By Jay Sanders
Everyone lives in a spiritual war zone.
Pastors spend a lot of time warning people about this. It’s part of the job.
But there are plenty of warnings pastors need to heed themselves. It doesn’t matter if you pastor a large church or a small one. You might serve in a large city or a small, rural setting.
Whatever your context is, you need to be aware of the following things that can kill your ministry.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about people who’ve been hurt by terrible things done to them by the church. Pastors aren’t immune to that kind of suffering.
If we’re not careful, those feelings of hurt can turn to bitterness.
You’ll have friends in the church you pastor. You’ll counsel them and spend time with them. You’ll even cry with them over the loss of loved ones. You’ll perform marriage ceremonies for their kids.
And then, out of nowhere, they’ll leave. You won’t know why. You won’t know what, if anything, you did wrong. You’ll just be dead to them.
And you’ll want to be bitter about it.
Fight this. There may be nothing you can do to repair the relationship, but there’s plenty you can do to guard your heart against bitterness (Ephesians 4:26-27, 31).
You can start with prayer. While you’re at it, end with prayer. And for good measure, throw prayer in the middle.
Ask God to make your heart right and to give you a spirit of joyful forgiveness, not miserable grudge-holding (1 Corinthians 13:1-7).
Don’t let bitterness creep into your life and ministry. It will kill your joy.
This one is quite common in smaller, more rural contexts. A pastor and his buddies walk into the clubhouse for a round of golf.
When the guy behind the counter tells him the price, he quickly and rudely reminds him he’s in the ministry so that he can get his 15 percent discount.
This frequently happened to my friend when he worked at a golf course. It’s a wonder that he’s not an atheist now.
If a business owner in your church or community wants to be generous to you, gladly accept it. Just don’t go looking for it as if you deserve to pay less than insurance salesmen or heating and air technicians.
The pastor’s job is to feed his people, not feed off of them. Entitlement can kill your integrity.
Vote for who you’re going to vote for but quietly move on. Regardless of who your candidate of choice is, that candidate is not the Messiah. And remember, Jesus, not better politicians, is our only hope.
Pastor, it’s impossible for you to simultaneously preach the gospel and carry the water for your favorite political party. That water has a way of spilling over and diluting the gospel you preach.
This isn’t to say that pastors should never comment on public issues. They should. They must.
But pastors must do so with the gospel as their foundation, not the talking points of whatever political party they support.
When you use your sermons to defend your party, you’ll soon find yourself defending the indefensible. So stick to preaching the Word of God and leave the politics for private conversations over a good meal.
4. A lack of self-control
Just because it’s offered doesn’t mean you have to eat it. The purpose of this self-control is not so you can post pictures of your abs on Instagram so everyone in your church can see how ripped their pastor is.
Rather, the purpose here is to prolong your ministry to the best of your ability and to be a good steward of what God has given to you.
A lack of dietary discipline can destroy your body, and in turn, your ministry.
5. A lack of calendar control
Just because it’s on the calendar doesn’t mean you have to be there. Keep your priorities in order.
Don’t just tell your wife and kids that you love them. Show them. And the best way you can show them is to occasionally walk away from the thousands of areas in your life where you’re wanted and come home to the one place where you’re most needed.
A lack of calendar control can kill your family.
6. A lack of humility
In recent months, we’ve seen pastors with large churches and even larger followings lose it all. There’s been one common thread through many of these stories—pride.
These pastors got things done. They built huge platforms for themselves. They sold a lot of books. But they plowed over a lot of people to achieve these accomplishments.
This isn’t to say that every big name Christian leader or pastor of a large church is in the wrong. They’re not.
It’s also not to say that being small and unknown somehow makes you immune from pride and building your own kingdom. It doesn’t.
We need to remember that Christ does not need our platform, but He demands our obedience.
What does it profit a man to gain a large platform and lose Christ’s church?
Pastoral ministry is joyful. But it’s also dangerous. The people in your congregation aren’t the only ones who need reminding that they’re living in a war zone.
Jay is the senior pastor of Towaliga Baptist Church in Jackson, Ga.