How to Build a Healthy Ministry

sabbath as a pastor

We recently launched the Pastor Circle. “What’s the pastor circle?” I am happy you asked! It’s a virtual small group for pastors and ministry leaders. During our monthly gatherings, we share a practical leadership lesson then break off into roundtable discussions designed to help us grow as ministers and a community.

Our first topic wasn’t what you’d expect. We didn’t discuss how to create a powerful service, how to develop a preaching calendar, or how to actually remember to turn in your receipts to the finance office. Rather, we talked about how to build a healthy ministry. Not a big ministry. Not a flashy ministry. We shared practical tips to help us build our ministries in the healthiest way possible.

A Healthy Structure for Ministry

Our inspiration for how to build a healthy ministry came from a head-scratching passage in 1 Peter, where Peter (the rock) teaches us about community using a metaphor we are all familiar with – construction.

It’s mind-blowing to watch a building project unfold, isn’t it? Construction workers transform bricks into beautiful buildings. Through tedious work and lots of concrete, they assemble brick by brick until they form a wall. One wall becomes four walls. Four walls become formational structures that form a building. A brick by itself is just a doorstop or a paperweight, but a bunch of bricks can become a home. 

I have seen dozens of dear friends burn out over the past few years. I do not want to see that happen to any more friends or fellow leaders. How do we protect ourselves from burnout? By honestly evaluating the blueprint of our ministries. That’s why we created a personal assessment to evaluate the structures, support, and foundation of a healthy ministry.

First, there is the cornerstone — Jesus.

What good is a beautiful building if it has a weak foundation though? Peter shows us where to find our foundation — it’s in the cornerstone of Christ (1 Peter 2:6). This means that Jesus is our firm foundation. This is how we should build our own ministries. Your church isn’t built on a pastor, programs, or politics. It should be built on a person named Jesus. How do we ensure that Jesus fortifies us? Do these things daily:

  • Pray. Prayer should be the fuel behind everything you do. Seek God’s face before you make a single decision. Prayer is not merely part of our ministry, prayer is the force behind our ministry.
  • Read God’s Word. This should go without saying, but are you in God’s word daily? Not just for sermon preparation either. Never let sermon preparation be your only form of spiritual formation. Dive into scripture daily. Not to create something, but to receive something.
  • Worship. We aren’t just talking about music here, but truly strive to worship while you work.

Second, you need support — community.

Peter calls us “living stones.” At first glance, that’s pretty lame. Who wants to be called a brick? I’d want to be something cooler than that — maybe a monument, moose, or starfish. Not a brick though! Why would he use that metaphor? Think about it. When stones get together with other stones, they become something amazing. The Great Wall of China is just some stones. The pyramids are made up of a bunch of bricks. This passage teaches that Jesus is building His church — with us. 

By yourself, you are a mere rock. When you come together with other people. we make something amazing. Simply put, don’t do ministry alone. You were created for community. How do we ensure we have solid support structures in place? Do these things monthly:

  • Network with other pastors. Join a circle. Get involved with a local pastor network. Shoot, join a fantasy football team. Whatever it looks like, focus on fostering healthy connections with other leaders.
  • Meet up with another ministry leader. Get one-on-one with another person in a similar walk of life. These discussions can range from encouragement to accountability. Regardless of the topics discussed, these conversations will be crucial to your overall ministry health.
  • Talk with a counselor, coach, or mentor. I am a major proponent of professional counseling in ministry. Please push past the stigma associated with counseling and give it an honesty try. Processing your problems and pain with another person often catalyzes breakthrough.

Lastly, build out your structures — this is your ministry strategy.

This is last on the list. Kind of weird, right? Nope. Not at all. We often lead with programming as our central focus. The sermons have to be written. The songs have to be practiced. The trash has to be taken out. That mission trip isn’t going to plan itself. I get it, programming is at the center of everything you do. However, your ministry strategy will come together naturally if you prioritize Jesus and community.

It’s easier to preach when God is showing you something new every day. It’s easier to fill others when you are also fulfilled. New ideas come to you when you surround yourself with other people doing similar work as you. Leading a ministry solely based on strategy is like making a sandwich with nothing but mustard and pickles. In your attempt to make something as awesome as a sub, you made something as lame as a two-ingredient salad. Sure, those things play their part, but they need the rest of the elements to create something enjoyable.
How do we keep our strategy sharp? Do these things weekly:

  • Read something that helps you grow and lead better. Whether it’s a book, a blog, an article, or a resource. “Leaders are learners.”  Be sure you you strive to learn something new and apply that principle at least once a week.
  • Listen to a ministry podcast. I get it, this is similar to point number one. However, have you really tapped into the amazing information at your fingertips with podcasts? Put one on while you workout, drive, or do the dishes. Podcasts are great for priming our mental pumps. As you listen, ideas will just start coming. 
  • Share what you are learning with your leaders. This is something we often miss. If you are learning something, be sure to share it! Send out a resource to your small group leaders. Share a podcast with ministry team. Shoot a resource to one of your fellow pastors. If knowledge is power, then shared knowledge is shared power.

Assess the Health of your Ministry

Together, we are building something that’s stunning. It’s the Church. We want to be sure every ministry of every leader reading this is healthy and thriving. That’s why we created a resource to help you assess the overall blueprint of the ministry you’re building.

Why is it important to be a healthy leader? You’ll last. You won’t burn out your volunteers. You’ll be less likely to bring your work struggles home with you. If you build your ministry on the foundation of Jesus with the support of a Christian community, you will stand strong and last long. 

Watch this message from the Pastor Circle virtual small group