As I have reflected on some of my failings and failures as a pastor (a tough job, narrowing all that material down to just ten items), I thought I’d exit the confessional and with the understanding that every one of the following must be swallowed only with the phrase, “by the grace and endless patience of God,” I offer my (more or less) top ten successes over thirty-plus years (and four churches) as a pastor:
1. Guiding many to faith in Christ. No idea how many, but I treasure such memories as the recovering alcoholic kneeling at the altar, the brainy young woman at the coffeehouse table, the couple who entered premarital counseling as skeptics and got married as new Christ-followers, and the man who said he’d never felt “good enough” to give his life to Christ but ended up tearfully surrendering in the presence of me and his wife.
2. Staying married. This may not seem like a “pastoral success,” but it is a victory to maintain a vibrant marriage through the strains and stresses of ministry. Of course, it’s due mostly to my wife’s wisdom and patience, but still…
3. Avoiding even the hint of scandal. Early in our ministry, my wife and I were given wise counsel to build strong boundaries and safeguards into our ministry, which we did. As a result, my deep storehouse of cluelessness and stupidity never resulted in anything remotely resembling a scandal—sexual, financial, or otherwise.
4. Raising two awesome kids. Again, not everyone would list this among their ministry triumphs, but I totally do. I consider my marriage and family to be my first ministry priority (after the care of my own soul). So, though this, too, is due primarily to my wife’s wisdom and patience, to have played a part in the raising of such exceptional people as Aubrey and Aaron is a great honor and joy (3 John 4).
5. Influencing and ordaining people for ministry. Over the years, we’ve been honored to play a small role in the decisions and direction of a dozen or more people who have entered full-time ministry and gone on to serve God with amazing effectiveness. They may not have been aware of our prayers. They may not remember our influence (if we had any). But we remember them with great and abiding gratitude and joy.
6. Helping God heal broken hearts. Repeatedly, it seems, the lovely Robin and I entered ministry situations where people’s hearts had been broken. Some had been wounded by a pastor or church worker. Some were alienated from the church. We thank God that he allowed us to play a part in healing many broken hearts, and restoring many to the fellowship of the saints.
7. Starting Cobblestone Community Church. If you had told me thirty-five years ago that I would one day help to start a new church, I would have called you crazy. It was not in my sights. It was not in my skill set. But God gave me that honor, inexplicably.
8. Becoming a praying pastor. I wish it weren’t true, but it is: I was not a man of prayer when I started in the ministry. And it took some time for God to revolutionize my prayer life, but he did. I thank him from the bottom of my heart that my later years of pastoral ministry were undergirded by prayer. They probably would have killed me, otherwise.
9. Making and cultivating lifelong friendships. At the very start of our ministry, the lovely Robin and I were counseled by some folks we respect to keep “a healthy distance” between ourselves and people in the church. We decided together to ignore that advice, and we’ve never been sorry. We treasure the friendships we made with God’s people, many of which remain not only intact but close to this day.
10. Leaving things better than before. In ministry, as in camping, it has always been a goal of mine to leave things better than I found them. I think the lovely Robin and I managed that, by God’s grace. We had ups and downs, of course, but God granted us growth—numerically and spiritually—in each church. We managed to resurrect a failed capital campaign in our first church, breaking ground on an addition the day we were told we’d be moving. We inaugurated a groundbreaking child care center at our church in Cincinnati. We teamed with others to acquire land and build The Loft, the current home of Cobblestone Community Church. Over the years we saw people change and grow; we saw their faith deepen and broaden. We helped guide hundreds of thousand of dollars to missions efforts all over the world. We baptized, counseled, dedicated, married, and buried some of the finest people on the face of the earth. And more, but all of it by the grace of God.
Looking back, it is worth noting that the things I value most highly today are not the programs we ran or the budgets I administered. Not even the sermons I preached, though I always found great joy in that. Most of the “successes,” if it’s even appropriate to call them that, were the result of plodding faithfulness and relationship building. They were battles won in my prayer chair and in the day-to-day “inglorious” tasks of marriage, parenthood, friendship, and love.