Six keys to a successful pastorate: lessons from Paul

The demands of being a pastor can be overwhelming. Even pastors, like Paul, who faithfully pray, study the Bible and avoid moral lapses are not immune to fatigue (2 Cor 11: 23-33). In verse 28 he says: “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches”. How can you minister successfully over the long haul without burning out? We can learn certain principles from the apostle Paul:

1. Know your strengths, weaknesses and limitations
Strong leaders understand how God has put them together. In 1 Corinthians  2:3 Paul says: I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. Often leaders must experience pain, failure and crisis to fully understand their limitations. The truth is that those experiences can result in humility plus a deeper understanding of strengths and weaknesses. These leaders know how much emotional input they need and the level of ministry output they are capable of sustaining over time. That is why Paul could say his ministry was not like that of Apollos and Cephas; each had their strengths and weaknesses but ultimately they were servants of Christ (1 Cor 1:12; 3:5). He didn’t always have wisdom and the gift of persuasiveness, but he had a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.

Per implication Paul also says, your church cannot be all things to all people, no matter how hard it tries. And as its leader, neither can you.

2. Focus on the mission and delegate mundane details
One of the primary responsibilities of any pastor is stewarding the mission of his church. Successful pastors do not handle mundane details that can be delegated to the church staff. Learn to discern between the urgent and the important, the primary and the marginal and prioritise accordingly.

Some pastors can delegate; some cannot. One pastor sees a task that needs doing and starts thinking of who has a gift or the aptitude or at least the willingness for this and he enlists them. The other pastor sees a job and does it himself. Both are godly, dedicated men of the Lord, but only the first is being fair to himself and his people and successful.

Paul delegated his responsibilities to Timothy with great success (1 Timothy). Unexpected for his time, he also used women to help and support him. Occasionally he uses his most common designation form of his male fellow workers to also refer to women, including: fellow worker (Priscilla, Romans 16:3); diakonos (servant, Phoebe, Romans 16:1); and once even apostle (Junia, according to the best translations; Romans 16:7)! Even more importantly, he accepts women praying and prophesying (1 Corinthians 11:4-5).

3. Persevere
All leaders eventually hit walls of various kinds. Wise leaders persevere instead of simply quitting, though they may be tempted to walk away. They understand that regardless of the circumstances, perseverance itself is a kind of success.
The writer of Hebrews gives numerous instances of people with faith-vision which enabled them to see what God wanted them to do, where He wanted them to go, how He wished them to persevere. By faith, Abraham went out not knowing where he was going (11:8). By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land…for he was looking for a city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God (11:9-10). All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance…(11:13). By faith (Moses) left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king, for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen. (11:27)

4. Read and study
John Wesley said: Either read or get out of ministry. Obviously, he believed reading was crucial to a pastor’s effectiveness. Reading helps you stay current on different issues, provides anecdotes and illustrations, and helps keep life in balance by providing other perspectives to consider. Paul studied with the competent professor Gamaliel and Paul was well informed. (If you don’t know which books or articles to read contact the ATS lecturers because there are also false teachings being taught in many books).

5. Take risks
Sometimes after a number of years in a church you have fulfilled your original vision. This is a time of re-evaluation. If you don’t replace a fulfilled vision with a new one, you may find your passion for ministry depleted and be tempted to leave the ministry when you should be pressing on and taking new risks.

If you plan to lead, it might be a good idea to take new risks that is Kingdom and community related. People of faith see things otherwise unseen. Faith vision. There are specific visions which God provides for us whom He calls to particular tasks. The Lord opens your inner eyes to something He has for you, some task He wants you to achieve.

In seeking God’s guidance, Paul’s experience in Acts 16:6-10 is instructive. He had finished his immediate task of delivering the decrees of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) in Syria, Cilicia, Derbe and Lystra (15:41-16:4). He then had no clear instructions for further activity. At Troas he came to understand that God wanted him to go to Macedonia. He then realised he had been going in the right direction all along. God guided Paul by closing doors  and taking faith risks. This was possible because Paul was trying to go somewhere but was willing to have his mind and direction changed.

In 2 Timothy 1:6 Paul told Timothy …to fan into flame the gift of God…
You and your church would do well to analyse the community where the Father has assigned you, along with the special gifts and calling of yourself and your leaders. Out of that, come up with the special focus of your ministry and your church and take risks.

6. Rest
Regular rest is crucial for reflection and refreshment. Jesus and Paul spent many hours ministering but rested as well. A weekly Sabbath and longer times of rest periodically are both important. Some pastors take a weekend off every six or eight weeks. Others have organised the need for a two- or three-month sabbatical every five years. Senior pastors would do well not to underestimate the value of rest and the perspective it gives. Remember: God cares more for the minister than for his ministry!

I pray that your pastorate will be successful in 2015.

I greet you in the name of Christos Kurios
Kobus de Smidt


  1. Linda Excellent Malaza

    Thank you very much for these life changing and inspiring notes to consider. I am really taking them to heart. As a pastor, I have realized my lack for rest and even my parents and wife see this lack in my life. But by the grace of God I am making the necessary changes and can already feel the difference.


  2. Marunia

    Am enlightened. Thank you.

  3. Roelof Grove

    Prof. Kobus het ‘n boek of verhandeling geskryf oor die 1000 jaar vrederyk. Hoe en waar kan ek die boek bekom?

    • Prof Kobus de Smidt

      In verband met die boek:

      Ek het nie ‘n boek geskryf nie. Ek sal ‘n kopie van my verhandeling volgende week vir ATS se biblioteek gee. Miskien kan u dit daar aanvra. Die titel is: Die duisendjarige vrederyk. ‘n Analities-eksegetiese studie van Openbaring 20.

      Ek het ook veel later ‘n artikel oor die wegraping geskryf wat ek binnekort op ATS se blog sal plaas.


      • Nelita Mutanhaurwa

        Thank you Prof for keeping us informed. Do not tire, we really need this daily bread.

  4. Sylvia Rambwa

    If more Pastors can learn to pass the burton to (women as well). The work of God (ministry) can really flourish.

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