5 Steps to the Finish Line: 1-Step Down
Ministry longevity remains a point of debate in our denominational cohort. There's been some healthy assessment of research systems gathering minister tenure data and warnings about referencing dated statistics. Still, even the most positive and upbeat church analysts demonstrate concern over the relatively short tenure of ministers and some of the darker profile elements that typify spiritual leaders and their families. There's plenty of information out there and you can Google "pastoral tenure in the United States" for 394,000 possibilities in .54 seconds. Let me issue a warning before you conduct a data search: groups interpret the statistics in ways that accomplish their goals in conducting the research. Therefore, their conclusions are often at odds. Be on your guard as you review some of the contrasting numbers and conclusions.
So, what is pastoral tenure in the United States. Most agree that ministers stay in a church around 3.6 years. It may be another urban legend about church life but most also suggest a three year honeymoon period as churches and leaders adjust to the changing dynamics of new leadership. If both numbers are in the ball park, many of our churches are in a constant state of transition. The result: mission, church health, stability, trust, relationships, and confidence become peripheral priorities. This is perhaps why Dr. Thom Rainer, President of LifeWay Christian Resources indicated a correlation between pastoral tenure and church health in his blog post on December 4, 2015. Longer tenure equates to healthy churches.
So, how is tenure lengthened in a non-hierarchical denomination where churches are independently governed? There's long list of possibilities. My interest and passion is in the pastoral/church staff area. That's why I wrote Finish. Period. Going the Distance in Ministry last year (WestBow Press, 2015). Chapter Three: Steps is a review of five steps Jesus modeled as a template for finishing his earthly ministry. John wrote, "Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked" (1 John 2:6). My thesis is simple: lengthening pastoral and ministry tenure isn't a product of business models, job descriptions, by-laws, marketing strategy, or business meetings. Pastoral and staff longevity is a spiritual matter. Ministers and church members should learn to walk as Jesus walked. What are those steps? They're the blog topics this week.
Step One: The step down, the step of humility
Instead, he emptied himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men.
The step down is total submission to Christ, and demonstration of the servant
mind and heart of Christ in the pursuit of kingdom mission. It is the humility of
"Who's in charge?" is often one of the most unsettling questions pastors, church staff members, and church leaders must answer. This is because the cult of self often kidnaps the identity of Christ in us. Guarded by the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I the ego thing may derail more ministerial careers and church effectiveness than any other distraction. Humility is typically what we want to see in others and not in ourselves. This is especially true in the consumer church culture where the stage is so blinding to so many leaders.
However, self-denial is really the first step of following Christ. Jesus didn't flinch when he said, "If anyone wants to come with Me, let him deny himself" (Luke 9:23). The step of humility isn't a lesson reserved for advanced leadership training or a course in a church leader degree curriculum. It is the basic stuff of Christian faith, the norm for believers. Yet, much of the drama in church life is fueled by prideful arrogance and self-absorbed preferences.
Paul's letters are tutorials in Christian relationships. He wrote---
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more
significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests,
but also to the interests of others.
Philippians 2:3-4, ESV
Of course, there are many other biblical references to the dangers of pride and the beauty of humility as a basic guide to Christian living. But, even one is sufficient to challenge us greatly in taking that first step to the finish line of ministry, the step down, the step of humility.
Let me add an asterisk here. The Step Down: The Step of Humility isn't a reserved stairway for those called into pastoral or church staff ministry. Our culture has become even more egocentric and prideful than many previous generations. The drop out rate in just about every human discipline is escalating. Theses steps to the finish line actually apply across the board of human commitment. And, as previously indicated, the humility of Christ is a central expectation of every believer called into fellowship with him. For the last couple of months I've been overwhelmed, again, by the fifty-nine one another passages in the New Testament. Among them is 1 Peter 5:5, which reads, "Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” The use of the inclusive "all of you" broadens the circle of humility as defining character trait of every believer in every walk of life. So, widen the search in the application The Step Down: The Step of Humility. It is the first step to the finish line for all of us.
More about the Five Steps to the Finish Line tomorrow.