Union University R.G. Lee Society of Fellows

"Pastoring A Church Can Be Hazardous To Your Health"
2 Corinthians 11:24-28

by Dr. Vann Kissell
Pastor, Troy First Baptist Church
Troy, Tennessee

Rev. Vann Kissell

   We are living in a day in which warning labels are found on everything from cigarettes to cleaning products to hair dryers to bicycles. Almost every thing that can be purchased and every activity in which one can engage carries some type of warning. It is as though we are living in a world that is attempting to eliminate all the risks.

   For those of us in the ministry there are probably times we wish someone had posted a sign over the door of the church saying, “Caution - Pastoring A Church Can Be Hazardous To Your Health.”

   Indeed, pastoring can be dangerous. Health insurance for ministers is sky-rocketing. Why?  Pastors and their families tend to have more physical ailments than the general population.  These physical problems are primarily stress-induced illnesses or physical maladies associated with stress. Some illness experienced by pastors is due to failure to properly maintain their “temple.” Lack of exercise, poor eating habits, and lack of discipline in other areas of life contribute to their poor health.

   Of course, the physical effects of ministry are just one of many areas where pastors today are struggling. There’s the constant demand to preach powerful sermons that are biblical, relevant, and engaging. For some, the expectation is three power-packed sermons a week. Administrative duties can range from unlocking the doors and setting the thermostats on Sunday morning to chairing twenty different committees. The weight of caring for the flock is a constant concern.  There are hospital visits to make, shut-ins and nursing home patients to see, crisis counseling, grief support, not to mention the many within the church who simply need the pastor to frequently show he cares about them and affirm their importance.

   If the pastor is going to be biblical in confronting the culture and the mediocrity of the church, he will certainly encounter opposition. Criticism which comes from outside the church is difficult to bear, but that which comes from within is especially painful.

   As pastors and ministers we often feel overwhelmed by these issues, but we should not be surprised by them.

   In describing the toils of his ministry Paul said: “From the Jews five times I received 40 stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren, in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness - besides the other things, what comes upon me daily:  my deep concern for all the churches.” 2 Corinthians 11:24-28.

   Ministry is not only hazardous to your health it is life-threatening. I recently purchased a life insurance policy. Before being accepted, I had to sign a statement saying that I would not engage in sky-diving, hang gliding, bungee jumping, or scuba diving. If I did, my life insurance policy would be void. Signing that statement was easy because I knew my wife would kill me first if I did any of those things and risk leaving her with three boys to raise.

   But from Paul’s perspective, sky-diving, hang gliding, bungee jumping and scuba diving are all child’s play compared to the ministry.

   Indeed, much depends on the attitude we have toward the ministry. Unfortunately, some ministers today have an “I’ll do enough to get by” attitude. Most ministers, however, want to do much more than that. They are deeply committed to their calls and they demonstrate that commitment in a number of ways. They are committed to excellence in their preaching. I’ve been in the ministry for twenty five years and I can probably count on one hand the number of bad sermons I’ve heard. Pastors today are armed with more resources and sermon helps than at any other time in history. There’s really no excuse for a pastor today to preach a bad sermon.  Pastors know that they only have their people for one hour a week and they had better make the most of it.

   What is it then that sets some pastors apart? Obviously, God has not gifted all of us the same. We do not all have the same intellect, the same oratory skills, the same people skills, the same counseling skills, or the same leadership skills. I do not believe God intended every pastor to have a church of a thousand or five hundred or even a hundred. But I do believe God intended for every pastor to model certain qualities.


   1.  One of those qualities is a sacrificial spirit.

   In his first sermon at Bellevue Baptist Church, Dr. R.G. Lee said, “My motto as your pastor is the same as that of the apostle Paul who said, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.” 2 Corinthians 12:15 (p. 89 “Payday Everyday”)

   Jesus said “I did not come to be served, but to serve and give my life as a ransom for

 many.”  Matthew 20:28. In Matthew 16:24 Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.”  In John 10:11, 15 Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep...I lay down my life for the sheep.

   Your effectiveness in ministry hinges on this one issue more than any other. What you say with your life speaks far more loudly than what you say with your words. If your people do not believe that you sincerely care about them and you would literally lay your life down for them if necessary, they will politely listen to your sermons, but don’t expect much life change to take place. The pastor who lays his life on the line for his people day after day and week after week is the pastor who not only gains a hearing, but a following.

   One way we communicate a sacrificial spirit is by our work ethic. Having experienced a measure of burn out in the ministry in the past, I know we must be careful not to get things out of balance. Pastors and ministers can very easily overextend themselves. There is never a day that goes by that I feel as though I have done all I need to do. But at the same time we need to be careful about what our work ethic communicates to our congregation.

   When describing what life was like growing up on the Lee farm, Dr. Lee said, “Work, hard work, harder than the slaves of the ante-bellum days knew, was our lot by day and often by night. There was no such thing as a five day week or an eight hour day. No such thing as starting to work after sunrise or quitting before sunset. Work was the Lee food and the Lee drink.” (p. 20 “Payday Everyday”)  Lee went on to say, “Looking back after all these years, I am glad that such was so. Why? Because it prepared me for the early hours of getting up, the many long hours of work I have done both mental and physical in my pastorate.” (p.22 “Payday Everyday”)

   Dr. Hal Poe, Charles Colson Professor of Faith and Culture at Union University, related that Dr. Lee was known for making hospital rounds with the doctor from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. every morning. That way he could be in the office by 7:30 a.m. each day.  At First Baptist Church in New Orleans Lee said, “I visited many people and many places in New Orleans,  offices, homes, schools, hospitals. I worked night and day - teaching, studying, preaching, visiting.” (p.58 “Payday Everyday”) Dr. Lee exhibited a sacrificial spirit through his work ethic.

   What about you?  Does your work ethic communicate to your people that you are laying down your life for the sheep?  If not, that could be one of the reasons you often feel frustrated by their lack of response to your leadership.


   2.Another factor that communicates a sacrificial spirit is compassion.

   “But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd” Matthew 9:36 NKJV.

   Hard work by itself will not endear a pastor to his people. They must feel that he truly loves them and cares about them. While it is difficult to be both a great preacher and a great pastor at the same time, it can be done.

   While at Bellevue, Dr. Lee memorized the names of every member of the church even when the membership reached nine thousand. Not only did he know the names of his church members, he knew what was going on in their lives. Members of his church reported receiving personal notes and letters from Dr. Lee when a significant event took place in their life. Dr. Lee took the time and the effort to demonstrate compassion.

   Jesus said, “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Likewise, effective pastors do not view pastoral care as a burdensome duty that they grudgingly fulfill. They understand that communicating care and concern for their people is an essential ingredient to an effective ministry. 


   3. A third quality of an effective pastor is firm convictions.  

   When instructing Timothy concerning his ministry as a pastor, Paul admonished young Timothy, “Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.  2 Tim. 4:2-5 NKJV

   Indeed, Paul’s words were prophetic. We are living in a day where the majority of people want to bend and twist the truth to satisfy their own desires.

   George Barna reports that fewer than 30% of the people in America believe in absolute truth.  (Barna Research Online, February 19, 2002)  Relativism is the new standard. What is right for you may not be right for me and what is right for me may not be right for you. But that’s acceptable, because all truth is relative to the situation.  

   There is a great need in our day, just as there was in the first century, for men of God to stand up and say “Thus saith the Lord;” to preach the Word boldly and clearly; to open the treasure chest of truth and declare it riches. Our preaching must always be rooted in the power and the authority of the Word of God.

   Dr. Lee’s powerful preaching was inspired by his belief that “the Bible is immeasurable in influence, inexhaustible in adequacy, infallible in authority, personal in application, regenerative in power, inspired in totality, the miracle Book of diversity in unity and of harmony in infinite complexity.” (P. 19.  Payday Everyday)


   4.  A fourth quality of an effective pastor is that he is a visionary leader.

   “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you” I Peter 5:2. Shepherds have three responsibilities. They are to care for the sheep. As pastors we must demonstrate a sacrificial spirit in our ministry. Shepherds are to feed the sheep. Sheep need a steady diet of preaching that is Christ-centered and biblically based. Third, shepherds are to lead the flock.

   Jesus commissioned his followers to go and make disciples of all nations. As pastors it is our job to lead the church in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

   As a young pastor I made the mistake of thinking that my position gave me the right to lead the church. I thought people would follow me simply because I was the pastor. John Maxwell states that “Positional leadership is the lowest form of leadership. If you never move beyond this level you will have no growth.” ( Maxwell, John, Breaking The 200 Barrier, February, 1991, Nashville, TN)  Having called me as pastor of the church, the church had extended to me a measure of influence. As pastor I could decide what I would preach, I could lead out in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but positional leadership does not carry a lot of influence. One must rise in the levels of leadership before the congregation will follow you.

   How does one become a visionary leader? First, careful attention must be given to the previous qualities we considered. As a pastor demonstrates a sacrificial spirit through his work ethic and compassion, as he preaches the Word of God boldly and consistently, he rises in his ability to influence his people and to lead them to advance the kingdom. Having laid the foundation, the pastor is then able to begin casting the vision to the people. Too many pastors come into churches with great dreams only to have them squashed because they haven’t laid the foundation.

   In my own experience, it was not until the people saw how I handled adversity that they really trusted my leadership. The point is, it takes time to reach a level of leadership where the people will follow you.  

   Dr. R. G. Lee’s greatest impact on the kingdom took place during his 30 plus year pastorate at Bellevue Baptist Church. The breadth and depth of his ministry were increased by the length of his ministry. His faithfulness in demonstrating a sacrificial spirit, his bold proclamation of the Word of God, and his impeccable character and leadership were all key factors in setting him apart as one of the greatest pastors in the history of Southern Baptists.

   Dr. Lee frequently faced criticism from without and opposition from within, but in the end his willingness to take risks actually encouraged people to follow him.

   While pastoring First Baptist Church, Edgefield, South Carolina, Dr. Lee was bothered by the church debt of $11,000 on which eight percent interest was being paid. Lee said, “One night, down on my knees in a little niche in the house I called my study, I sought direction from God.  A voice - the voice of God, I believe - spoke with an authoritative whisper, saying: “Quit praying.  I’ve heard your prayer. Go to bed and sleep. The next Sunday ask the people to pay the debt off and they will.” Lee announced his plan to the congregation. Many criticized him for being impractical. The whole town was in a stir over the preacher’s announcement. On Wednesday, B.B. Jones, a member of the church confronted the preacher. Jones had not attended since Lee had been pastor, but he was inspired by the pastor’s vision and he wrote him a check for $500.00. On Sunday the collection was received and it was announced that the people had given $14,000.00, enough to pay off the debt and make a down payment to build a house for the pastor.  (pp.39-44 “Payday Everyday”) 

   Indeed, pastoring a church can be hazardous to one’s health, but when a pastor consistently exhibits a sacrificial spirit, faithfully preaches the Word of God with boldness, and provides visionary leadership, in time his ministry will yield much fruit and great rewards.


Written by: Vann Kissell, Pastor
Troy First Baptist Church 



1Lee, Robert G., Payday Everyday, page 89
2 Ibid, page 22
3 Ibid, page 58
4Barna Research Online, February 19, 2002
5 Lee, Robert G., Payday Everyday, page 19
6 Maxwell, John, Breaking the 200 Barrier, February 1991
Lee, Robert G., Payday Everyday, page 39-44



Vann Kissell has been pastor of First Baptist Church of Troy, Tennessee since 1992.  He holds the bachelor of science degree from the University of Tennessee at Martin, the masters of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the doctor of ministry from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Norma have three sons, Brian, David, and Mark.