We are witnessing endless accounts of leaders who have received the flag of disqualification, raised the white flag of premature surrender, or thrown in the towel because of debilitating discouragement. No doubt, the complexities of modern ministry, the onslaught of extraordinary temptations, and our superficial measurements of pastoral success can erode our personal satisfaction. Yet, the real need is for a clearer more compelling vision of our ultimate calling.
The Infinite Vision of our Call
C.S. Lewis famously stated “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”[i]
In recent years, God has completely transformed my understanding of our call to leadership. So often, we conclude that we are called to preach, to pastor, to counsel, to pray, and to disciple. The list of options seems endless. I propose that our calling is ultimately clarified in 1 Peter 5:10, where we read that the God of all grace has called us “to his eternal glory in Christ.” To have a heart gripped by a call to “his eternal glory” fuels our ultimate and infinite motivation for integrity and endurance. This can change the way we speak, serve, see, or suffer.
My personal ministry journey factored into my burden for a strong and healthy finish. Some have called me an “OSHA” pastor since on two occasions I was called as the Sr. Pastor in the wake of my predecessor’s high-profile moral failure. When you are the “clean up guy” in multiple contexts, you gain a profound understanding of the causes, consequences, and hopeful corrections that can avert these painful leadership disasters.
Leaders Who Finish Well — Those Who Don’t
My new book, Glorious Finish is framed around four key components of a church leader’s journey. How we engage these realities will invariably set the trajectory for either a glorious finish or dishonorable disqualification.
REASONS – The motives that compel us in ministry are foundational. The book starts with a biblical refresher on the “why” behind all we do.
RHYTHMS – Glorious Finish isolates the paramount choice between the regular rhythms of personal worship in contrast to the drift of spiritual neglect. Worship fuels a humility that shapes all we do. I propose that neglect will predictably lead to subtle self-reliance.
RESULTS – These contrasting rhythms establish divergent ministry results. Rhythms of worship and humility will set us on a pathway of authenticity, accountability, integrity, and joyful hope. Conversely, neglect and self-reliance can fuel leadership marked by professionalism, entitlement, compartmentalization, and eventually, an underlying dissatisfaction with ministry itself.
These dissimilar ministry lifestyles are reinforced by choices and habits all along the way. The good news is that at any point, a faltering leader can recognize the drift, repent, and return to the better path.
REWARDS – The eternal outcome of our ministry choices is compelling and clearly delineated in the scripture. Ultimately, we must set our hearts on the realities of heaven and cultivate a passion to follow our ultimate call “to his eternal glory in Christ.” (1 Peter 5:10)
Holy, Hopeful Habits
So, how can church leaders build habits that keep them captivated by God and His glory? I think of two habits that can fuel our passion for a glorious finish.
Reaffirming this life as preparatory – The totality of our life and ministry during this brief earthly appearance is but preparation for eternity. D. Martyn Lloyd Jones noted that this life is “nothing but a preparatory school…the antechamber of eternity.”[ii] Randy Alcorn states, “Eternity will hold for us what we have invested here during our life on earth” [iii] This focus on the unseen realities helps outweigh the temporary and visible disappointments of ministry.
Refocusing on the ultimate scoreboard – I believe that much of our discouragement is simply a temporary loss of perspective. We must be anchored in the truth that the real scoreboard is in heaven. The Scorekeeper is perfect and He never misses a call. Tozer’s reminds us “that every day is another day of spiritual preparation, another day of testing and discipline with our heavenly destination in mind.” [iv] With our call to his eternal glory ever in mind, I pray we will be ultimately wise, enduring, and passionate to pursue a truly glorious finish.
[i] C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
[ii] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Its Cure (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 200-201
[iii] Randy Alcorn, The Law of Rewards: Giving What you Can’ Keep to Gain What You Can’t Lose (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 2003), 50.
[iv] A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leaders: A 365-Day Devotional (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2001), December 26 entry.