Reflections on a Half Century of Ministry

I made the decision. I am going to attend the fifty year reunion of my high school graduating class in a few weeks. As I read posts about this event on social media, I think everyone in the class must be having the same questions I do: (1) where did all the time go, and (2) who are all these senior citizens? I am passing/approaching the half-century mark in other areas as well. I preached my first sermon just over fifty years ago. The fiftieth anniversary of my wedding is a few months away as is that of my ordination to the ministry. There is something sobering about measuring life events in segments of fifty years.

As I look back on the past half century, I remember the aspirations I had at the beginning. It was my desire that my life and ministry would be faithful, fulfilling, and fruitful. Have I hit the mark? Others (and ultimately God) will be the final arbiters; but I hope that there is evidence of my having lived consistently with these aims.

Faithfulness

I remember sitting in a restaurant as a high-schooler while my dad had a cup of coffee with a colleague. At one point, the man said, “David, what are you going to be?” My dad answered for me. “David is planning to go into ministry.” There was an awkward pause. Then the guy replied, “Well, a lot of young guys think that for a while. But then they move on to other things.” So much for a word of encouragement. He probably thought he was just being a realist. But I have imagined a conversation from time to time where I would say to him, “Still here!”

I am thankful that, after all these years, I am still pursuing my calling. I make no claim of doing it perfectly and no one recognizes more than I that God’s grace has been operating vigorously to keep me from veering onto destructive, disqualifying paths. Any number of the seven deadly sins are always lurking nearby to trip me up so that Satan might sift me like wheat.

That is why, in my first few days as a pastor, I adopted my motto for ministry: “O Lord God of the armies of heaven, don’t let me be a stumbling block to those who trust in you. O God of Israel, don’t let me cause them to be confused.” (Ps 69:6, The Living Bible). While this prayer is admittedly defensive, it has reminded me of the value of faithfulness for the long haul. If you are on the front end of ministry currently, a great aspiration for you would be “to finish well.”

Fulfillment

I like what I am doing. I grew comfortable a long while back telling people (when they inquired about my occupation) that I am a Baptist preacher. They don’t always know what to say about that. One guy responded, “Well, I guess you get to work with a nice group of people.” Yes and no.

Ministry hasn’t always been easy, but it has always been fulfilling. In fact, for me, the more difficult assignments were often the most fulfilling. I do not mean to minimize the struggles some in ministry have faced. The circumstances can sometimes be grueling, even brutal. But I want to challenge my fellow strugglers to remember their high calling, to consider it joy to serve the Lord, and to be happy in their labor.

Ministry for Jesus ought to be satisfying. The satisfaction should come more from the what of your service than the where of your service. I find my ministry fulfilling because the cause is right. I find my ministry fulfilling because it is purposeful. I find my ministry fulfilling because it pleases God.  God’s ministers should say with Paul: I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.

Fruitfulness

A psychology professor once taught me that there are two kinds of people: “get ahead” people and “get by” people. I have always wanted to get ahead–to achieve, to be successful, to be fruitful. (The caption on a picture of me and the other class officers in our senior yearbook reads: Climbing the Ladder of Success).

I applied the same drive to ministry. While we ought to avoid the excesses “get ahead” people can fall into (pride, self-sufficiency, misplaced priorities, burn out, etc.), there is nothing virtuous in laziness, lack of ambition, or being a slacker. God will evaluate our “fruitfulness.” Will it be gold, silver, precious stones or wood, hay, and stubble?

I want to be a good steward of my opportunities to bear fruit for the Kingdom. I look back thankfully on those individuals who came to salvation as we prayed together, on those families who renewed their commitment to God and one another, to those churches that sacrificed to be on mission, to those strategies that led to spiritual and numerical advance.

Carlos McLeod, the late Texas Baptist evangelism director, told of his boyhood days and picking cotton. When he was tempted to hide behind the plants and not do his work, he would remember that his father would be waiting at the end of the day to weigh the cotton he had picked. He didn’t want to disappoint his father by a paltry amount in his sack. Then, Dr. McLeod challenged us all: We have an eternal harvest to reap. Let’s not appear before the Father empty handed.

 

Thank you, Lord, for 50 years and counting. May God grant us all the gift of a faithful, fulfilling, fruitful ministry for Jesus sake!