8 Tips for Surviving Ministry

by Dr. Roger Barrier

1. Get rid of your messiah complex.

Behind the orange couch in our living room was as good a place as any to have a nervous break down. I called up our head counselor and said, “It’s Saturday night and I am hiding behind the couch crying. This is not normal, is it?”

“No,” he replied. “I’ve seen this coming for a long time and I’ve already made arrangements for you to talk to a Christian counselor. He’s waiting for your call.”

As we sat for our third session Jerry said, “Today we are going to talk about your messiah complex.”

“Messiah complex! I don’t have a messiah complex!”

“Don’t be so surprised. Most young ministers have one.”

A messiah complex, for our purposes, has to do with a pastor’s misunderstanding of their dreams. They dream of a large successful ministry having accomplished great work for God. The extreme might reveal it self in thoughts like these: “God has called me to win this city for Christ!”

A messiah complex may cause pastors to consider their call from Jesus so important that they are willing to sacrifice their spouses’ and children and health for the sake of the “call.”

I discovered lurking within me was an enormous messiah complex. I used to imagine when I entered Heaven God would say something like this: “Oh Roger. I am so glad you are finally here! You did things that even Moses never did!”

About the age of 40-45 most pastors begin to see that their dreams just aren’t going to come true. How they handle this moment makes all the all the difference in the world.

2. Protect yourself.

Jesus knew the importance of boundaries: “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself” (John 6:15). The exhausted Jesus—tired from teaching, preaching and healing all day often withdrew to refresh, regroup and pray.

Bill Hybels talks often about the four gauges we must monitor: Emotional—Physical—Mental—Spiritual. When the “Check Engine” light brightens up the dash board, we don’t pull out a hammer and knock out the light. We find out what is wrong and fix it.

3. Get your expectations in line with reality.

Early in my ministry I was going to win the world to Jesus…. When that wasn’t happening I changed my focus to winning Tucson for Jesus. Soon, I saw that I couldn’t even win my street for Jesus.

We all have expectations that we intend to live up to. Like, “Today, I am going to visit patients in three different hospitals, spend four hours in sermon prep, have two counseling sessions and make fifteen calls to church members. The truth is, that will never happen—not enough time in the day.

The distance between your expectations and reality is your frustration level. Stop trying to fix your frustration by working harder and faster. The key is to bring your expectations closer to reality. The closer your expectations are to reality, the less frustration you will have and you will be able to go home and bless your spouse and kids.

4. Spend more time with the energizers and less with drainers.

Most people in our ministries are what I call neutrals. We know them by name and have casual conversations with them at church or in the community. They don’t really energize or drain us.

Drainers, on the other hand, can suck the very life out of us. You go to their houses for dinner at 7:00 pm and three hours later you look at your watch and it’s really 7:35! You are in the presence of drainers.

Energizers, on the other hand, bless us with companionship, encouragement, fun, and energy. You go to their houses for dinner and 35 minutes later you look at your watch and it is 11:25! Where did the time go? Your spouse says to you, as you get into the car, “Wow, that was a great night. I can hardly wait to be with them again!” You’ve just spent the evening with Energizers.

Spend time with the neutrals and a little time with the drainers; but a significant amount of time with the energizers. I have a boundary in place that allows drainers three sentences before I break in and say, “Sandy, now is not a good time. I need to talk to some others, too.” I turn to the next person and go on.

5. Protect your children.

As my daughters grew older we made a deal. Any sermon illustration about them must first be cleared with them. Then we bargained for how much the illustrations were worth.

Pastors’ kids struggle with the God issue. Many rebel. 32% never attend church again; 32% enter the ministry thinking this is the only way God (or dad or mom) will love me. How dysfunctional is that!

I remember praying for my busy, overloaded ministry day for God to take care of my kids: “It’s only fair”, I said to Him, “I’m going to be busy with your work today so it’s not too much me to ask for You to take care of my children today.”

I distinctly heard God answer: “Remember Eli and Samuel and David. They were busy taking care of My work while ignoring their children. If I did not rescue their children what makes you think that I am going to rescue yours? The only one who can fulfill the role of father to your children is you! And, if you don’t do it, nobody else will do it either.”

6. Protect your spouse.

My wife, Julie, hardly fit the expected role of pastor’s wife as defined by many churches of the last generation. She is extraordinarily creative, talented, musical and brilliant.

One of our staff members once said to me “You had best set her free or you will have a very angry woman on your hands in twenty years.”

I feel a divine calling from God to run interference and support her so that she can use and fulfill all the gifts and talents God has given her.

She’s played keyboards with the high school rock band in her leopard skin pants. She has three post graduate degrees in music. She’s conducted church and community concerts, taught worship at seminaries, written a text book on orchestra and musical instruments and now leads the Preach It, Teach It web site with approximately 20,000 hits per month.

I’ve stood behind her every step of the way. Freeing the pastor’s spouse to fulfill their calling is critical in ministry survival.

7. Consider preaching expository sermons to maximize your time and effectiveness.

Too often the harried pastor struggles to decide what to preach the next Sunday. May I suggest working through the Bible paragraph by paragraph? No time is wasted wondering, “What shall I preach?” You just preach the next several verses.

There is nothing wrong with topical preaching. It has its place—it just tends to be “thin” over time.

8. Remember the Sabbath… and take a nap

“If you have more than three ways people can get in touch with you, you are a really sick person,” said my pastor friend.

Jesus didn’t live a harried life like most of us. And we don’t have to, either. He knew just what time it was and paced Himself to arrive there just on time.

We tend to say, “Yeah, but that’s Jesus. Does God have an answer for us?” You bet He does. The answer can be summed up in two words: “The Sabbath.”

The idea is refreshment; recharge your batteries. So develop a workable plan:

a. Take A Full Twenty-Four Hours Off Every Seven Days.

b. Limit yourself to no more than 45 to 50 recorded hours per week.

c. Schedule carefully so that you are at home at four nights per week.

d. Use Compensation Days the next week when you worked more than the allotted days the previous week.

e. Arrange for a church leader to “cover” for you on your day off.

f. get the deacons, elders or church leaders to approve the plan.

I hope this is helpful. The goal is not just to survive but to thrive.


Posted in Career Tips