A Letter to a Midlife Leader
Dear midlife leader,
I’m old enough to have to stop and think how old I am. I’m 55 this year, not exactly old, but not young either.
And I want to write to you, a leader who’s younger than me, to encourage you to keep going.
In his classic book The Making of a Leader, Robert Clinton writes, “Most leaders who drop out of ministry do so in the middle game; they do not continue well.”
I get it. The hardest years of ministry, in my estimation, are the middle years. The novelty and excitement of ministry has worn off. You have seen varieties of every challenge you now face. The cumulative fatigue starts to get at you. Some don’t appreciate you. And you still have decades of ministry ahead of you. It’s easy to give up.
I want to encourage you to keep on going.
For one thing, your ministry matters. What you’re doing right now, among sometimes unappreciative people, really matters. God gives us occasional encouragements so that we keep going, but most of the time we don’t see the impact of our ministries. We do, however, see the problems and the complaints of those who’d hoped for better. What you’re doing right now matters. As you faithfully discharge the ministry God has given you, he is using you, even if you don’t see it. Don’t stop now.
Besides, God is likely shaping you. In the early years, we are excited by ministry. We get to preach. We get to lead. In the middle years, we still get to enjoy some of that, but not as much. I suspect that God is weaning us off the excitement of ministry and creating a new depth within us. He’s shaping our characters so we treasure him, not ministry, the most. Not an easy process, so if you are feeling the pain, know you’re not alone. God is working in your soul.
I do know that those who serve faithfully in these middle years often emerge with a gravitas that you can’t get any other way. God seems to work in some people so that their greatest ministry isn’t what they do, but rather who they are. These are the men and women who suffered and persevered through the middle years and kept going. Many of them were broken. Some of them were sidelined for a season, but they didn’t give up. God is now working through them more powerfully than they could have imagined. The preparation of the midlife years helped shape them into who they are today.
I suppose I’m giving generic advice that you didn’t invite. I can’t claim to know your unique circumstances and trials. I do know, however, that many of us feel like giving up in our midlife, right when we’re on the verge of being shaped by God for a depth of ministry that we’ve always wanted.
As a slightly older man, I urge you: keep going. Take a break if you need. Find some friends who love you and with whom you can be honest. And just keep at it. God is shaping you, and he will use you. Keep on sowing. In due time you’ll reap if you don’t give up.