Monday, November 27, 2017

Nine Steps to End Your Ministry Prematurely

When I graduated from seminary I was looking forward to a long and happy life as a minister of the Gospel. God has been very gracious to me and has granted my desire and given me three decades of wonderful ministry. I’m looking forward to another two (maybe three???) decades of ministry. For me, ministry has been a wonderful and positive experience. Regretfully, this is not true for some ministers.

Though they may have started out with the same enthusiasm and sense of calling as their peers, far too many pastors are dropping out of the ministry. Others remain in the ministry, but their passion is gone and privately they confess they are just marking time until retirement.

There are many reasons for this. Some of it has to do with the brokenness of society that just wears pastors out emotionally. Some of it has to churches not treating pastors well, and we have all heard horror stories about that. But some of it has to do pastors themselves. Somewhere along the way these once excited and passionate pastors lost their zeal, lost their edge, got distracted from their calling, or were swayed by a host of other things, and as a result, either lost their ministry entirely or lost their effectiveness in ministry but remained in the role, because they needed a job, but were miserable. Some friends and I came up with this list of reasons why a pastor's ministry either ends earlier than it should or loses its effectiveness even though he stays in a ministry position. Let this list be a warning to those of us who are ministry.

1. The pastor refuses to depend on the power and leading of the Holy Spirit and instead depends mostly on his education or experience. We can do NOTHING apart from the Spirit of God. When we start trusting in our training or our experience instead of the Spirit, we quickly lose our edge.

2. The pastor refuses to change his methods, even when they clearly are not working. While the message of the Gospel is unchanging, the way we share that message changes with every generation. As hard as it is to "teach an old dog new tricks," those of us who are ministers of the Gospel MUST keep up with the changing ministry methods in order to keep our ministry effective.

3. The pastor refuses to listen to younger leaders, worse yet, he openly attacks them for not wanting to do things “his” way. This often follows closely on the heels of refusing to change methodology. When I was a younger leader, I was often frustrated that no one would listen to my ideas. Now that I am a middle aged leader, I am working hard to remember to listen to the younger voices around me. I need their ideas just as much as they need my maturity. Pastors who fail to listen to younger leaders will find their own effectiveness greatly diminished. In a growing number of situations, ministries are closing down because all the young people are gone. While we tend to blame younger leaders for leaving the church, in discussions with some of those leaders I learned one reason they left was because they did not feel the older church leaders wanted them there. The pastor must lead the way in engaging younger leaders in the overall life of the church, and that includes listening to their ideas and trying some of those ideas.

4. The pastor refuses to embrace emerging technologies and becomes less and less effective in how he communicates with others or how he accomplishes his day to day tasks. Just as methods change, so does technology. Email used to be a great way to communicate. But it is less effective today. Some researchers say only about one-third of emails get read. That means two thirds of the people we think we are communicating with through an email are not hearing the message. There was a day when a rotating slide projector was a valuable tool, but now digital projectors are popular. Radio programs used to be a great tool for community outreach, now podcasts seems to be more effective. Using various video applications such as Facebook live, have become a key way to communicate ideas. To be honest, I'm not very comfortable with all those video apps, but I'm trying to learn. Those of us who are on the mature side of the age bracket just have to take the time to learn how to embrace these technologies so we can keep the message of Christ going out loud and strong. Otherwise the message of the Gospel that we love so much will be getting to fewer and fewer people each year and that will cause our ministry to either end early or lose its effectiveness.

‪5. The pastor takes credit for everything and fails to give the glory to God or to give credit to other leaders on the team. It takes a Spirit-filled team to make anything of significance happen. Since it takes a team, that is Spirit focused and Spirit filled, why would the pastor take all the credit? That is both spiritually and practically unhealthy and can lead to the diminishing of a ministry quickly.

6. ‪ The pastor refuses to keep his soul clean and fit for service to the Lord through focused prayer, daily confession of sin, and healthy self-examination of motives and attitudes. Just because we are men of God does not mean we are perfect. All of us have some sin or issue that we struggle with. We must keep our soul clean before God. We must regularly seek the filling of His Holy Spirit. We might be able to fake it for a while, but eventually what is deep inside of us will work its way to the surface So let's make sure it is Jesus that is deep inside of us.

7. The pastor loses his love for people and begins to find service to them a burden instead of a joy. I think when we have not kept our soul clean and fit for God, it is easy to focus on the problems in our ministry. And since most problems start with people, a dirty soul leads to a lack of love for people. When that happens, our body language, our tone of voice, our facial expressions and our actions speak, both in our sermons and in our personal interactions with others. People know if we really love them or not. And if we don't really love them, our ministry will soon be over.

8. The pastor refuses to serve and love his community when it changes ethnically or economically. Pastors often accept a particular ministry position because they think they can relate to the people and make a real difference. But sometimes the situation changes. The people they related to so well when they first arrived are no longer the ones who are there. God has brought a different group of people to the community. If the pastor does not learn how to relate to that new people group, his ministry will slowly erode away and come to an end instead of remaining strong and vibrant.

9. The pastor fails to realize when the time comes to turn the reigns over to the next generation. We must remember that David had the vision of the temple, but Solomon was the one who actually built it. Moses was first given the mission to lead the people into the promise land, but Joshua was the one who completed the journey. ‪Knowing when it is time to move to a new ministry, or perhaps to retire, is important. Far too many pastors hang on to their position long past the time they should have brought it to a close. This actually ends their ministry sooner than it should. Why? Because people tend to sense when it is time for the pastor to leave, but when they realize he is not planning to leave, they begin to attend less and less, volunteer less and less and give less and less. Eventually this forces the pastor out, but often only after a long period of ineffectiveness. If the pastor had realized it was time to move on, he could have ended his ministry strong instead of watching it slowly erode away. This is not only true in regard to when it is time to move to a new ministry, but also when it is time to retire from full-time ministry. Most ministers I know do not want to really retire, they love serving too much. But there comes a time when full-time ministry is too much and shifting to a part-time ministry, or perhaps just doing pulpit supply, can extend a man's ministry many more years. But when a pastor refuses to retire, and instead clings to his full-time position, he will eventually burn out. And once that happens, it is harder for him to have a part-time ministry because no one wants to hire a burned out pastor who does not know when it is time to move on. In the words of the song writer, "Know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em."

There are no guarantees in ministry but thinking through these nine steps will help a pastor stay in ministry longer and keep that ministry more effective.

What ideas do you have to help a minister keep his ministry strong and healthy?


Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has been a pastor, church planter, denominational leader and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. He writes extensively and you can find all of his books at:


  1. We so often forget to think about the seasons of life: they do change. Just as I can no longer run six minute miles or bench 295 pounds, I can no longer put in those 60-80 work weeks at the church and be at every state wide denominational meeting. Yet the call is still strong. And so I look for different ways to serve in the Kingdom.

  2. Brother I appreciate your article, it is much needed in such times that we live in. Thank you for being sensitive to the spirit and sharing this. One point to ponder is maybe somewhere in between 3 & 4 Don't forget to heed Godly Counsel and ways. Age doesn't matter if the counsel is Godly (King Rehoboam 1 Kings 12). Along with that ensuring that the method is Godly, it may be attractive to the World but we get enough of the world everyday, people come to Church for something different. Programs, Projects, and Projectors are good, but they are just the World's tools without God. Just some food for thought and once again thank you for the MUCH needed article.