Leading a resilient life and ministry

My primary vision for the first 20 years of pastoring was to build a Great Commission church. That vision fueled two decades of uninterrupted church growth at three churches that prioritized baptisms, buildings, and budgets. 

Fifteen years ago, I came to realize I was not growing internally at the same rate as my ministry was growing externally. I continued to preach sermons, lead staff, and build buildings while simultaneously burning out and burning bridges. Although I did not have any moral meltdowns in that dark season, a doctor and therapist helped me understand I was pastoring in a fog of depression and needed help. 

That began a grace-filled journey back to personal and pastoral health—which led to my most fulfilling years of pastoring. In the five years that followed my diagnosis, our church finished a historic relocation to a 50-acre campus while simultaneously launching a regional ministry center. 

Is it realistic to expect an unhealthy pastor to lead a healthy church? 

The apostle Paul says this in 1 Timothy 4:16: “Pay close attention to your life and your teaching; persevere in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.”  

"I believe every Great Commandment Christian will be a Great Commission Christian because our love for God fuels our love for our neighbors, as well as ourselves."

When pastors win, our families and ministries win. When we lose, the collateral damage is exponential. I wrote a book called Start to Finish to help pastors, missionaries, and deacons win by leading their lives, families, and ministries well (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1). It is my prayer this book will help them start well, serve well, and finish well. 

I believe every Great Commandment Christian will be a Great Commission Christian because our love for God fuels our love for our neighbors, as well as ourselves. While many church growth books focus on the Great Commission, Start to Finish focuses on the Great Commandments which precede, supersede, and fuel the Great Commission. 

These commands remind us of God’s relational priorities for our lives: love God, love our neighbors, and love ourselves. They serve as guideposts for healthy, resilient pastors who are serious about leading their lives and ministries well. The book is divided into two sections based on each part of the Great Commandment, the second of which is a prequel to the Great Commission.

I have no secrets or shortcuts for pastors. As the Bible hangs on these two basic commands, so does this book. I wrote it to help pastors deal with the reality that our personal and professional relationships are intrinsically connected. Each day we attempt to navigate relational landmines without a clear compass, we are putting our families and ministries at risk. 

The apostle Paul modeled a strong finish for us. On his last ministry lap, he shared his intentions with Timothy and the Ephesian ministry team, saying, “My purpose is to finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:24).

I cannot promise you a strong start or finish to your life and ministry, but I can promise you the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention staff and GuideStone are committed to helping you in any way we can until your race is over. 

Director of Pastoral Wellness
Mark Dance
Guidestone Financial Resources
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