Overcoming ministry mediocrity

Overcoming ministry mediocrity: three steps to a wholesome ministry

Pastors, like athletes, occasionally find themselves in a rut. Here are some suggestions to get out of that rut and recover a vibrant ministry.

Arthur D. Canales, D. Min., is associate professor of theology and ministry at Silver Lake College, in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, United States.

Most ministers do not consider themselves mediocre. Nor do they believe ministry is work that may be done in a mediocre way. Nevertheless, with a little introspection and honesty, most ministers will admit that from time to time every ministry suffers from mediocrity.

There are the same old service, the same old sermon, the same old songs, and the same people in the pews.

As bizarre as it might sound, God cares just as much about the minister as He does the ministry. Essentially, God is in the people business. He is concerned primarily about His people. He is more occupied with the individual minister above and beyond their individual ministries. God is faithful to His people, even to the point of allowing a person’s ministry to fail. Often times when a ministry is not successful, we tend to look upon that as failure instead of opportunity. When ministry becomes mediocre, then it provides an opportunity to reflect, remove our rose-colored lenses, and be open to the self-awareness that comes from such an arduous process.

To overcome ministry mediocrity, ministerial horizons need to undergo a change. This calls for an altering of behavior. For instance, an athlete must at times alter behavior and direction in order to be successful. Similarly, ministers must make a shift in order to get out of the “pastoral slump” in which they may find themselves. Of course, like most pastoral theology, it looks good on paper, but how is it actually applicable to the individual minister who is experiencing ministry mediocrity? Let me offer three practical suggestions that will help empower those ministers who find themselves in such situations.

“De-stress” yourself

It seems so simplistic—ah, but it is! Over the years, as a youth minister, college minister, and associate pastor, I have found that a periodical change in routine activity can be “de-stressing.” The less stress in life, the more fruitful ministry may become. An activity that you enjoy, an entertainment or recreation that is appropriate for a person of the “cloth” can do the needful. It may be sports, visiting a museum, attending a musical concert, or just dining out. Whatever is appropriate, go out and experience it. “Destressing” can prepare you for a better, more relevant ministry.

Maintain physical wellness

As a former college athlete and current fitness enthusiast, I find it utterly amazing how many people in our society do not take the time to exercise regularly or recognize the serious health benefits from exercise. I am a firm believer of developing the total person: mind, body, and spirit. However, my perception is that most ministers do not exercise as much as they should. In fact, most of my previous pastors with whom I have worked never exercised. I am not suggesting a highly intense fitness program, but a program that will ensure overall wellness and wholeness in the life of the minister.

Most exercise physiologists maintain that lifting weights regularly three to five times a week for 30 to 40 minutes each time is the number one stress reliever. Personally, nothing keeps me more in tune with myself than working out. We also need to establish a cardiovascular regimen. Cardiovascular activity includes, but is not limited to, running, cycling, stair-stepper machines, treadmill walking, and swimming. Again, cardiovascular exercise ideally needs to be done three to five times a week for 30 to 40 minutes at a time. Sorry golfers, golf does not constitute real exercise (and I golf).

When you get better rounded and work toward a wholistic wellness program, you will be surprised how much more effective your ministry will become.


This seems obvious enough; after all, we are Christian ministers. In reality, unless you live in amonastery, meditation and contemplation are usually far removed from your daily lives. Ministers, like everybody else in our fast-paced society, have little time for quiet reflection. Without focusing ourselves on God and His Word, how can we come to a self-awareness of what God expects from our ministries? In my life, meditation has always taken on different stages: (1) being still and quiet; (2) praying silently; (3) discerning God’s will by listening to His voice through contemplation of well-chosen Scripture passages; and (4) thanking God for the meditation experience.

The problem I typically run into is that I do not meditate as often as I need to. Meditation often clears the mind, gives us ample time to reflect upon our issues, and helps us to search ourselves with personal introspection. Such meditation requires that the minister set aside special times each week for precisely that purpose, and not simply go through the motions with a head full of worry, doubt, and skepticism. Adequate contemplation of God’s role in your life will lead you to surrender to God’s will.

My point is simple: overcome ministry mediocrity by improving yourself. Try one of the above tips this month, add one next month, and another afterwards. You will turn “ministry mediocrity” into a ministry that is thriving upon a rejuvenated and empowered minister.

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Arthur D. Canales, D. Min., is associate professor of theology and ministry at Silver Lake College, in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, United States.

December 2006

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