Keith Harrington, Lead Pastor at Invercargill Central Baptist Church, shares seven tips for longevity in ministry. 

I am in big trouble after my joke at the Baptist National Hui (2022) mocking Carey Baptist College. Our National Leader, Charles Hewlett, has suggested I consider church planting at Scott Base. Arotahi General Director, Alan Jamieson, is sending me mission opportunities in Outer Mongolia. John Tucker, the Principal of Carey Baptist College, threatens to deregister me :) So, to be clear, I think Carey gives brilliant pastoral training. BUT it is the practices we adopt once in ministry that are the ones that will determine if we survive and thrive.     

Soon after starting ministry, I became aware of the high attrition rate among pastors and so sought not to become another casualty. After being honoured for 30 years of service at the 2022 National Hui, here are my top seven keys to longevity (none are original). 

1.   Have a clear sense of call. That is, you are convinced that God has put you into ministry and into that particular church. I would have resigned many times over without this deep assurance. Church members can and do behave appallingly. If we know God has placed us here and we are ultimately serving Him, not the church, then we will hang in there. This does not minimize the pain and cost of ministry but places it in context. After all, we serve a God who suffers.  

2.   Keep your relationship with God as number one. For 30 years, the first 60 minutes of my day have been spent not in the office but in a designated quiet space. Over the years, this place has changed, but it is often an upper room in the church where I am not interrupted. Here I worship, pray, yell, cry, journal and read the Word. I read the Word, not to get devotional or sermon material. I read it for myself. It is very easy for our spiritual life to get confused with our ministry life. When this happens, we will burn out spiritually. However, while not the motivation, insights for church work often come from this time. Ministry comes from the overflow of my walk with God.    

3.   Keep a Sabbath. Despite this being a Biblical principle, I am amazed at the number of ministers who do not take a Sabbath. I have felt their scorn at my lack of zeal, but when I reflect back, most are no longer in ministry. You will only survive ministry with one to two days off. Many years ago, I changed my day off to a Friday so that I mostly get two days off. This arrangement meant I had to get more organised earlier in the week and not be afraid to disappoint people by saying no.    

4.   Take care of your emotional health. About 15 years ago, I ended up seriously depressed and in hospital. You can’t be spiritually healthy unless you are emotionally healthy. I had totally ignored this part of my life and only focused on spiritual issues. We all come with baggage. In hindsight, I needed to be far more proactive in working on this area with skilled professionals. Failure to address our baggage will come back to bite us in the long haul.    

5.   Develop interests outside of ministry. I have noticed many ministry colleagues have no life outside of ministry. We all need to find things outside ministry and church that energize and restore us. Over the years, table tennis, DIY, model railways and tennis have all done this for me. The bonus is that it gives me good contact with the wider community, so like our congregations, I, too, can grapple with how to share my faith in a secular world.   

6.   Have a mentor or spiritual director or both with whom you are totally honest. I am grateful for those who have given me input over the years. The value of such a person is directly related to how open we are with them. We need someone we can share doubts, temptations, and pain with, but if pride keeps us from being transparent, they will be of little help. Also, seek out people from whom you can learn and grow in particular areas. Most people are more than willing to help us if we ask. 

7.   Last but not least - marry well (unless you are called to be single). I had to go to Australia to do this. I have not always prioritized my marriage as I should have, but I know I couldn’t have made this journey without Ros supporting me and believing in me. It is easy for spouses and family to feel they come second to the church and resent its place in our lives. Spouses often see the church’s impact on us and have no place to take this pain. A strong supportive spouse is crucial, but it is easy to take this for granted rather than be proactive.   

We so need people who stay in ministry for the long haul and who can be fathers in the faith to the next generation. I believe each of these seven things are essential to achieving this and we neglect any of them at our peril.   

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