Nine Steps to Pastors Finishing Well
By Dick Hardy
Ever watch an elderly man, strong in his faith, walk to the end of life with his head held high, sensing a “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:23) just around the corner? I have. Or how about the elderly man who looks back on life only to regret how it turned out and how poorly he finished? I have seen that as well.
The first three kings of Israel demonstrate three ways to finish the journey of life. Then the third king’s great-grandson serves as a composite of too many successful pastors in the 21st century.
Saul had the political party pedigree. He had the king look about him. Tall, dark, handsome, good family, well educated … he had it all. Saul started strong, had a great career, and then poor choices derailed his leadership. He did not finish well. He bombed and ended up committing suicide
David did not have the pedigree. He was the youngest brother. He had the ruddy good looks but people could not quite see king material in him. He was just a kid. But when he started, David started strong and ended strong. He had a few bumps along the way, but he sprinted across the finish line of life and faith in a blaze of glory.
Solomon was born into kingship. After all the battles and uprisings from brother, Absalom, and Absalom’s cronies, Solomon took his place in history, the first to inherit the kingdom. Like his predecessors, he had a great start. He had wisdom, and he had riches. However, although he did finish, some would classify his finish as crawling across the finish line of faith at the end of life.
In interacting with pastors, I have not found many who fail completely and fall out of the race. There is a strong work ethic and commitment with the pastors I know. I admire them. They are nowhere near total failure. So for purposes of this article we will not address Saul-type pastors.
Let us, however, consider how more of us can become David-type pastors, hitting the finish line strong. We start with a glint in our eye and by the end we are holding our head high, knowing we have run the race and kept the faith. God smiles on David-type pastors as they enter heaven’s gates.
More often than not, however, I watch pastors at the end of their ministry careers just plod to the end. They had high hopes in the beginning and much of their launch into ministry showed every promise of success. Somewhere along the line, however, life happened, ministry happened, stuff happened. The wisdom they demonstrated in their 20s, 30s, and 40s was Solomon-like, and it should have flourished into their 50s, 60s, and beyond.
Stuff started to preoccupy Solomon — lots of money and lots of women. He already had power, so the big three factors that topple more humans than any others became ingrained in Solomon’s DNA. While most pastors do not fall prey to moral or ethical failure in these three areas, their preoccupation on them dilutes their effectiveness in ministry. Their laser-focused entrance to the life of ministry dissipates by the end, and they stumble across the finish line of faith, weary, exhausted, and sometimes disillusioned.
Observe another in the genealogy from David to Jesus — King Asa, Solomon’s great-grandson. I had a 30-something pastor friend recently ask me what was up with so many successful pastors failing morally. Although he was not naive, it did genuinely bother him that so many with so much promise seemed to fail miserably in the ministry.
I gave him a clear illustration from the Old Testament in the life of King Asa. If you track this guy, you will note that in the early days of his reign — in his 20s and 30s — he was constantly asking God for guidance and counsel. Even the simple things kept Asa in tune with what God wanted for his life.
Asa got good at being king. In other words, he developed competencies that lessened his perceived dependence on God. As you read further in Asa’s life, you see him going to medical doctors and others when needs arose rather than going to God first, or at all.
Pastors who move out of their 40s and into their 50s and 60s have generally gotten good at pastoring. They have been doing the drill for 20, 30, or more years. When dependence on the Lord diminishes, the door opens for pride born of competency to step in. The enemy of dependence on God is competence in self.
Youcan finish strong. I implore every pastor reading this article to stop at whatever age you are and examine your dependence on God. Few finish as did Saul. Many finish as did Solomon. Too many finish as did Asa. As your friend in ministry, I challenge you to finish as did King David. You know his imperfections and failures, just like you know your own. You also watched him finish with power and grace.
Adhere to the following steps to finish well.
- Resist pride. Do not believe your press clippings.
- Embrace humility.
- Acknowledge 100 percent dependency on God.
- Develop competence and dependence in tandem.
- Pursue holiness.
- Submit to God’s authority.
- Crave the things of the Spirit.
- Pray some more.
I hope I have to scramble to find Saul-, Solomon-, and Asa-type pastors at the end of the journey. I will celebrate with you, along with the David-type pastors, the “Well done, good and faithful servant” you will receive at the end of your life and ministry. I purpose to see you there. Finish strong.