In this article, I want to consider twenty practices that will help you serve Jesus for a long time in one place. I began serving on staff at Calvary Monterey in 1999 and became the lead pastor in 2008, and these practices have helped me stick with the work so far. Of course, among our Calvary Chapel family there are many who have served many decades in the same location—I have gleaned plenty from their example. So, in no particular order of importance, here are twenty practices that might help you serve Jesus in one place for many years.
When the Apostle Paul was nearing death, he knew it. Still, he told Timothy, “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:13). About to die, Paul wanted his jacket, but also his books, and especially the Scriptures. He would study the word until his body was poured out as a drink offering to God. If it worked for him, if an intellectual powerhouse such as Paul still wanted to study near the end of his life, then reading will bless you. I know it has edified me greatly. Counsel, instruction, plans, theology, Scripture, church strategy, relationships—all have sharpened and improved in my life because of books. If you want to last a long time, read.
Key relationships have helped me up to this point. My marriage has been an island refuge. My children have refreshed me and made life exciting. My friends have laughed and cried with me. All these relationships have nourished and sustained me, often easing the serious nature of ministry life. The stakes are so high when serving Jesus, so laughing at yourself with your friends is good medicine (Proverbs 17:22). I call these people my Discouragement Abatement Team.
03. Resist Comparison
In a story from Jesus, the early-morning laborers complained that the late-day laborers received the same wage (Matthew 20:12). Comparing themselves to others took all the joy from their paycheck moment. Rather than celebrate a full day’s work and its accompanying wages, they soured on the success of others and the grace of the master. I think servants of Christ have ample opportunities to compare themselves to other servants of Christ. But we should not go there. What is the point? Instead, we ought to rejoice for how God uses others and put our heads down to do his work in our neck of the woods. We cannot run someone else’s race, but the one “set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). We must resist comparison.
04. Grace Refreshments
Saul was a terrible king for Israel. One day, in a moment of divinely inspired courage, his son Jonathan launched out into battle against the Philistine oppressors. God was with him, and the nation rallied around him. Saul, caught up in the moment, vowed that no one would eat anything until the battle was won. When Jonathan heard it, he ridiculed his father’s folly and ate some honeycomb. When he did, his eyes became bright. He declared, “How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies that they found. For now the defeat among the Philistines has not been great” (1 Samuel 14:30). I’ve always thought Saul’s edict a great picture of legalism in the church—
don’t touch this, don’t taste that, don’t enjoy those. Look, if it’s forbidden in Scripture, don’t. But if it’s not, maybe it’s honeycomb that can help keep you fresh for the war.
Ministry life is often sedentary. On top of this, Christians are really good at “breaking bread.” Plus, we need time to unwind from the pressures and stresses of church work. For all this, there is exercise. Not as valuable as godliness—prayer, Bible study, fellowship, etc.—it still has some value (1 Timothy 4:8). I hope to serve Jesus for as long as he tarries, but I know good stewardship of my physical strength and endurance will help me toward that goal. Many things about my health are out of my control. But many things are within the realm of my responsibility. So I exercise regularly.
06. Daily Walk
This should be at the top of the list, but your personal walk with Christ will keep you going, man. He is so faithful to encourage, uplift, instruct, direct, energize, forgive, embolden, and generally drop grace on his servants. Run to him. Get under the spout where the grace comes out. Enjoy him in worship.
Spend time with him in prayer. Learn about him in the Scripture. Walk with him every day of your life.
07. Time Alone
There’s a brief episode from Paul’s ministry I’ve always appreciated. He and his team were traveling. Everyone else got on a ship heading to Assos. There, they would collect Paul, who intended to travel by himself to Assos via a land route (Acts 20:13-14). I mean, I can understand why he’d had enough of boats by that time. But it refreshes me that he wanted to spend some time alone. I’m sure he redeemed the time. Jesus, of course, modeled this time alone before time with the disciples and masses. A healthy Christian life requires times of solitude, so spend some time alone and watch God do his thing.
08. Let Things Get Messy
The Proverbs say, “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox” (Proverbs 14:4). You can have a clean and orderly manger, but it’ll cost you sparse crops. Do you want abundant crops? Do you want lots of fruit in ministry? Become willing to put up with some mess when needed, reminding yourself that fruit is on the other side.
09. Say No
If you want a short run serving Jesus, say yes to everything. You’ll never keep up. Burnout cometh. Instead, decline invitations, say no to opportunities, and resist the temptation to do it all. There will be a thousand things Christ tells you to say ‘yes’ to, but a million you must say ‘no’ to. You just can’t get his mission accomplished while pleasing everyone. You must say no (2 Corinthians 1:17-18).
10. Don’t Chase Numbers
I want to reach as many as possible. I want to make as many disciples as possible. But the constant pursuit of numbers has a maddening (and shortening) effect on God’s servants. If God’s servants instead focus on quality over quantity, the quantity will often come. Plus, our eyes often deceive us, meaning we might think we’re seeing fruit with large numbers, but God might be seeing something else entirely. Make disciples. Do what you do well. Entrust the results into God’s hands. Let him add to the church (Acts 2:47).
To serve anywhere for long, forgiveness will have to be a key component. First, you will need the forgiveness of others. You are bound to hurt, offend, and blunder your way through much of ministry life. Some of your sins will be intentional, some of them unintentional, but when you realize it, you should seek forgiveness. Second, you will need to forgive others. The church is made up of saints, but on this side of the great and final resurrection of the dead, we don’t always act like it. Every once in a while, someone will seek your forgiveness, but most of the time, you will have to, moment-by-moment, instant-by-instant, forgive your debtors, even when they don’t know their debt. Finally, you need to resist condemnation towards yourself (Romans 8:1). I don’t want to write “forgive yourself” because I think it’s a statement loaded with theological errors, but I’m sure you get the idea. Ministry to others is filled with embarrassing moments, but even though I am embarrassed by many parts of my ministry past, I know I have to press forward (Philippians 3:13-14).
12. A Loose Grip
You cannot possibly make it long, especially in one place, if you think the church belongs to you. It is Christ’s bride. The church is his body. He is its head. Because it belongs to him, we can have a loose grip. Though ministers of the gospel have a responsibility to their local church and congregation, the truth that the church belongs to Jesus should set the minister free. Many times, I have been strengthened for a decision, encouraged through a failure, or emboldened in faith by the knowledge that the church doesn’t belong to me. Jesus has his plans for his bride, and I need to roll with him.
13. Be Ready To Learn From New Leaders/People
When you stay in one place for a while, old leaders inevitably depart, and new leaders replace them. Though sometimes I wish I could serve with the same team for fifty years, this would be an unhealthy reality. So, as your team matures, shapes, and changes over the years, learn from these new members. Hear their perspective. Listen to their voices. When I was younger, many on my team were older than me, and I needed their voices. I still do, but as I have aged, my team has become younger, and I need to resist the tendency to ignore those with less experience. God put them in my life and our church for a reason, so it is good for me to listen.
14. Take Breaks
Serving Jesus might sound glamorous to the uninitiated, but ministry life, especially the work-for-a-church-full-time kind, is highly repetitive. Sundays always come. Sins always rise up. Decisions are non-stop. Study and counsel and prayer and meetings are all needed all the time. So taking breaks has been incredibly important for me. First, my energy is rebuilt when away from my responsibilities. Second, I have to stop studying long enough for my brain to reset. Third, when away from the church, I gain perspective from God. Fourth, my family is my most important ministry, so time away allows me to refocus on them. Fifth, God rested on the seventh day, and even a break one day each week will do wonders for your life and sanity. Take breaks.
15. Get People Connected to Each Other
Too many ministries rally and rely upon one leader. I realized early on that the priesthood of the believers meant people needed to be connected to one another. We are meant to, in a sense, “pastor” one another. Pastors encourage and edify and counsel and rebuke, but they can’t do it for everyone at all times. We need each other. So it has been incredibly helpful to design our ministries to connect believers to other believers, to get people connected to each other (Acts 2:42).
16. Be Steady
Jacob described Reuben as “unstable as water” (Genesis 49:4). The phrase has always stuck with me, and my heart’s desire has been to be as steady as I can. If you jump from new doctrine to new doctrine, from theological emphasis to theological emphasis, or program to program, people will grow frustrated with your leadership. Steady leaders might be a bit boring at times, but boring is better than being unstable any day. When people know what to expect from you, they have an easier time joining with you for years to come.
17. Aim To See Christ Formed in Everyone You Serve
I’ve known many servants of Christ who tired of their situation and ministry because it lost its challenge. I’m sure there are times this is a Spirit-inspired sense, but I’m sure there are also times this is a short-sighted perspective. I’ve found that a desire to see “Christ formed” in everyone I serve means I always have a challenge in front of me (Galatians 4:19). We all have areas yet to be submitted to the Lordship of Jesus. We can all grow further into Christ’s image. So, for me, focusing on seeing Christ formed in those I serve helps me feel challenged in the work.
18. Crave Personal Growth
Speaking of a challenge, I don’t think you can make it long in one place without a strong desire for personal growth. When it comes to Nate Holdridge, the Spirit has a big job in front of him. And when I’m convinced I want personal transformation, when I want to be transformed into Christ’s image, every ministry situation or endeavor becomes a chance for the Spirit to take me from glory to glory, to conform me to be more like Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18).
19. Trust the Gospel’s Power
When servants of Christ lose their trust in the gospel as the power of God for salvation, ministry life devolves into a strange mixture of human endeavor, hopeless routines, and defeat. You will not make it long if you believe the people you serve or people in your community are beyond the power of the gospel. Once you lose hope, your energy wanes, and you are not long for that community. Instead, perpetually say with Paul, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
Paul said he was controlled—propelled, compelled, or driven—by the love of Christ. His love for Christ, Christ’s love for him, and Christ’s love for his world thrust Paul forward and into service for his world. And, if love is absent, the servant of Christ won’t make it far. We must open ourselves to the Spirit’s intervention and influence. He must produce this glorious fruit in us (Galatians 5:22). We need his help in order to love as we ought.