Studies have shown that “the average duration of a pastorate is four to five years.”[1] It has been observed that “pastors transition for many reasons, including conflict, family problems, ministry preference, and burnout.”[2] With so many pastors leaving the ministry, church leaders need to understand the importance of spiritual formation and its role in their life and ministry. Spiritual formation as defined by Bob Burns is “the ongoing process of maturing as a Christian, both personally and interpersonally.”[3] Given that pastors face daily struggles and pressures, I would like to show the importance of spiritual formation in cultivating pastoral resilience.

Pastors know first-hand how the pressures of life and ministry can lead to despair. When a pastor is overwhelmed by them, he can feel so hopeless to the point that resigning from his position seems to be the only option. Thankfully, it does not have to end that way—there's an alternative for pastors who are on the verge of giving up. The Apostle Peter reminds weary saints that God strengthens those who serve him especially during adversity (1 Pet. 4:11). But to be resilient in the ministry, pastors need to also learn how to reflect on their spiritual life in a way that increases their awareness of God's sustaining grace. Unfortunately, when it comes to serious reflection on their spiritual lives, pastors often fail to consider it because of their busy schedules.[4] They share: “We grow busier and busier to please more and more people. We spend more time in meetings than we do in prayer.”[5]Because of the pressures pastors face, they need to develop spiritual disciplines such as prayer to aid their spiritual formation. Eugene Peterson notes, “The pastoral work begins in prayer. Anything creative, anything powerful, anything biblical, insofar as we are participants in it, originates in prayer.”[6]

William Willimon recounts how the early church prioritized prayer to help both leaders and members see the importance of prayer:

Acts begins with the risen Christ promising his followers that “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). But first they gather in an upper room and engage in what some might regard as a pious triviality, “constantly devoting themselves to prayer” (Act 1:14). Is this how the revolution begins? The activism demanded of the church is more than mere breathless busyness and strenuous human effort. Disciples have been told that they ought to “pray always and not to lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Prayer is not so much an “activity” as a way of life for the church.[7]

Moreover, for us to grow in our prayer life, we need to remember that "our Christian doing must flow from an outpouring of our being. Our doing must be an overflow from the grace and love of God in our life with him.”[8] As pastors take the time to reflect on their spiritual life and pursue a vibrant prayer life, God will enable them to not only endure but thrive in the ministry—and when pastors are motivated by God's grace, pastoral ministry will no longer be a burden to carry but a privilege to delight in.

 

 

 

[1] Bob Burns, Tasha Chapman, and Donald Guthrie, Resilient Ministry (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013), chap. 13, Kindle. 

[2] Ibid., chap. 13, Kindle. 

[3] Ibid., chap. 3, Kindle. 

[4] Ibid., chap. 2 Kindle.

[5] Jim Herrington, R. Robert Creech, and Trisha Taylor, The Leader’s Journey: Accepting the Call to Personal and Congregational Transformation (San Francisco: Jossy-Bass, 2003), 131.

[6] Bob Burns, Tasha Chapman, and Donald Guthrie, Resilient Ministry (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013), chap. 4, Kindle. 

[7] William Willimon, Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry (Nashville, TEN: Abingdon Press, 2016) Kindle.

[8] Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 28.