If I could turn back the clock to the first day of my ordination, I would still choose to follow the call to the Gospel ministry. I believe that if God’s call upon one’s life is genuine, then there is no other way to be content but to obey it. Yet I wouldn’t do everything just the way I did.
What would I have done differently?
1. Take Opposition Less Personally
I would have taken the opposition to my ministry less personally, seeing it for what it was. It is, always has been, and always will be the normal course of events for anyone who intends to be involved in the declaration of the Gospel. Of course, when a stone is thrown with your name on it, it’s pretty hard not to take it personally, but you have to look beyond the immediate and beneath the surface of things to see that, ultimately, it’s not always primarily for or about you.
2. Pray More and Rest in God’s Providence
There are resources available to every disciple of Jesus that can sustain him or her in the fieriest trials the church or the world can offer. The greatest of these is prayer—prayer, prayer, and more prayer. This implies at least a circle of loyal friends of faith (preferably outside the membership of the church) who will pray together regularly.
3. Consider Discipline
I would have been bolder in advocating discipline within the church. There is nothing to apologize for in this respect. It is as much an integral part of Jesus’ teaching as any other. The pastor or elder of a church has every right, even the obligation, to insist that some system of discipline be fixed in the constitution and, if already there, to expect that it be exercised as needed.
4. Rely Less on Other, More on God
I would have been much less reliant upon outside authorities and relationships—denominational officials, church acquaintances, and the like. I would have been more shrewd as to the political realities of the church world, anticipating that friends would stand by their friends, relatives would cover for one another, and officials would protect their own standing rather than risk themselves for me. That’s just the way real life is. There is One and one only upon whom we can utterly depend at all times. This is the lesson each believer is expected to learn in this life, whether in the professional ministry or not.
5. Wait, Don’t Bolt Too Soon
In one case, I would have stayed longer and fought harder for what was right and true. In my early years of pastoral work, I was green, wet behind the ears, just plain dumb about too many things. Clergy killers were an utter surprise to me (the label wasn’t even used in those days). I was totally unprepared for them. As their victim (as it turned out, all my predecessors in that church had been their prey), I resorted in the end to praying but not waiting long enough. I had tried everything else and nothing worked. The more I tried to do on my own, the worse things got.
I had actually signed a contract with another church when, just days before departing, the entire well-organized body of antagonists suddenly and without warning left leadership. They just resigned overnight. The leaders who were standing in the wings to replace them were spectacular. I had won the battle, but it was too late. I bolted too early and didn’t wait to see the victory God had prepared for me. The sea parted, but I wasn’t there to cross over! I’ve never forgotten that lesson.
6. Maintain a Sense of Humor
Finally, I would have tried harder to maintain a sense of humor in the midst of the chaos. There are so many situations that force us either to laugh or cry. If I could have seen the end from the beginning, I would have been more inclined to laugh at the essential silliness of things going on around me, to see the humorous aspects hidden behind the seeming seriousness of it all, and even (in the biblical sense) to laugh out loud at the brazen (but pitiable) attempts of deluded people to set themselves against the clear purposes of God.
Let me know what you have done or would have done differently.
May God bless you as you seek to serve him faithfully.
Excerpt from These Sheep Bite: A Fearless Guide to Church Leadership.
Photo by Alan Cleaver via Flickr
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