So what does it take to be a successful pastor of a thriving ministry?
A young pastor asked this question during a round of golf with a foursome of pastors. Two of them were pastors of very large churches. I happened to be one of the other two. Like any leader, I was eager to learn how to improve and go to the next level. This would be an opportunity for me to gain insight and ideas.
The first pastor responded with an intimidating summary of his weekly schedule. "Well, Monday and Tuesday are usually spent traveling to my many speaking engagements. On Wednesday I have my staff meeting with our current staff of 30. Our packed-out midweek service is on Thursday. Every Friday I devote time to writing. My seventh book will be published next month. Saturday I prepare for multiple Sunday services. We had over 10,000 people at our services last week!"
With just a slight variation, the other pastor described his week. Then the young pastor turned to me and asked: "How about you? How do you spend your week?"
I couldn't compete with the other pastors' achievements, so I chose a path of candor and comedy. "On Monday I usually quit," I stated. "On Tuesday I realize that I don't know what else to do for a living. On Wednesday I preach to a half-empty auditorium. On Thursday I'm disappointed that more people didn't show up. On Friday I start preparing for the Word that will spark a move of God to propel my church into an unbelievable growth spurt. By Saturday I'm on fire. On Sunday I preach my heart out. On Monday I quit."
I tell this story with a bit of exaggeration, but any pastor knows it's not too far from the truth! For many church leaders—particularly those in smaller churches—the weekly cycle of ministry is a constant blend of highs and lows. My fellow pastors weren't trying to intimidate me, but I certainly was allowing myself to be intimidated and discouraged.
Bigger Than Now
Think of a time when you felt down and out. Maybe it was last week, last month or last year when you lost your feeling of purpose and were convinced that nothing you have ever done or ever will do could possibly matter. Even in ministry, life can often feel like a rat race—as if others have already lapped you and there's no way you can win. It happens to us all in our roles as pastors, parents, even in our relationship with God. We become overwhelmed with our underachievement. I recall a significant point in my life when this was the case.
I live in the canyons of Orange County, Calif. There is only one road leading from my home to my church, and it passes one of the largest churches in the nation. Saddleback Church, under pastor Rick Warren, has grown to 20,000-plus people in weekly attendance. He is the author of The Purpose-Driven Life, which has become the best-selling nonfiction hardback book in history.
On many Sunday mornings, while trying to get to my church for the early morning service, I've waited behind hundreds of cars lined up to go to Saddleback Church. I've been tempted to put a sign on my car that reads, "Follow me to preferred parking," and then proceed to take them to the church my wife and I pastor (Life Church).
I can't even get a gallon of milk without passing Saddleback Church. Many times I have been overwhelmed with feelings of discouragement, jealousy and even anger. Believe me, there were days when it was a battle to even look at Saddleback Church.
Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. I asked God, "Why is Pastor Rick getting all the blessings? Why do 20,000 people go to Saddleback, and we have fewer than 2,000 people on our best week? Can't You spread the love?"
I know this sounds so superficial, but, hey, I was down and pouting.
God chose to reveal to me at that moment something that has since added meaning to absolutely everything I do in life. He introduced me to the concept of legacy. He spoke to my heart: "How will you feel if one of your children or grandchildren is raised up to build a church with the kind of influence that you see in Saddleback Church? What if your daughter or grandson writes a book that touches millions? How will you feel about that?"
At that time, I was not aware that Warren is a fourth-generation preacher. Kay, his wife, is a preacher's kid with a similar legacy. God has used legacy in the Warren family to connect faithfulness from one generation to another. Rick and Kay are the latest link in a legacy that has been accumulating favor and blessings.
God was saying, "Everything matters, Phil!" All my efforts and sacrifices, though they may appear seemingly insufficient, were accumulating toward the ongoing purpose of God. My life has value that can't be measured by the limited standards of the here and now!
If I am willing to stay focused and faithful, there is no telling what could become of this legacy. My life and lineage are limited only by my imagination.
That moment of humility introduced me to the honor I would feel in being a strong link in a multigenerational legacy. It was the moment I decided that quitting is never an option. I realized that everything I do today matters from a generational perspective.
Are You First in Line?
The same is true for you, dear pastor. Whether you lead a congregation of 20 or 20,000, what you do goes beyond the Sunday-to-Sunday routine. It isn't just about the people you see in your pews, it's also about those who are yet to come—even when you're long gone. Most likely, you are already aware of this. Yet as a fellow pastor, I know how easily we can lose sight of this in the midst of the natural ups and downs of leading a flock.
You may be the first in your lineage, as far as you know, committed to living a life beyond just you and beyond just for today. You may be the one called to be a trailblazer that plows a path for the generations to come. There will be no signs along the way for you to follow. Only God goes before you. You may feel alone, but be assured many will follow.
Every great and godly legacy starts with one person. Someone who says, "Enough is enough." No more pointless pain. No more tolerance for the deceitful, destructive and dysfunctional lifestyle. Time to reverse the curse. Will that someone be you?
Remember that you hold a legacy in your heart. You were created to be part of an ongoing heritage. "For our light affliction, which is but a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:17-18).
I have an important announcement for you: God is up to something in your life. Even as pastors, we often choose to listen to that little voice in our heads that says, "Oh, I doubt it. Certainly God can find someone more accomplished than me to do His work."
The truth is, you matter in God's long-term plans. And the everyday things you do in ministry matter too! With a generational-driven life, you can see your purpose through His eternal eyes. The external pressures and measures of others no longer have to intimidate you. You don't have to allow yourself to be haunted by internal comparisons with others. The eternal perspective—not the external or internal—can drive your passion and purpose.
Running the Race of Your Life
You could call your life a gen-e-RACE-tional relay race. When you've run your laps, you will pass the baton to the next in your lineage. Every lap you run with integrity and intensity will help those who begin where you end. You will come to discover that running this race is not just about winning but about finishing your leg of the race.
The revelation of legacy has not only kept me in the game, but it has also given me a passion for the bigger prize. The prize is not just about me; it's not just about now. It's not just personal but generational, and with eternal consequences too.
With a generational view, I am able to remove the temporary and trivial perspective from my trials and tests. This allows me to see farther down the road and absorb the bumps that would normally take me out of the race.
Running a legacy is not a sprint. We are engaged in a marathon. It is a race that will still be going on long after we have passed from this life. We will see the finish line from the grandstand of heaven. Our confidence stands on the promise that what we are investing our lives in will be watched over and completed by Him who has begun the work.
Pastor, the plans God has for you are so big, so meaningful and so important that it will take both you and the generations to come to comprehend and complete the work. Your life is part of a plan that isn't being made up as you go. You are important enough to require some planning that can be traced to past generations, and will continue through those yet to come. That legacy is why everything about you matters!
Phil Munsey is senior pastor of Life Church in Mission Viejo, Calif., which he and his wife, Jeannie, founded in January 1985. Along with traveling as a conference speaker and working with John Maxwell's Equip Ministry, Phil has written the book Legacy Now (Charisma House), from which this article was adapted.