to propel a church forward to its best days.
Besides serving as pastor, I coach a high school cross country team. In running, our bodies hit a state where lactic acids build up and a runner feels as though they have to stop, but if they push through, they grow accustomed to that sensation and begin to break barriers. At times, developing stamina is painful, but “pressing on” as Paul put it pays off in the end. In our churches, when we work beyond the early struggles, we move to a place where we can break barriers that have proven to be obstacles in our way. Below are a few of my thoughts about how we can help endure as pastors and as churches.
Key #1: Build Your Stamina
When I first began pastoral ministry, I had no idea the amount of mental stamina it took being a pastor. The ebb and flow of serving a local congregation is challenging. Sadly, many pastors and congregations view some of the challenges that happen in ministry as reasons to give up and move on. Time is the only real answer for building stamina. Some suggest a pastor does not truly become the pastor until he has led a church five years. Giving up too soon is too much an epidemic among many pastors.
Key #2: Find and Be Encouragers
I remember preaching a particularly bad sermon. As was her custom, a precious lady came to me and told how good the message was and she grabbed my hands in such a way to let me know she had not given up on me in spite of recognizing the sermon fell flat. I would never make it far without the countless people who stand around me to encourage me through the good and bad. Encouragers give us strength which give us stamina. A simple rule of thumb in finding encouragers is to become an encourager. Encouragement is contagious.
Key #3: Know progress most often comes in small increments
Like many students of the Bible, the Day of Pentecost stands out as a day I would like to have experienced. I want to see the dynamic expression of God moving among people. The reality on most days, however, is slow and steady growth. Little by little and day by day God does things that we often do not see until we take time to see how far we have come. When you do, take a few moments to celebrate the way God has worked.
Key #4: Take advantage of rest days
To coach effectively, I have had to learn that training for endurance events requires specific rest days. The amount of rest needed may vary among different philosophies, but science and wisdom have proven rest days are essential. We all need to take time to rest, to sit at the feet of Jesus and enjoy Him. Several people in my life encourage me to guard my time off and take advantage of it. Burn out is a terrible reality for too many, and it often arises from ignoring the importance of rest days.
Key #5: Whenever possible run with someone else headed in the same direction.
Most people hate meetings, but I have one that stands out as the best one ever. I was laying some groundwork to unfold a vision for our church’s future. Before I could jump into it, a member from our church’s board, said, “Pastor, tell us what you see.” Before we left that day, my okay idea had become our great idea. Walking alongside another makes an enormous difference in our churches. Why walk alone?
My hope and prayer for our churches is that we don’t merely endure but we thrive as we do.
Dr. Alan Small is the pastor of Creekside Community Church in Elizabeth, CO. You can also catch his Enduring Churches podcast on Itunes or at http://enduringchurches.com.