Baker Academic has a brand new website! Click Here To Visit:

Sustaining Ministry

Foundations and Practices for Serving Faithfully

Cover Art Request Exam Copy

Where to Purchase

More Options


This book offers an account of the moral foundations of pastoral ethics and the underlying dynamics that make the practice of ministry so challenging. Why are Christian leaders whose intentions are good nevertheless at risk? Sondra Wheeler explores the interpersonal dynamics that make ministry powerful and morally dangerous, even for those with the best of intentions. She examines the personal disciplines and spiritual practices that equip ministers to abide by ethical standards when they come under pressure. She also offers practical strategies for navigating challenges, emphasizing the essential practices of prayer and spiritual accountability to sustain safe ministry, and stresses personal vulnerability and "unselfish self-care."

Introduction: Why Good Rules Aren't Enough
1. A Moral Framework for Power
2. Laying Deeper Ethical Foundations
3. Protecting Space for Ministry
4. Understanding How Ministers Get into Trouble
5. Embracing the Practices that Sustain Faithfulness
Further Reading


"With unusual good sense and insight Professor Wheeler has written a book that is sorely needed if we are to understand pastoral theology as integral to the theological task."

Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor Emeritus of Divinity and Law, Duke Divinity School

"Many contemporary analyses of clergy ethics take a backward-looking view of the power dynamics inherent in pastors' relationships with their flock. These analyses then offer a rules-based model for the prevention of clergy ethics violations. In Sustaining Ministry, Wheeler points beyond a rules-based model to the necessity of practicing the deeply rooted Christian spiritual disciplines that form emotional and moral health. These practices, Wheeler argues, are the tools that will most fruitfully shield churches and their clergy from ethics abuse and will build abundant communities of faith. Sustaining Ministry, along with Wheeler's earlier The Minister as Moral Theologian, is a must-read for everyone in ministry, from bishops to lay pastors."

Kathryn Greene-McCreight, author of Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness

"In this book, Sondra Wheeler draws on her deep familiarity with what makes ministry distinct as a profession and a way of life. She writes beautifully and accessibly; often I felt I was as much listening to her wise counsel as reading it. She skillfully weaves insights from clergy self-care with pastoral ethics, and while she is unflinchingly realistic about the moral dangers of ministry, she is also sympathetic toward those who try to navigate them. This book will be especially useful in seminary contexts and for those just entering the ministry profession."

Barbara J. Blodgett, author of Lives Entrusted: An Ethic of Trust for Ministry

"This is an excellent book, full of wisdom and insight for sustaining the church's ministry and its ministers. A must-read for every seminarian and ecclesial leader."

Brent Waters, Stead Professor of Christian Social Ethics, director of the Stead Center for Ethics and Values, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary

"This new book by Sondra Wheeler provides a wealth of practical wisdom for readers. While policies, procedures, and professional codes of ethics are important, Professor Wheeler reminds us they cannot do all the work of moral and ministerial formation. Through this book, we are called to develop deeper reservoirs for sustaining ministry through practices of prayer and accountability. These practices help ministers and Christian leaders live into the goodness of God so that they in turn are better able to help churches and communities grow in God's goodness and to faithfully extend that goodness outward to the world. I will be using this book in my classes."

Wyndy Corbin Reuschling, professor of ethics and theology, Ashland Theological Seminary

"Sondra Wheeler combines ethical, biblical, and theological expertise with thorough analytical skills to address dilemmas of clergy life. Drawing on the heritage of serving professions, she shows how clergy face special issues, particularly around power. She performs a careful diagnosis of perils and temptations clergy encounter while offering positive practices to sustain an ethical ministry."

Lovett H. Weems Jr., distinguished professor of church leadership, Wesley Theological Seminary

The Author

  1. Sondra Wheeler

    Sondra Wheeler

    Sondra Wheeler (PhD, Yale University) is Martha Ashby Carr Professor of Christian Ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. She has decades of experience preparing ministers and teaching advanced courses in the practice of ministry. Wheeler is...

    Continue reading about Sondra Wheeler


"In light of worldwide attention being given to ethical failures of ministers and Christian organizations, [how to serve ethically] is an important issue to address. Rather than taking a rules-bases approach, Wheeler takes a helpful stance, emphasizing the fundamental role of ethics, particularly virtue ethics. However, this is not an abstract book, but one that ties this approach tightly with the sustaining power of grounded spiritual practices. The usefulness of this book became evident as time and again chapters were recommended to colleagues for use in their teaching duties. . . . The book is written well, in an engaging style. While based on wide reading and building on research, it is not overly technical. It is well-targeted at the general ministry population, yet is also useful as a resource in the ministry education context. I commend this book."

Nigel Pegram,

Journal of Contemporary Ministry