Ministry resilience foundations

Six areas that contribute to leaders thriving in ministry

Ministry resilience in the face of stressors and challenges can be thought of as a group of qualities in a person’s makeup and life that act as foundations for sustainability and wellbeing in ministry. Six ministry resilience qualities, known as ‘personal foundations’, have been outlined by NCLS Research, from decades of research.

These 6 qualities help you to thrive in ministry and survive well in the face of the challenges and stresses you may encounter.

1. Spiritual Foundations

Nurturing and regular private spiritual practice

Your spiritual foundations remind you of your identity and dependence on God and your place in the world. Active ongoing spiritual formation and a deepening relationship with God is a necessary resource upon which Christian leaders draw.

Nurture your spiritual foundations through regular private spiritual practice.

2. Clarity of Purpose

Clear sense of purpose or call in ministry and life

Having a strong sense of purpose in your life can act as a reference point, an internal compass to help stay on course and persevere.

Previous NCLS research has found that having a clear sense of purpose or call is related to feeling effective in one's role, satisfied, and less prone to emotional exhaustion.

Developing a clear sense of purpose and call will help you face challenges in your life and ministry.

3. Sense of self

Sense of identity and worth not dependent on external issues

A strong sense of self means maintaining a sense of identity separate from the influences of ministry work and relationships. It is having the personal autonomy to not be overly dependent on external issues, such as the affirmation of others or the authority of the position. It is not about 'not caring' or being arrogant, but being separate enough from ministry in one's identity.

It is natural to be invested in one’s ministry, but the issue to consider is whether one's core worth or identity is derived from it.

Develop a sense of identity that’s independent of external influences such as ministry, work and the affirmation of others.

4. Integration

Having a good fit between your aspirations and ministry tasks

Literature on work engagement and burnout has identified 'person-job fit' as a key area to consider. In the context of church ministry, leaders need to consider their own giftings, passions and experience and how they can most effectively serve in a role. This idea of a good fit can feel like a matter of authenticity, or integrity. 

Take on ministry roles that are a good fit between your aspirations and ministry tasks. What are you good at?

5. Supportive relationships

Connecting with close friends for support, care, and growth

Being able to make and keep friends can be a challenge for some in ministry roles. The support received from close friends and family can make a critical difference in how well demanding times in ministry are handled. Supportive relationships within the church are also important. When church leaders feel loved and supported by those within the church they are less likely to be burning out and more likely to be thriving.

Moving churches and friendship communities is one challenge church leaders more often face, making it harder to keep in touch with the same friends over a period of time. Pastors can also hold an unusual position in many people's minds, as an authority figure or 'on a pedestal', which can also inhibit normal friendships forming. 

Build connections with close friends who support you, care for you and help you grow.

6. Balance & Boundaries

Having time and energy to disconnect and recharge as needed

A balanced life with clear boundaries allows leaders to be realistic in knowing what they do and what they don't do. Not doing this may, in the longer term, mean the leader cannot sustain their energy levels in ministry, becoming overwhelmed, and unable to cope.

Achieving a sense of balance with different parts of life, along with sustaining healthy boundaries, is another aspect of resilience. Constant and unbroken engagement in ministry can stop a church leader's energy levels returning to a natural and healthy equilibrium. It's possible for leaders not to recognise when this is happening, or to feel powerless to do something about it. Being sometimes caught amidst competing demands and limited resources only emphasises the need for a leader to establish clear and appropriate boundaries between work time and other time. 

Ministry is a job where boundaries can be particularly challenging.

Having good balance and boundaries can help you make time to disengage from ministry tasks and recharge.

How do leaders rate across these 6 key areas?

Results from leaders in more than 20 denominations across Australia in 2021 and 2022 are available in our article: How do leaders assess their ministry resilience foundations?