The Four Stages of a Pastor's Ministry
As a pastor, God is leading you on a journey through stages of ministry. From thousands of conversations with pastors through the years, my co-workers and I have identified the following four stages that can provide helpful understanding and guidance throughout your life as a pastor. As you travel the road with our Lord, you will not experience the stages as neatly separated but as overlapping phases.
You are a pastor because God has called you to that role. The tendency is to focus only on your initial call to ministry. However, God guides you to renew that calling in fresh ways throughout your ministry. The journey is not easy. The path includes educational challenges, major concerns, significant personal issues, and dangers to navigate along the way. God wants you to stay on course.
In addition to the presence of His Spirit, He provides you different people as sources of help as you move through the stages.
The foundation stage focuses on responding to God's call and becoming oriented to pastoral ministry. For some the call to "the ministry" may come as early as the teen years. For others it comes later in life. Laying an adequate foundation for a lifetime of ministry may take five years or twenty. Look for God to send you encouragers/teachers like Barnabas as a source of help during this crucial stage.
A base for a long ministry requires completing as much formal education as possible. The major concern is to get off to a good start. This includes the personal issues of laying a foundation for spiritual, marital, and family health. Watch out for career-ending mistakes and attacks.
The maturing stage focuses on developing your pastoral ministry skills to accomplish God's work. God's call is now more specific to "this ministry" that He has set before you. This period is often during the twenties through the forties. Watch for a mentor or several mentors like Paul that God will send as your source of help during this stage. Educationally, it is essential to develop the study skills to be a life-long learner.
The major concern is developing and enhancing your skills for ministry. Personally, continue to strengthen your spiritual, marital, and family health. Your primary dangers are failing to grow and not developing strong people skills.
The multiplying stage focuses on executing effective ministry and reproducing yourself through others. God can use this stage from the thirties through the sixties to reaffirm and refine your calling. In this stage, God provides a support network/team like Paul's missionary friends.
A part of the reproducing God accomplishes is your influence on others through your networks. A challenge is to participate in continuing education as a part of being a life-long learner. A significant concern during this time of life is finding a good fit where your unique ministry blossoms. This involves maintaining your spiritual maturity, launching your children, and refocusing your marriage. Be vigilant to the dangers of growing weary and dropping out.
The legacy stage is your opportunity to leave a spiritual legacy by finishing well and investing in others. This stage may start in the fifties and can continue beyond retirement until death. God's call to invest in a spiritual legacy is a gift from Him. Be alert for protégés like Timothy.
Training others will influence future generations. This means you will be able to finish strong with continued fruitfulness, peace, and joy. Rather than finishing tired, bitter, and alone, continue to walk close to God, celebrate your marriage, and enjoy your grandchildren.
Remember that God alone determines if you are navigating the journey with effectiveness. Thus, ultimately you are not looking for the approval and applause of the congregation or your peers. Rather you are looking for the words of your Master: "Well done, good and faithful servant." Enjoy the journey