How to Hit the Ground Running: A Quick-Start Guide for Congregations with New Leadership

How to Hit the Ground Running: A Quick-Start Guide for Congregations with New Leadership
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Meditating on it must be part and parcel of the spiritual life of every pastor. Meditating on the Word is something that, in the first place, you do for your own good. The great danger for every pastor is to view the Bible merely as a vast store of sermon texts. You scour it for suitable material for sermons, pastoral care or Bible studies. But we can only pass on a message to others with any real authority, if we have ourselves read and lived through the Scripture passage in question.

You must listen before you speak. In several Bible passages, meditation is compared with eating. Then you want more, so you start chewing, which releases more of its flavour. Finally you swallow it, so that it can nourish your body. Take a few verses, or read a short passage, and reread it several times, slowly and attentively. Read it out loud once, so that you can actually hear the words. This will give you a first impression, helping you to get familiar with it and to internalise it. The best way is to memorise the words of the text, so that you can take them with you into the day or week.

Now try digging a little deeper, by trying to bring the words and images of the text to life. What do you see as you read them, what do you hear, feel, think? What is happening in the text? Next, allow the words and their effect on you to penetrate you deeply. Do they make you happy or sad, grateful or angry? Can you wholeheartedly embrace them or do they provoke resistance? Do these words call for a change in your life? Do they affect your view of God, the world around you, or yourself? Questions like these will help you digest the text. Conclude your meditation by praying that the Spirit will renew your life through this Word.

Surrender to Him. Then you can rest in His presence. Finally, thank God for who He is and for the Word of grace and truth, which you have just received. You will understand that meditating on the Word, like prayer, requires you to consciously set apart time and space. Make sure you really take time. But the more you search, the more beautiful the treasure will often be. Essentially, that is what you are as a pastor, both on Sundays and during the week: a servant of the Word. You live with this Word and work with it. People do not believe a pastor because of what he has to say, but because of what God has to say through him.

Your authority is given you as a servant of the Word, as one who opens, explains and applies the Word to the believers. It is good to remind ourselves of this again and again. Admittedly, there are other ways in which God makes Himself known. Being allowed and empowered to speak genuinely on behalf of God calls for the discipline of daily meditation.

The third aspect of spiritual life mentioned by Luther is struggle. This aspect is less a matter of spiritual exercise than prayer and meditation are. Rather, the spiritual battle is the situation in which every Christian — and therefore every pastor — finds himself. It is of vital importance for your spiritual life that you realise you are in a battle zone. This explains why whenever we pray, meditate, preach and provide spiritual leadership, there is always a tension, a sense of being in a struggle.

Sometimes we feel pressure from within, sometimes from without. The Bible tells us that these experiences are trials we must face. Such trials can appear in your life in many different ways. You may pass through a spiritual desert, a period in which your fellowship with God seems all but barren. These are times in which it seems as if God has turned His back on you. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger. Another trial you might face as a pastor is when you are criticised by members of your congregation. Everyone holding a leadership position in a group, including those in the church of Christ, will experience this.

What matters most when it happens is that on the one hand you take your critics seriously, honestly asking yourself whether they are right, while on the other hand you make sure that your identity as a pastor is not anchored in the favour of the people, but in the calling and commission you have received from God. When out in the wilderness the devil threatened His ministry and His very life Matthew 4 , He did not start arguing with Satan, but consistently responded with a word of God.

This teaches us that we should always search the Scriptures for situations similar to ours, so that we will learn to react to our trials with the wisdom of God. Take a look at the three attacks he launches on Jesus in Matthew 4. Every honest pastor knows these temptations. Know that they do not come from God, but from within. Every pastor, then, is tossed around and tested by trials from within and temptations from without. Trials and temptations are part of the spiritual battle you are in.

A pastor, in particular, operates on the front line. It would be more alarming if you never found yourself under attack. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. Living and working in the service of God as a pastor calls for a spiritual lifestyle. Your life with God is not limited to the inner room, but expresses itself in the practical realities of everyday existence.

What people see and hear of you shows them what matters most to you deep down inside. And you can be sure that church members keep an eye on the life of their pastor. Particularly in his letters to Timothy, Pauls talks about being an example to your congregation as a pastor. When that happens, people will see it and long for it themselves. By your sacramental living, you will be passing on to the congregation the salvation you received from Jesus, even as you walk and talk with them from day to day.

The first thing Paul mentions is that as a pastor you set an example by the way you speak. A pastor spends a lot of time talking, as a counsellor, during meetings and in the pulpit. The way you speak says a lot about what lives in your heart. With words you can both damage and restore people. The second area in which as a pastor you are called to set the example is your conduct, or lifestyle. In other words, he must be monogamous in his thoughts and actions. This was an important instruction to pastors who were formerly unbelievers living a very different lifestyle: they were now called to reflect the love and faithfulness of Jesus in how they lived with their wife.

This meant in those days: do not beat your wife, do not take more than one wife It is also an important instruction to pastors who regularly interact with women or conduct intensive counselling sessions with women. There is always the risk of — often unconsciously — stretching the boundaries. If you are pastorally engaged with a member of the other sex intensively and for a long time, it is advisable to avoid meeting her alone, but rather to involve another female counsellor or your own wife.

But Jesus Himself constantly warns against riches and the power of money, the unrighteous Mammon. It is a serious risk, especially for pastors. They often work hard for little money, while many church members around them are better off than they are. You may experience fierce temptations in this area, an inner desire for more, bigger, better.

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Keep reminding yourself of this. Another temptation you may face as a pastor is to use your position and spiritual authority in the church for financial gain. It can be easy to abuse that trust. A pastor must be inwardly independent of money and possessions.

An Egyptian church leader told me that the pastors in Egypt are all poor. They know from the moment they start their theological training that their future will be one of poverty. There are several reasons for this. One is that the church assumes God will take care of His servants, which means pastors are underpaid. On the other hand, the families of Egyptian pastors have to endure a lot of tensions because of their economic position. What we can learn from this is that a sober lifestyle will enable you to connect with everyone in your congregation, including those with the lowest incomes.

A pastor should never belong to the elite, but rather should be free to interact with everyone. A third characteristic of the exemplary conduct of a church leader is that he must be respectable, hospitable and above reproach. These qualities all have to do with avoiding self-centredness and instead placing the interests of others above your own, thus practicing genuine love for your fellow man.

This is not some artificial, sentimental or professional niceness, but real, authentic interest in others. A pastor does not only love God, he also genuinely loves people. And people notice. He has a large heart. Deeply loved by God, he finds within himself the space to love others, to truly see them, hear them, and receive them.

This means you will often have to efface yourself and forgo your own plans. Your family, too, will often have to make sacrifices for the sake of letting others go first. In Bhutan, for instance, Christians are often evicted from their homes, along with their families, as a result of their outspokenly Christian lifestyle.

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Often, it takes weeks for the family to find a new home. However moving this example may be, a measure of balance in these issues does seem appropriate to me. Your very first and highest calling is not the church, but your marriage and family. The congregation really does come second. Most pastors tend to give the church and the needs of church members first place, at the expense of spending time with their own family.

This is not honouring to God. In the long run it will not strengthen the church either, as it may result in an overworked pastor with a disappointed or even embittered family. This last characteristic mentioned by Paul in 1 Timothy 3 is quite remarkable: a pastor must be a competent educator. Both in teaching the church and in managing his family and children, he is an example to the congregation.

You are attuned to the needs of others, which also means you lovingly provide clear boundaries and direction. These are very practical guidelines offered us by Paul for the conduct a pastor should exhibit in his daily life. A third area Paul touches on in 1 Timothy is love. A pastor loves his church and will vouch for her. This love does not develop automatically; in your own strength, you cannot love so many different people with so many different characters. However, the Bible speaks of an inner attitude from which this love springs up like water from a well.

Once you realise this, once you realise Who you belong to and what riches you have already received in Christ, you will find room in your heart and life to consider others rather than living only for yourself. It will enlarge your heart, making it big enough for many church members, and you will serve them a loving heart.

How this serving love operates in practice within the church is summarised by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 — a passage that applies to all believers, but that according to 1 Timothy requires a special example from pastors. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Again, there is a strong emphasis on not sticking up for yourself, being patient with others, bearing one another.

If you want to be a servant leader, patience, forbearance and perseverance in relationships are indispensable. Every pastor runs out of patience now and again, and feels a powerful urge to give that brother or sister — maybe even the whole congregation — an earful. Those are the moments in which it is important for you as a pastor to read the words of 1 Corinthians 13, to meditate on them and to draw on your relationship with Jesus to put them into practice once again — not as some impossible assignment, but as the natural result of having the mindset of Christ.

Whoever reaches out for it will receive it. The fourth area of Christian living in which as a pastor you are to set the example for the church is faith. What Paul means here is that a pastor must be firmly rooted in his faith in God. You can only be a guide if you have made the journey yourself. That would be impossible; God leads each of His children on a different and unique path. But it does mean that you know God well enough and are sufficiently familiar with His words and His ways to be able to help others understand what is happening in their lives with God.

The last area in which Paul appeals to young pastor Timothy to set an example is purity. Here, Paul, is talking about self-control in general. It has to do with living purposefully. Then you will no longer be worried about earthly treasures, and the temporal, transitory things of this world will lose their hold on you. You will be in control of your natural impulses and desires, and equipped to serve God with your whole life.

It means you put into practice what you believe. If you say Jesus is everything to you, than your life shows that everything else takes second or third place. The best of me for the Most High! Timothy, and with him every pastor, is given five very practical instructions on how to live a life that will be an example to his church. But how can you set an example as a pastor if you still have to learn and discover it all yourself? The amazing thing is that as a pastor you, too, have an example you can follow.

If you want to know how to live with God as a believer and how to set an example to your church, fix your eyes on Jesus. And he gave us His Spirit to teach us. Almost every pastor is busy. You have to be available for people all day and you can be called on in many ways. Regardless of the size of your congregation, perhaps the toughest part of being a pastor is the fact that church members have so many different expectations. Every congregation is a colourful blend of unique individuals, often with totally different wishes.

And each one expects the pastor to be there for him or her in good times and in bad — especially if there is a strong bond. They assume you will have time for them, think along with them, pray with them. They expect you to understand their desires and disappointments, including those related to church life. On top of all this, you need quiet time as a pastor to pray, study and meditate, personally, and as a part of your sermon or Bible study preparation.

So although a pastor can only pass on what he has first received in his quiet time with God, he is often so busy that real quiet time is hard to come by. Most pastors realise this, but in many cases they have been stuck in certain working and living patterns within the church for a long time and do not know how to break out.

Martha is the woman who had to take care of the temporary house church of Jesus and His disciples — and got pretty frustrated in the doing. Her story is recounted in Luke Jesus is passing through with His disciples, and probably quite a few others. On arrival in Bethany, Martha graciously welcomes them into her home and sets about making arrangements for this unexpected gathering.

While Jesus speaks, the disciples listen.

How to Hit the Ground Running: A Quick Start Guide for Congregations with New Leadership

But what about Martha? Martha strongly resembles a busy pastor who, like her, is totally absorbed in serving Jesus and ministering to His church. Somebody has to do it, right? As a pastor, you often work alone. This can frustrate you deep down inside. If it does, you may start complaining inwardly that the church is sitting back and enjoying itself, while you seem to be doing all the serving. The worry and fuss of a pastor over his congregation is completely unnecessary, according to Jesus.

So before doing anything at all in the church as a pastor, begin your day by sitting at the feet of your Lord. There you will receive everything you need for another day of serving the church. The common denominator in my conversations with pastors in the Suffering Church is that they all have to do everything for their congregation. They provide spiritual leadership, preach, do visitation work, often get called at night by people whose troubles are keeping them awake. In Pakistan, many believers consider the pastor to be a kind of father figure, in Egypt he is seen as a husband and in Bhutan they expect him to always sacrifice everything for them.

In these countries, such leadership patterns tend to be the norm in society and therefore they are easily copied within the church. It can be very difficult to change them. In the Bible, we encounter quite of a few bustling pastors. The most famous of them all is Moses, who led the people out of Egypt and set out to guide this huge congregation across the desert to the promised land. He was a shepherd guiding his flock through some very rough circumstances.

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Many pastors will recognise this. Moses was as busy as a beaver leading and serving all those people God had entrusted to his care. They talked for a while and the next day Jethro observed Moses at work as the pastor of the people. Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening? You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. Blessed is the pastor who meets a counsellor like Jethro! Someone who sees you at work and honestly shares his observations with you.

Blessed is the pastor who has an elder board or church council that quotes these words of Jethro. Blessed is the pastor whose wife, children, relatives or friends are prepared to say things like this to him. An overly busy pastor is not a blessing — not to himself, not to the church and not to God. Jethro goes on to affirm that all that work does indeed have to be performed.

But if all the work rests on the shoulders of one individual, something is wrong. He appeals to him to divide the work more evenly. He identifies the core activities to which a pastor must restrict himself. He points out which tasks a pastor must perform himself and which can be delegated to other gifted members of the community.

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Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. Jethro offers a crystal-clear priority list for pastors. We saw in Chapter 3 that it is not good for a pastor to spend the whole day among people, but rather that he must daily commend the people to God.

The word used here for teaching suggests urgency. It is a matter of great importance. We gather together to listen to what God wants to teach us about who He is, how Jesus Christ has brought us salvation, and how He wants us to live with Him. Instil the Word of God in the people, Jethro says. This aspect of teaching is a vital part of church life. It should be aimed at showing believers how the Biblical message proclaimed among them is designed to direct, change and renew our lives. How does the sermon you heard affect the way you live with God, with your fellow man and with yourself?

Teaching takes preaching a step further by seeking a practical application for the church. Through teaching, the proclaimed Word can be applied to specific situations, brought nearer, made more practical. This teaching also implies systematic coverage of the whole of Scripture. You can use different passages of Scripture to clearly outline themes and principles, highlighting the key truths and enabling church members to really apply them in day-to-day life. Preaching and teaching cannot do without each other, they complement each other, draw the church together and bring the believer nearer to God.

So in addition to praying and preaching, the pastor is also responsible for the spiritual development of the church through systematic, practical teaching. Tensions and troubles are bound to occur within a group of people journeying through the desert together. Most of Moses pastoral work consisted of settling disputes. Pastoral counselling — which largely consists of comforting, encouraging and visiting people — is a core responsibility of every pastor. You encourage, comfort, share words from the Bible, pray with your people. But another necessary part of your pastoral work is admonishing and correcting people, with the Bible in your hand, or condemning wrong situations or sinful patterns.

A good shepherd will lift up the weary or wounded sheep and carry it a while, leaning on his rod and his staff. But he uses that same rod and staff to bring straying sheep back to the flock, or to goad them onto the right path. A real pastor is concerned with the wellbeing of his people and will do whatever it takes to draw them near to Jesus and to keep them there. This is what pastoral work is all about. And it is one of the core responsibilities of every pastor. The fifth piece of advice Jethro offers deals with the question of how to provide leadership to a bustling, dynamic group of people.

Jethro here offers Moses a mini-course on church management. Find competent, devout, reliable men and make them responsible for the wellbeing of larger and smaller groups within the church. In other words, Jethro advises Moses to divide the people into smaller units and to appoint pastoral workers for each one. Then the people will know who they can go to, the pastoral workers will have clearly defined responsibilities, and Moses will no longer have to deal with all those issues on his own.

We see, then, that organising the church efficiently is another core responsibility of the pastor. Essentially, this is about team-based leadership: Moses is to deal with the most difficult cases himself, while all other concerns and questions can be taken to the group pastors. In this way, the pastor does not get overworked, the gifts of other church members will be put to good use, and the work will not be done reluctantly but in gratitude for the opportunity to work together to the glory of God.

Jethro offers pastors a priority list outlining five clear tasks. The beautiful thing is that this same list reappears in Acts 6. After the first day of Pentecost, the apostles soon were so busy leading the rapidly growing church and coping with an increasing range of material demands that they began to neglect their primary responsibilities. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word. They said their task was to pray and to administer the Word of God. In order to be this focussed in your work, you will have to make firm decisions and stick to them consistently.

This calls for vision — and the courage to put that vision into practice. Like any other believer, a pastor knows temptation: sinful thoughts and feelings that well up from the depths of our soul and lure us away from God. Everyone faces temptations. Christians can battle and overcome them in the name and the power of Jesus. Typical examples include material temptations, sexual temptations, the temptations of self-centredness and so on.

Like other believers, a pastor is familiar with these dangers. Paul exhorts the young pastor Timothy to be an example right there in those tough areas of life. Show others, he says, how to deal with such temptations as a Christian. In addition to the common dangers every Christian faces, a pastor has to cope with several other risks that are part and parcel of his ministry. In this chapter, we will focus on five pitfalls.

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The danger of receiving praise as a pastor is that — unconsciously, of course — you become proud of what you do and who you are. Rarely does a church member appeal to you in vain. You work hard for God and for your fellow believers. And unintentionally, you adopt an air of subtle pride.

You may not want to face it, you may not readily admit that a thing like pride smoulders deep within you, but it is a very real pitfall. Pride always has to do with seeking and enjoying appreciation. The pastor can start to take on a more central role than his Lord. And that is a serious sin. Pride is the desire to be important. Pride is a feeling that you can do things better than others can, which soon leads to a hidden conviction that in some ways you actually are better than others.

Ever since the Fall of man, pride has been the root of evil. It was pride, after all, that caused the fall of Adam and Eve in paradise: they wanted to be more and better. The opposite of pride is gratitude. Pride creeps in subtly. Pride is a warning signal that as a pastor you are no longer living in intimate fellowship with your Lord. You start to behave as if you did it all yourself. The more you are at the centre of attention, the greater this pitfall becomes. Pride usually comes disguised as false modesty. Rather than fuelling your pride, this makes you grateful.

A pastor is a servant. He lives to serve God and his whole manner of leading should express this. He is a servant leader. This means that in everything your aim is to honour God and to build up the church. But all too often we slip back into old, natural leadership patterns of the kind we see in the world around us.

Before you know it, your leadership as a pastor can harden into dominance over the church. Jesus warns against this in Matthew 20, when the wife of Zebedee brings her two sons to Him. She wants her sons to rule on the throne with Jesus. When the other disciples hear about her request, they are indignant. Not so with you. Jesus makes it clear that in the world it is normal for leaders to oppress their subjects and to abuse power.

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Every leader has a tendency to give his own will and interests first place. But Jesus holds out a clear standard for all those in leadership positions within the church of Christ. Leadership, as he portrays it, is about serving. With this same assignment He sends pastors off into the church. Your assignment is very simple: serve. Servant leadership is characterised by listening and empathising. These are the big questions a servant leader is occupied with.

Being a servant leader also means you want to avoid running a one-man show. Leadership is a shared responsibility, and although you may often be the initiator, you never want to do it all on your own. Shared leadership will prevent a pastor from becoming a ruler. Together with the elders and other gifted believers, you serve the church by jointly providing leadership. Your authority is never based on power, but on serving God and the church, under the guidance of the Word and the Spirit.

Never forget that serving can slowly change into ruling. But your congregation will. By the time they do, however, it may be too late, as you will no longer be open to correction, to fundamental questions about your functioning, to criticism. Make sure you are always accountable and correctible. Be aware that without knowing it you might step into the pitfall of pride; accountability and honesty are vital. Regular evaluation of your approach to leadership with the elders will prevent your servanthood from turning into dominance.

Remember that the norm for all our leadership is always Jesus. Right next to the pitfall of ruling lies another pitfall: self-interest. The pitfall of self-interest is all about the risk of developing an antennae for people you might be able to use, situations you may be able to take advantage of, decisions that may benefit your position sometime in the future.

It is very tempting for any pastor to show a lot of interest in the people who appreciate you most. You know exactly which strings to pull to make sure others are reminded of how faithful and diligent you are. Like most other folk, pastors can easily be impressed by successful or influential church members. If the most successful or vocal church members get all the attention and the pastor indulges in upper crust friendships, the more vulnerable and unassuming church members will lose out.

That is the secret to the right way of living and working. A self-centred life makes you a slave to your own selfish interests and ambitions. But if you allow Jesus Christ to guide you in these things, you will experience the freedom that comes with living in genuine love for the people around you. The pitfall of self-interest is recognised in the Suffering Church as well. For example, for a pastor living under constant financial pressure it may be tempting to visit wealthier church members, who are more likely to give financial or material gifts.

A pastor in Egypt told me pastors sometimes indeed make visits to church members in hopes of receiving a gift of some sort. Obviously, their motive is not right. But if you have a family to support and your salary is barely enough for you to survive on, this kind of behaviour is quite understandable. There is a responsibility here for the congregation as a whole to make sure the pastor is spared from spending much of his time and energy on scraping for a living.

A pastor works hard. He is more or less the engine of the church. Particularly in situations where there is a lot of groundwork and building to do, this can be very fulfilling. You get to watch the church grow, you see more and more believers finding their niche. You are constantly challenged to pray for the church, to think about it and to invest all your abilities and creativity in building it up.

But as the church begins to stabilise, the groundwork has been done and fixed patterns begin to be established, you may be tempted to start taking things a little easier. You begin to be content with more of the same. The longing for growth and dynamism you had at first gradually makes way for a longing for rest and stability.

No pastor starts out like this, but many end this way. A master going on a journey entrusts all his wealth to his servants, giving each one the amount he can handle.

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None of them is given a burden heavier than he can bear. Two of the three servants immediately set about putting their money to work and both manage to double the amount entrusted to them. Their whole approach exudes love for their master. They give him their very best. The third servant has a different attitude altogether. Essentially, this servant is trying to secure his own safety.

Mediocrity is a form of cowardice. We need a fresh awareness of the fact that what has been entrusted to us belongs to our Master. The last pitfall to be discussed here is the pitfall of pessimism. Whereas mediocrity is really your own fault as a pastor, pessimism can sometimes just assault you.

You start out with good courage, longing for positive experiences and developments in the church that will glorify God, but you see so few results. Is there any point, am I doing something wrong, am I really cut out for this work, does anything really happen when I preach? If you start looking for results, measuring and weighing them in the balance, you may very easily step into this pitfall. You might also call it the pitfall of disbelief.

Especially when you feel like giving up, it is important to share your heart, honestly and openly, with a few trusted people. Many pastors are ashamed of their negative feelings and keep them to themselves for a long time.

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Only if you have the courage to be vulnerable, to ask for help and to bite the bullet are you likely to experience real recovery. The constant struggle and the tensions have caused a deep discouragement, and all you can do as a pastor is try and plod on as inconspicuously as possible. Many hardly even believe the church of Christ will survive in Iraq. God is a God of hope. I, too, see how tough things have become and how much goes wrong in our society and our churches, but I believe in a God who daily performs miracles and that gives me hope.

Optimism, he said, is based on money and power. You believe things will improve, because you have the resources and possibilities to achieve it. But the Bible shows us that hard times and difficult situations, in which we really reach the end of our tether, are part of living with God and that we must be honest with God and with one another about these things.

This is what the Bible calls groaning, and Paul says those who have received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit will experience it, too. In fact, the Spirit Himself groans along with us as he intercedes for us Romans What matters, says Fernando, is that we learn to distinguish between groaning and grumbling.

Groaning is always directed to God and is, therefore, full of hope and expectation. Grumbling is succumbing to self-pity and throwing the towel in the ring. Pastoring a church is wonderful work. Yet at the same time it takes everything out of you. Time and again, the intensity of your emotional and spiritual engagement reaches peak levels.

You listen, you empathise, you pray. You make thorough preparations for the next meeting, Bible study or sermon. Sooner or later, your tank will run dry. Exhaustion is not the only reason why pastors are sometimes forced to quit. So both an overdose and a lack of excitement in church can deplete your resources as a pastor, leaving you so powerless and demoralised you hardly know how to continue. What should you do in a situation like that? No doubt others could be mentioned, but to me these five stand out.

The first source is your calling, which we discussed at the beginning of this book. So in essence, this source takes you back to God Himself.