Back on July 7, 1991, I was ordained into the public ministry. I’ve served at two different churches in two entirely different locations in the country. When milestones occur, it’s good to refocus and recalibrate. It’s important for all of us, no matter what we do, to keep God not just in the picture, but at the center of everything. I’ve been jotting down some lessons learned in my 25 years of ministry. It’s a pretty lengthy list, but I’ll keep it short and share four of them with you.
- It’s not my work/ministry, it’s God’s. One of the ways I express that is to ask that my name not be put on the church sign. It’s not my church, it’s God’s.
- God’s Word is a daily necessity. When I look through sermons from my early years in ministry, I find myself saying it’s good to be in the Word 2, 3, 4 times per week. I’m embarrassed by that now. It needs to be every day. Every day. The battle for souls and the fight for faith is a fierce as ever. And worship must be a priority. One thing that’s changed just over the past decade is families come to worship less often. Ten years ago, the typical family with kids here was in church 2-3 times per month. Now, it’s maybe once a month. Often, less. Come on, moms and dads. Every one of us. Do we really have anything more important to do than to hear the Word of our gracious God and worship him? God’s Word is necessary. Every week. Every day. For daily life and eternal life.
- When someone in our church family is hurting, the shepherd hurts too. I’ve come to understand the whole shepherd/sheep analogy in a very personal way. When a member is feeling rejection, illness, grief, loss, your pastor feels it too. Certainly not as deeply as the person going through it, but I’m stunned at times by the depth of emotion that accompanies pastoral care. Or when a member is rebelling against God’s Word, disinterested in the things that really matter, or leaves for bad reasons, it hurts the shepherd. I know I shouldn’t, but I do tend to take those things personally. It hurts, I’m concerned about that person’s relationship with Jesus, and in the end I can only ask God to work in that person’s life.
- The world changes, but the Gospel never changes. It’s breathtaking, really, the changes in our world. Just in the area of knowledge, consider this: a typical weekday edition of the New York Times contains more information than a person would encounter in a lifetime in the 17th century. Mind-boggling. And with the proliferation of the internet and digital information, the sum total of all human knowledge now doubles every 12 months. Six years ago, it was every two years. A century ago, it took 50 years. Again, right now every 12 months. Soon, experts tell us…every 12 hours. Again, mind-boggling, but how much of this is essential for eternity? The Gospel of Christ doesn’t change. Ever. The need for repentance, Law and Gospel, sin and grace never changes. You and I know these truths. They are timeless. They are eternal. They are sharable. We must share these truths at every opportunity, with urgency. Because forgiveness and life in Christ are what truly matter.
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)