On Finishing Ministry Well

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In spite of the fact that my youth group students regularly tell me that I am ancient, I would consider myself at approximately the halfway point of my career: I am in my 45th year.

As is typical at this stage in life, I have experienced a time of reflection. Where have I been and where am I going?

There are many questions to be answered about the nature of my ministry over the next two decades. However, one thing I am certain of: I want to finish strong. In light of the two decades in which I have already done ministry, I know now that finishing strong is not easy. And it certainly cannot be assumed.

This Sunday, our Senior Pastor will retire after more than 40 years serving the same ministry. I know there are many statistics floating around out there about the longevity of pastoral ministry. Suffice it to say, those statistics do not lend themselves to many pastors lasting through more than four decades of faithful ministry.

As I consider what it will take to finish the next twenty some years in my own ministry, and to finish well, I stop to consider my senior pastor. What are some of the things that may have been influential in allowing Pastor Ron to finish well after 40 years?

1.His mantra has always been “Keep the main thing, the main thing!” This mantra has served him well. I am so grateful to attend a church where people land in many different places on significant issues. It was actually refreshing to me when I first arrived at this church to discover that many people had different political views than I did. It has been fascinating to work with and for (in one church body) people who hold varying views on the end-times, alcohol consumption, and infant baptism. I can attribute this in large part to a lead pastor who insisted that we not allow any of these issues to become one of the “main things” in our church.

Pastor Ron preached over and over again that the cross of Jesus would be our only main thing. In doing so, he avoided so many pitfalls of ministries that get sidetracked and bogged down in lesser things.

“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).

2. He took seriously the exhortations found in Matthew chapter 18 in regards to conflict resolution.  Pastor Ron was a great example of one who always moved toward someone when tension arose. He did not gossip. He went directly to the individual, and in a very humble way, worked toward healthy resolution. As he modeled this, his church followed suit. As a relative newcomer to this congregation, my assessment as an outsider looking in is that following the Biblical model of conflict resolution may be one of the greatest contributors to a healthy ministry of more than 40 years.

3. He believed the Gospel. He daily preached it to himself. I watched him. He was not perfect. In fact, he could often be heard rehearsing the mantra passed on to him by his mentor, Jack Miller: “Cheer up! You are way worse than you think you are!” Ron knew this about himself. He humbly acknowledged his mess. However, he also believed deeply the rest of the Gospel message that Jack had instilled in him: “You are more deeply loved by Jesus than you ever dared imagine!” Ron believed the Gospel. It was the hope of the Gospel and his understanding of his daily need for Jesus that allowed him to faithfully repent and believe for more than 40 years.

“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25).

4. He remained a “glass is a half full” kind of guy! I have been amazed that Ron and I can experience the same exact ministry event, and draw entirely different conclusions. As we debriefed an event, I would run down my list of all of the things that did not go as planned, and all the things that need to be addressed next time. Inevitably, Ron would describe the same event with example after example of the ways that God blessed and provided. What a life-giving lens by which to measure ministry. When we are so busy seeing God’s provision, our hearts remain encouraged – enough to stay faithful for 40 years!

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”
(1 Thessalonians 5:18)

5. He did ministry with a band of brothers. Ron moved towards his session and invited them into the ministry and his life. He gathered men around him to provide accountability and encouragement. He allowed himself to be known. He spent time with his staff. He mentored those younger in his ministry. He sacrificed time to engage with the other ministers in his community and his presbytery. He had every reason to be too busy, but chose to make time for life-giving relationships. These relationships protected Ron from himself, and enabled him to minster faithfully for more than 40 years.

“…so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thessalonians 2:8)

I suspect this list is a horribly insufficient representation of Ron’s full ministry. However, as I head to my office tomorrow to continue planning this summer’s youth mission trip, I want to have in front of me what it looks like to finish well. I will be thinking about Pastor Ron. When I am much older than 45 and my head is fully gray, I want to be able to look back at God’s faithfulness to me, and like Pastor Ron be able to say, “Thank you Father for enabling me to finish well!”

 

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