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Pastoral ministry is a marathon, not a sprint. This is a helpful way to think about ministry. The references to endurance, focus, and finishing are appropriate overlaps between the pastor and the marathoner’s work.

We know that to run a marathon, you need to be in shape.

But what does it mean to be in shape?

It would help if your legs were in shape to run that far. But you must also be in good enough cardio shape to endure the grueling course.

But that’s not all.

You have to eat and sleep right and have your mind strong. If you don’t have the fuel, you don’t go. And if your mind allows you to quit, you’re done before you start. Training isn’t just on the road; it’s in the kitchen, in the bed, and in your head.

Like just focusing on cardio strength in running, pastors can concentrate on one category–the ability to preach or theological knowledge and neglect other aspects.

This is a mistake.

Running the marathon of ministry requires an awareness of and attention to multiple challenging areas.

Pastoral ministry is a marathon, not a sprint.

Pastoral ministry combines (at least) four uniquely taxing areas. I’m not saying this is the most challenging or even the only job combining these areas. I’m just underlining the fact that being a pastor is taxing. It’s more taxing than we realize.

Ministry may be doing a number on you. Or, how you respond to the burdens of ministry may be doing a number on you. And you might not even realize it.

Being a Pastor is High Stress

Being a pastor means regularly dealing with unpredictable and weighty issues. Watching people walk away from the faith, seeing marriages destroyed, trying unsuccessfully to persuade people away from sin, watching people die, and seeing hearts grow cold to the Lord are heavy burdens. Even the most seasoned pastor feels his weakness and grabs for steadying when experiencing the tremors from sin. Combine this with the ever-encroaching deadlines for teaching and other responsibilities, and you have a stressful vocation.

Being a Pastor is Spiritually Taxing

Being a pastor (should) mean being a Christian. Therefore, we have in dwelling sin and a sense of it. As our knowledge of the Word and experience in grace grows, our eyesight into our own weakness improves. And we don’t like what we find. We see where we fall short.

Like other Christians, we have highs and lows. We experience doubts and discouragements. The sins we fight to kill come back with greater intensity, and we get discouraged. Satan’s temptations have a direct line into our ears. We can have a hard time hearing our Father’s pardoning voice. On top of this we know that we are accountable to a stricter scrutiny for what we say (James 3:1).

This can pile up. Pastors get discouraged too. Many pastors will privately tell you that while they trust and rejoice in God, they regularly feel discouraged. And, sometimes, the dark clouds linger.

Being A Pastor is Lonely

Pastors spend a lot of time alone. And for most of us, this is important. Some of our work does not lend itself to a group project. Many of us don’t have large (or any) staff to work with. As a rule, pastors are notoriously ineffective at establishing and maintaining meaningful relationships with other men (especially those who aren’t in their church).

Now just think about this. If you have a high stress job that’s one thing. But then add in the fact that in the midst of your work you can often endure seasons of deep discouragement. And now isolate yourself. This has the potential to do some damage. Many ministries get sidelined from the combination of these three areas.

But there’s a fourth area, that when added, can become the perfect cocktail for ending the race.

Being A Pastor Can Be Physically Challenging

Pastors don’t tend to move around a lot; we do a lot of sitting, whether in study, prayer, meetings, or administration. Except for the sermon, most of what we do happens after we take a seat. Very comfortable–but not great on the body. A long-term sedentary life is not optimal.

Add diet to this. Being a pastor often means eating on the run, grabbing something quick (and unhealthy), or skipping meals. We can also be guilty of unwittingly trying to numb or remove the pain through food. Eating large amounts of unhealthy food might taste good but it doesn’t help. Years of unhealthy eating combined with a lack of physical activity translates to a serious ministry challenge.


 I think it’s helpful for pastors to a) remember that ministry is a marathon, b) to have these unique challenges on their dashboard. If we can at least identify the challenges to finishing the race then we can seriously address them.

And in doing so, I pray that we will stay in the race.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published from The Gospel Coalition on September 19, 2023. Used with permission.

Erik Raymond is the senior pastor at Redeemer Fellowship Church in Metro Boston. He and his wife, Christie, have six children. He blogs at Ordinary Pastor.

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