By Published On: June 19, 20220 Comments

“On the whole, the same general kinds of things happen because God is in the business of developing leaders. And He is consistent. And certain things must be there—like character, spiritual authority, relationship and giftedness.” (LOL, p. 158).

Stage One: Ministry Foundations (Age 16-26)

Character Shaping Phase: Basic character formation, underlying values, growing awareness of God, beginnings of spiritual formation are developed.

Stage Two: Early Ministry (5-12 years in ministry)

Ministry Formation Phase: Leadership character and commitment to leadership role are formed on the basis of early experiences (e.g. conflict, crises, etc). Experimentation and awareness of ministry giftedness emerges, spiritual formation and ministry formation become priorities.

Stage Three: Middle Ministry (8-14 years in ministry)

Spiritual Formation Phase: Life purpose, giftedness, and major roles in ministry are clarified. Insights for empowering people in ministry are learned. Authority and conflict issues are faced, perhaps in the setting of a leadership “backlash.” Challenges emerge requiring special attention and growth.

Stage Four: Latter Ministry (12+ years)

Strategic Formation Phase: Acting on one’s specific life purpose and calling in ministry as one’s ultimate areas of contribution clarify. Ministry becomes more efficient and effective at this “ministry peak.” Spiritual warfare and spiritual formation become greater foci as the ministry engages in “deep processing.”

Stage Five: Finishing Well (??)

Fulfillment Phase: Ultimate contributions continue to be developed, consolidation of a lifetime of ministry achievements and experiences, important values are passed on to other generations of leaders, perception of “destiny fulfillment.”

Adapted From: Barna, George. Leaders on Leadership. Ventura, California: Regal Books, 1997.
Chapter Eight, “The Life Cycle of a Leader.” Written by J. Robert Clinton and Richar
W. Clinton

Some Comments…

First, these five stages describe the stages of healthy ministry development. Ministries are made and broken at any of these phases as individuals struggle with spiritual, strategic, and other formational issues and experiences.

Second, the stages have an almost overwhelming overlap in the 8-14th years of ministry. I would suggest that these be called the period of “Ministry Adolescence” because the formative issues and experiences during this period shape the character and content of one’s ministry as greatly as adolescence has shaped one’s life…sometimes with an analogous sense of trauma, confusion, and growth.

Third, everyone in ministry—pastors, congregations, denominational leaders, and other ministry professionals–ought to have a high sensitivity to those ministers in their 8-15th years. They need support, resources, and the wisdom of other trusted Christian brothers and sisters so that they can survive, endure, and be strengthened through this “do-or-die” phase.

Fourth, the period of “Ministry Adolescence” may reach its peak during the “change of life”, especially in those denominations where pastors enter the ministry in their late 20’s or in those pastors who have entered the ministry as a second career. This, I believe, is another key time needed for support.

Fifth, I would venture to say that these five phases are not restricted to the ministry. I believe leaders in secular endeavors might also follow a sequence of developmental stages which might prove similar to these. Perhaps this might indicate how leaders in the secular world can certainly be of help to those in the ministry.

Finally, it would be interesting if the recognition of these phases became the basis for denominational ministry health programming. Certainly ministers in each phase have something to offer to others in other phases of ministry and those who are experiencing the same phase of ministry ought to be networked and identified to give mutual support through what may be similar experiences.

Thomas F. Fischer

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