Fifty years of ministry yield five lessons — and a late surprise.
After fifty years serving the Church, my wife and I were happily settled into retirement. The last nineteen years of pastoral ministry had taken us more than twelve hundred miles from children and grandchildren, but retirement brought us back to Denver, Colorado. What wonderful times we anticipated as we settled into our home. We were with family again!
As usual, God had other plans. In late February 2015, I was asked to accept an assignment as superintendent of the Central District. Try as I may, God wouldn’t accept the fact that I was retired. I assumed my new assignment March 1, 2015. The work begins again!
I have learned many things in my fifty years of ministry, and I will learn even more now. Here are five lessons that will help guide me.
The God I serve is bigger than any assignment He gives me. I have no illusions that I am “the only man” for the job. Someone else can always do the job better than I. My confidence is bolstered by a quick backward glance at how God has faithfully walked with me through both the good and difficult years of ministry. I am sure that God will deliver on His promises to help me complete the task He’s called me to.
Pulling together is always more productive than pulling apart. It’s no secret that most people like it best when they can have things their own way. Sometimes we cause friction and offense by insisting that our way is best. Even when you are confident that your way is the way to go, it is wiser and more productive to be patient to allow others to process your idea and come around to it. Tension created by insistence and impatience can cause others to resist and be hurt by our attitudes, and can destroy progress for years to come.
Change is continually taking place. Embrace positive change; redirect negative change. Generally speaking, people want positive change. The problem is that sometimes we aren’t aware of the negative consequences that accompany some changes. Accept concepts of change as coming from honest people, and embrace the concepts that have proven to be beneficial. Then, rather than rejecting those that have not proven to be good, try to redirect the desire of the person toward what produces positive change in the area of their concern. In so doing, you have not alienated the individual but rather affirmed them as a concerned friend.
Seek forgiveness for mistakes with a humble attitude, then move forward. Early in my ministry I made a huge mistake. My actions hurt the church and my credibility as a pastor. As soon as I became aware of the wrong I had done, I met with the church leaders and asked their forgiveness for my offense toward them and the congregation. As a result, the door opened for healing to take place. Too often we want people to accept that we are human and make mistakes without taking personal responsibility for the mistakes we make.
On the other hand, don’t let your mistakes hold your future hostage. As I recently reread the story of Peter’s denial of Jesus, I was reminded that his mistake caused him extreme anguish. He wept bitterly! But he moved on and became the chief spokesman for God on the Day of Pentecost, when more than three thousand souls were saved! Avoid mistakes whenever possible, but don’t let your mistakes stop the good you can do.
Love the people you serve. Doing your duty is nice, but nothing takes the place of genuine love for people in changing hearts and lives. Do you recall a time when you sat in a restaurant and ordered a meal, and it seemed that the person serving couldn’t care less? How did you feel when it came time to leave the tip?
Do you suppose people feel differently when it comes to service they receive in ministry? Probably not. Love is not just a smile we put on our face to cover the real attitude we carry. It resides much deeper inside our being. And to be honest, the only possible way to express that kind of love to some people is to first receive it as a gift from God.
I was privileged to serve extended terms as pastor — twenty-three-and-a-half years in one location and nineteen in another. I served in churches where a portion of the congregation had pulled away to establish a separate group, and I’ve helped resolve differences between them so they could reunite. I believe the spiritual gift set helped me in those situations.
As I begin this assignment, my desire is to build unity within the district I will serve, to clarify our purpose as a church, and to show genuine love for all those God has called me to serve.
Lord, what were You thinking when You called me to this task? Now I remember. It’s not about what I am going to do but about what You, with all the rest of us, are going to do!
Maybe I can handle that.BA