3 Lessons to Help Pastors Endure Decades of Ministry

Posted by Aaron Buer on February 13, 2020

Last week, I had the privilege of hosting the ReCourage Conference at Ada Bible Church, the church where I’m a pastor.

One of the guest speakers was Gordon MacDonald.

If you’re not familiar with Gordon, he’s 81 years old, has served in ministry for over four decades, and has been married for 58 years.  

The conference was on faithfulness and longevity in ministry and he was the perfect guest speaker for this topic.

One of his talks was called “The View from Eighty.”

In it, he shared 15 lessons he’s learned throughout his life and ministry.

He talked for about 45 minutes, but I could have easily listened to him all day. He was brilliant.  

I’d like to share with you three lessons I learned from Gordon, in the hopes that you might be encouraged to choose practices and habits that cultivate the kind of heart and life that can endure decades of ministry.

1.) Never Stop Growing - Stay open to fresh ways and ideas that sustain your physical and mental health; sharpen your working skills; increase your knowledge, and enrich your wisdom and spiritual life.

At 81 years old, Gordon MacDonald is not exactly young.

I know a lot of older people who are pretty stuck in their ways, inflexible, and set in their understanding and perspective of the world. 

Two times in his talks, Gordon quoted Simon Sinai’s latest book, Infinite Game.

Infinate Game-1

It’s a great book that came out in 2019.

I don’t know many older gentlemen who are keeping up with the latest literature on leadership and allowing it to shape their thinking.  

Gordon showed me that being a seasoned leader doesn’t mean you have to be cantankerous and stuck in ministry and leadership practices of the good ole days.

It’s possible to be a wise sage who is helpful, relevant, and fatherly to the next generation of church leaders.

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to be that kind of leader as I age.

2.) Master the art of asking penetrating questions that open someone’s heart.

My friend Phil had the privilege of picking up Gordon from the airport and chauffeuring him around our city for the two days he was visiting us.

Phil shared with me that less than a mile from the airport the conversation was already deep into Phil’s life, and within two miles, he was wiping away tears.

Keep in mind these guys have never met.  

Phil recounted the conversation for me through a series of questions that Gordon asked.

“What was that like?”
“Tell me more about that?”
“How did that make you feel?”  

Gordon has a gift for asking good questions in a way that makes you feel safe.

He combines that with sharing vulnerably from his own life, whether it’s a conversation, sermon, or lecture.

It’s powerful. It’s disarming.

It feels like kind words from a father.

Gordon challenged me.

I feel like I’m a decent preacher.

I’m good at talking at people, but an area of growth for me is talking with people in a way that makes them feel cared for, valued, and heard.

It’s all very pastoral and I want to be more of that kind of leader.

3.) Always maintain a relationship with one or two mentors who can aid you in hearing God’s voice.

Gordon talked about nine different mentors who have impacted his life, from a childhood neighbor lady who was the most amazing storyteller of biblical stories, to his grandmother, his wife, track coach, and several others.  

I found this lesson to be incredibly encouraging for several reasons.

First, for those of us who serve families and kids, here is a man who has impacted thousands of lives for Christ, talking about the impact of people who poured into him as a child and a teenager.

If you serve in children’s ministry or student ministry, what you do matters.

Some of the kids you lead will be impacted in ways far beyond what we could imagine, and they will go on to do incredible things in the service of the Church. 

Also, Gordon very clearly described how each of his nine mentors affected his thinking and life.

He made a bold statement: Sometimes, God speaks more clearly through godly mentors than he does through the Scriptures.

Perhaps you disagree with that statement, but there’s something about listening humbly to the voice of older and wiser leaders, listening to the direction of God through a veteran servant.

Gordon very clearly recounted statements and examples from his mentors and could articulate how his life shifted in different stages because of their influence.

I’m beginning to see more clearly how important deep relationships with other Jesus followers are for longevity in ministry.

We need people we can be real with.

We need people who have the green light to confront us about our blind spots.

We need faithful friends to cry and laugh with.

And, we need wiser and older mentors to guide us.

I’m not sure any of us will thrive in ministry over the long-haul without opening ourselves up to meaningful relationships—mentors and counselors.

And, I’m not convinced we can bring a heart alive to God for multiple decades without a deep connection with other Jesus followers.

Wrap Up

So, who are you hanging out with? Who are you investing in? And, who is investing in you?

These are important questions to wrestle with as we seek to stay faithful in the work that God has called us to.

If you’re interested in hearing more from Gordon MacDonald, I highly recommend this podcast and a few of his books.


Topics: Advice

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