My son has recently developed an interest in running marathons. To support him, my wife and I joined his wife and children to cheer him on at a recent event in Southern California. Thousands of people gathered along the course to encourage their favorite runners, and large crowds congregated at both the start and the end of the race.

After such a long distance, many runners were so tired they limped across the end line. Others, surprisingly, increased their speed and ran through the finish line with great excitement. While watching hundreds of runners complete their journey, the thought came to me that I want to run through the finish line of life and ministry. I want to finish well. How about you?

A number of years ago, I heard leadership expert Robert Clinton describe what finishing well means. He remarked that Christian leaders finish well when at the end of their lives they (1) have a close relationship with God, (2) are still learning and growing, and (3) leave behind a legacy of positive contributions.

How can we finish well? Hebrews 13:7-8 gives us the primary clue. “Remember your leaders,” the writer commands, “those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (ESV). The key to finishing well is obvious from this passage of scripture: we learn how to finish well by observing others and imitating their faith.

After a lifetime of studying faithful leaders, Robert Clinton found seven habits that effective church leaders practice. Leaders who finish well . . .

1. Maintain a learning posture throughout their life.

One of the challenges of life is to resist plateauing in ministry. The antidote is continuous learning. Leaders who finish well learn from (1) the Bible, (2) life experience, (3) stories of successful people, and (4) mentors who are ahead of them in life’s journey.

2. Value spiritual authority as a primary power base.

Spiritual authority is a by-product of a life spent in following God. It is the right to exert influence on others, which is conferred upon a leader by others because of their perception of spirituality in that leader. Thus, a leader’s power resources for spiritual authority are intimately tied to his/her experience with God.

3. Recognize leadership selection and development as a priority function.

Effective leaders are constantly pouring their lives, experience, and knowledge into future leaders. They are mentors and coaches of the next generation of leaders. Like Jesus, they are regularly watching for potential disciples so that they can be with them on the journey of life and ministry. They believe and practice the principle that there is no success without a successor.

4. Function from a dynamic philosophy of ministry.

A philosophy of ministry is the ideas, values, and principles, whether implicit or explicit, which a leader uses as a guideline for decision making, for exercising influence, and for evaluating his/her ministry. A growing philosophy of ministry evolves overtime from the interplay of (1) biblical dynamics, (2) personal giftedness, (3) situational dynamics, (4) individual values, and (5) personal passions.

5. Manifest a growing awareness of their sense of destiny.

A sense of destiny is an inner conviction arising from an experience or a series of experiences that God has His hand on a leader in a special way for special purposes. It carries leaders through the tough times. Church leaders often refer to this as a sense of call to ministry, but whatever one calls it, leaders who finish well have it.

6. Perceive their ministry from a lifetime perspective.

Effective leaders understand that their ministry is not defined in a moment of time, or in week, or a month, or even a year. Rather, ministry develops over time through three major ways. (1)Processing: God uses multiple processes to shape leaders, i.e., family, life experience, education, etc. (2) Time: God’s processing takes place over time, i.e., it takes years to go through the various processes. (3) Patterns: God uses predictable sequences or experiences, i.e., failure and success, praise and criticism, etc. Thus, leaders think long-range, rather than short-range, knowing that the fruitfulness of life and ministry is determined by looking back over one’s entire lifetime of service.

7. Empower others to serve.

Leaders who finish well know that life is comprised of a series of relationships. Thus, they focus on relational empowerment in their own and in their follower’s lives. They empower others through several mentor/protégé relationships, and empower others to lead by sharing God’s resources. Whatever the designation—mentor, coach, counselor, teacher, sponsor, or role model—the effect is the same, which is, the leader empowers others to lead, too.

How does your life and ministry measure up to these seven habits of leaders who finish well? Why not begin today to develop new habits or patterns of behavior that build on these ideals? Here are a few ideas to get you started.

First, purchase a biography of a faithful leader and begin reading it. Along the way highlight the principles, values, and practices the person used to leave a memorable legacy. Begin putting some of the same concepts into practice in your own life. I have recently read the biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Theodore Roosevelt, Adoniram Judson, Ernest Hemingway, and John Mott. I am currently reading the life story of Jackie Robinson. They are obviously not all Christians, but I have learned much about life and ministry from them all. Select a biography today and start reading.

Second, find someone you admire and ask them to spend some time with you just talking about life and ministry. Become their protégé and let them mentor you regarding your life, ministry, and/or career. Offer to take them out to breakfast or lunch once a month for the next year (you pay for the meal). Ask them questions about their life and career. For example, what would they do differently if they could start over? What advice would they give you? What was their greatest success? Greatest failure? I think you will find most people open to spending time with you … if you ask them. So, be bold! Ask someone to start meeting with you next week, then make it a life-long habit to seek out mentors and coaches.

Third, write out a short timeline of your life and ministry. Note the experiences, events, and processes that have influenced your philosophy and values. Write them down using short statements. For example, a friend of mine developed a short ten-statement paper titled “My Personal Life Values.” Here is a sample of some of his statements: 1. Tell the truth—live the truth—take the consequences. 2. Accept people—who they are—where they are—with grace. 3. Enjoy the journey—take the scenic route when possible—share it with others. Now, write out your own personal values. Your statements do not need to be polished; they just need to mean something significant to you.

Fourth, leave a successor (or successors). Follow the example of Jesus. Find some disciples; gather with them; share your life story and lessons; and pass on your faith, knowledge, and expertise. Remember, there truly is not success without a successor.

Fifth, begin looking at your life, ministry, and/or career from the long-term perspective. Focus on being God’s man or woman, build up your spiritual capacity, do something today to be better tomorrow. Invest in yourself so you have something to give to others. Leave a godly legacy for family, friends, and followers.

So, what are you waiting for? Download a biography, call a mentor, find an apprentice. Get started now!