How to finish well

How to finish well

Last week, I got to do something that I have never done before: I took a week off work entirely devoted to study. One of the requirements and, indeed, gifts of being a pastor in our denomination is to take time away from ministerial responsibilities to engage in ongoing learning. This meant doing something I also rarely get to do on a Sunday: worship in the pews with you! It was a gift. 

While I have been serving on church staff teams for more than a decade, I am still new to ordained pastoral ministry. As I look out on the years to come, this led me to ask: How could I prepare at the beginning of my ministry for the end of my ministry? How can I finish well? 

One of Pastor Mark’s life verses comes from the Apostle Paul, writing to his young protégé: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). In his previous letter, Paul encourages Timothy: “Pay close attention to yourself and on the teaching” (1 Timothy 4:16). And Paul also calls upon the elders in Ephesus to “pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). 

While many of us have endured church splits, divisions, leadership failures, and even scandals from our previous church experiences, we may give little thought to where those come from—that many of those issues stem from something deeper. We may neglect to see how the fact that those involved in those experiences were unhealthy in areas of their lives and how that unhealth affected others.  

Stewarding our own well-being is something that those in ministry tend to struggle with most. For example, pastors in the United States are generally less healthy than the general population. The research is disheartening. In fact, in 2021, over a third of pastors in the U.S. considered quitting full-time ministry. And many did throw in the towel. Unfortunately, it is a rarity that a church would have a senior pastor, for example, who has served faithfully for decades. Something we can praise God for at Chapel Hill!  

This was a sobering realization for me. And one that I wanted to study more. As I researched this topic of self-care from some excellent biblical resources, I’ve come to understand it from a Christian perspective like this: Self-care is sacrificially stewarding yourself as a God-entrusted resource to best serve others to the glory of God. 

Perhaps, as you consider your New Year’s resolutions — if they haven’t all fallen by the wayside already! — you may revisit how you can finish well in whatever it is God has called you to. Your family, your marriage, your friendships, your work, your volunteer service, or maybe even your life, if you are nearing the end of the days God has ordained for you. Whatever it is, how can you cultivate self-sacrificing, others-serving, God-glorifying self-care to say with Paul, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith

For me, this has looked like leaning into habits that draw me into greater closeness to God. These are habits that help me prioritize my marriage and family. And those that help me take care of the body as a gift from God. One specific habit has been praying four times a day– a practice called the divine hours or the daily office. Practicing this over the last couple of weeks has drawn me into deeper union with Jesus in ways that I am incredibly grateful for. 

But what is it for you? My challenge would be to rededicate ourselves to this calling on our lives to “pay close attention to ourselves.” Whether that is digging into God’s Word, spending time in prayer, guarding time to rest, or journaling for reflection, consider what habit God may be calling you to cultivate in this New Year. 

To get you started, I would recommend Pastor Ellis’ video series on spiritual practices here. He includes practical insights about several habits you may consider starting or restarting in the days to come. 

Let us renew our commitment to caring for the lives he has entrusted to us, remembering that “it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2) so that, when the day comes for us to come face to face with the Lord Jesus, he would say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant” (Luke 19:17). 

May the Lord bless you and keep you in this New Year. 

Pastor Gunnar