Travis Collins, a member of the Center for Healthy Churches team, wrote a book titled For Ministers About to Start…Or About To Give Up (TCP). The following is an interview with Bill Wilson and Travis about that book.
Q. Why this book, For Ministers About to Start…Or About to Give Up? Why now?
A. I feel passionately about ministers—particularly those who are struggling. When I hear another story of an embattled pastor or church staff member (and I hear those stories increasingly often) I literally have a visceral reaction. I get a sick feeling in my stomach.
Q. Is vocational ministry harder than ever?
A. The New Testament tells us that vocational ministry never has been easy. But lots of things in our present culture make it really tough now—from growing incivility to the downward trends in church participation to the loss of trust in institutional leaders. Furthermore, the recent introduction of volatile social issues is adding new and horrible stress to ministers. Of course there are churches on the far right or the far left who are in lock step over the issues and there is no stress. But the vast majority in the middle will have people on either side of the debate who feel strongly and who can split the church or get the minister fired.
Q: Travis, your book seems rather personal. Is it?
A: It is. I had two serious brushes with burnout. There were two times when I came close to walking away from vocational ministry because of the stress. (And, the ironic thing is that I was serving great churches!) I’m so glad I stayed beyond the near-burnout. I would have missed out on some great ministry years if I had left too early and for the wrong reasons.
Q. But you’re not a local church pastor now, so doesn’t that mean you did walk away?
A. It’s true that my paycheck doesn’t come from a local church, but I still serve the Church. I honestly experienced a new calling. I am helping established congregations launch fresh expressions of church. (That has been like returning to my cross-cultural missionary preparation and calling.) I am helping congregations with visioning and with conflict ministry through the Center for Healthy Churches. And right now I am the Interim Preacher at a wonderful place, First Baptist Church of Huntsville. So I am still deeply involved in the Church.
Q. So how do you feel about the Church?
A. I love the Church. I’m committed to the Church and want to pour myself into the Church’s health, mission and future. As imperfect as it is, the Church is my people and in the depth of my being I believe the Church is the best hope for the world.
Q. Since you’ve started working for CHC, have you had any “ah-ha” moments when you saw something that you had previously overlooked?
A. Absolutely. Two come to mind immediately. One, I have learned the power of mining the congregation for spiritual insights. If I had my pastoral ministry to do over again I would engage in more widespread and intentional efforts to hear what the Spirit was saying through the congregations I served. As a congregational coach with the Center, whether I’ve been facilitating conversations about vision or helping a congregation uncover the way forward out of conflict, I have been thrilled at members’ insights.
Two, I am now more defensive than ever of local congregations. While many seem ready to write off struggling congregations, I am more committed than ever to the local church. I’m not naïve; I understand that the greatest gift a truly dying congregation can give to the Kingdom is the gift of their assets to the future. However, if the church is the Body of Christ in the world, then His Spirit indwells even the weakest of congregations and thus there is great potential there.
Q. What are three things you want to make sure some just starting out in ministry know?
A. One, I’d like to instill in new ministers a love for existing congregations. I love those who are called to plant churches, or to do ministry other than in the local church. However, I fear some really capable people are shying away from existing congregations out of fear or, perhaps, because they think the local church is not significant enough to warrant the investment of their lives.
Two, I’d like to warn new ministers that tough times await them. Knowing the tough times are coming might lessen the impact when they come.
Three, I’d like to assure them that vocational ministry is a great honor and deeply fulfilling. I’m sure they’ve heard horror stories, and I want them not to be blind to that. Yet, for most of us, most of the time, vocational ministry makes for a great life.
Travis Collins is the Virginia Coordinator for the Center for Healthy Churches. He wears two major hats, as Director of Mission Advancement and Virginia Regional Coordinator for Fresh Expressions US. Travis served for twenty-five years as a senior pastor, the last nineteen years in two large congregations. His experience also includes missionary service in Venezuela and Nigeria. He is a graduate of Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama and earned the Master of Divinity and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the author of Directionally Challenged (2007) and Tough Calls (2008). His third book, based on Acts 20:28, will be released in the fall of 2014 (Chalice Press). Travis and his wife, Keri, have three adult children.