11 Marks of Finishing Well in Ministry

This article is adapted from Finishing Well in Life and Ministry: God’s Protection from Burnout by Bill Mills and Craig Parro. Subscribe to our blog and receive an eBook version of Finishing Well as our gift to you.

We are living in a day when many men and women are “beginning well” in the ministry but not many are “finishing well.”

So many of our brothers and our sisters began their work with a genuine call from God and a deep commitment to serve Him. Their faith was sincere and their love for God was sacrificial. Their highest desire was to give themselves for Christ and His kingdom, but along the way, the pressures, the pain, the disappointments and the failures of life have caused them to burn out, to lose heart, and to give up.

It was the fullness of Christ that enabled Paul to finish well. At the end of his third missionary journey, as he was on his way to Jerusalem, he stopped at Miletus and called for the elders at Ephesus to meet him there. He had ministered at Ephesus for three years, and this church was very dear to his heart. In his closing exhortation to the elders at Ephesus, we see the characteristics that enabled him to walk in the works that God had ordained for him from the foundation of the world and to fulfill the ministry that God had entrusted to him. It is these same character qualities, flowing out of the fullness of Christ, which will also enable you and me to “finish well” and to walk gloriously in the works that our Father has planned for us.

1. Integrity and Character

Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews;” (Acts 20:17-19)

Paul’s integrity and character were well known within the church at Ephesus. He said, “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you.” This confidence was the foundation for the message he now brought to the elders. The character and integrity which flows from us as godly men and women will be the foundation for our ministries as well. Are these qualities the first that we seek for those who would serve in God’s Church today? It seems that we often seek and even train first for proficiency of skills in preaching, leading or technology and then we hope that the integrity is there as well. For Paul, and for those who seek God’s glory in His Church, it is of first importance.

2. Humility

True humility is not seeing ourselves for less than what we are; rather, it is a confident affirmation of who God has made us to be in Christ and the ministry He has set before us.

Paul walked humbly before the Lord and before His people. Like John the Baptist, Paul had the grace to see himself through the eyes of God. John knew who he was and he knew who he wasn’t. John knew he was not the Christ, but he was the one sent to be a witness to the Light. True humility is not seeing ourselves for less than what we are; rather, it is a confident affirmation of who God has made us to be in Christ and the ministry He has set before us. We get into trouble when we see ourselves out of proportion—as more than who God says we are or as less than He sees us to be.

3. Intimate Relationships

…I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, (Acts 20:20)

Paul shared intimate relationships with his people. Earlier he said that he served with tears. Here he described the way he taught them publicly and from house to house. He was with the people and his heart went out to them and was open to them as well. Paul was knowable, touchable, available, and able to be moved deeply by their needs and their cries.

4. Message of Repentance and Faith

..testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:21)

Paul’s message was repentance and faith. He called all hearers to turn from their sins and from any hope other than God’s work through His Son at Calvary and to turn to Christ in faith, placing all of their hopes in His blood shed on the cross.

5. Obedient to Death

And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. (Acts 20:22-23)

Paul was obedient to the point of death. He continued to follow the leading of God’s Spirit, knowing that afflictions, pain, persecutions, prison and even death were before him.

6. Endurance to the End

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. (Acts 20:24-25)

Paul endured to the end. Endurance may well be the most important character quality in ministry. Paul was committed to finishing his race whatever the cost. He did not bail out in the face of overwhelming obstacles because he knew God was there and was able to keep his heart.

7. Proclamation of God’s Whole Counsel

Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. (Acts 20:26-27)

Paul proclaimed the whole counsel of God. The basis of his innocence before the Lord was his faithfulness to the entire message God had entrusted to him. He did not preach pet themes or speak on interesting topics that he thought might draw an audience, or pull out a verse here or there that might serve as a reinforcement for an idea that gripped his fancy. He taught all of the Scriptures as a framework for the Holy Spirit’s ministry to the people of God.

8. A Watchman over His Heart

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)

Paul kept watch over his own heart. He guarded his attitudes, affections, motives and desires. Paul was not deceived by the enemy into thinking that he was above the things that caused others to fall. Many pastors and missionaries get into trouble when they start believing the good things that their people say about them. After months, or even years, of hearing, “You are so wonderful, so spiritual, so sensitive or so ‘whatever,’ ” we often begin to believe that foolishness. We love living on that pedestal, and soon we think we really are different than others and not vulnerable to falling into sexual or financial sin, or other things that would bring disgrace on the name of our Lord.

There is another side to this battle as well. Other pastors and leaders get into trouble when their people do not give them the respect that they deserve or do not affirm them or care for them financially. Perhaps we are compared to the great television or radio preachers, as we discussed earlier, and are found wanting in the eyes of our people. We need to guard our hearts from anger, jealousy, and bitterness in these times.

9. A Watchman over God’s Flock

We are called to guard the flock of God from the destroyers and the dividers.

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. (Acts 20:29-31)

Paul kept watch over the flock of God. We have been made overseers of God’s Church, His people purchased with His own blood. Savage wolves will come, even from within. There are those who distort the truth about God’s Word and even the truth about us and our ministries. Others try to draw followers to themselves. Paul urged the church at Ephesus to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Divisions in the Church are rampant today and a powerful tool of the enemy. Satan’s deceptions are incredibly powerful. More churches are split on the basis of “rightness” than on any other issue. Satan does not care who is right. He loves “rightness!” The Pharisees were the most “right” people in the world, but their hearts were far from God. We quickly forget that it is our love for one another which reveals that we have come from Jesus (John 13:34-35), and it is our unity which reveals that Jesus has been sent by the Father (John 17:23). We are called to guard the flock of God from the destroyers and the dividers.

10. Message—God’s Grace

And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32)

Paul’s message was the grace of God. Again, the ministry of God’s Word was preeminent in Paul’s heart, and these Scriptures bring us to an understanding of His grace. It is our Father’s loving, merciful, gracious giving which sets us free to walk in holiness. There is no religious structure or legalistic system that can bring the people of God to loving obedience. Only the freedom of His grace moves us to the service He desires.

11. A Servant’s Heart

I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:33-35)

In a world of users, takers, and consumers, God has raised us up to be givers, as we follow not only Jesus’ words but also His own example.

Paul modeled the heart of a servant. We are greatly in need of men and women whose ministries are filled with character and integrity. These are attitudes of the heart and are expressed in serving. These qualities are seen most vividly in our attitudes concerning finances. God has not called us to build our lives at the expense of the sheep but to build up His sheep even at the cost of our very lives. In a world of users, takers, and consumers, God has raised us up to be givers, as we follow not only Jesus’ words but also His own example.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)

May God give us the grace to “finish well,” to persevere even to the end for the sake of His name and the building of His Church. Above all, may we hunger to hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” as we stand before His throne. May His glorious presence that kept us from day to day be our joy and delight for all eternity!

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Bill Mills

Bill Mills is one of the founders of Leadership Resources International. His ministry began in youth work, where God gave him a heart for encouraging young people by teaching them the Bible. That same vision has remained through the development of our church conferences, pastoral training, and work with missions. Bill’s passion is still to bring the encouragement of the Scriptures to God’s people in order to equip them for ministry, and God has graciously allowed him to fulfill that passion through many hundreds of conferences throughout the world. Bill studied at North Park College, Northern Baptist Seminary, Luther Rice Seminary, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Two of Bill’s great joys are sharing this work with his life partner, Karen, and fishing with his two sons, Peter and Joel.