Reflections from a Lifetime in Ministry

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One of the joys of serving at Christ Covenant is laboring beside Bernie Lawrence, our senior associate pastor. Bernie has been serving in various ways at the church since before I was born (as I like to remind him!) and for the last 30 years as a staff member at Christ Covenant. Bernie will be retiring next spring. Recently, he shared with our pastoral interns a smattering of thoughts and reflections on a lifetime in ministry. They are full of wisdom and good biblical sense.

  1. Create a vision for your life and ministry that you can return to over and over again (Acts 13:36; 2 Cor. 12:15; 2 Cor. 11:3).
  2. Resolve to imbibe the Scriptures (Ps. 19, 119). Memorize them and meditate on them, frequently.
  3. Resolve to make prayer a centerpiece of your life and ministry (Ps. 116:1-2). I still think of myself as a novice.
  4. Don’t make the gospel too complex, although it is on some level incomprehensible (2 Cor. 11:3). Think often upon “the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” It will be good for your soul.
  5. Spend yourselves in serving the flock (2 Cor. 12:15; 1 Thess. 2:8). Know them. Love them. Laugh with them. Weep with them. Be there at critical moments such as hospital stays, death, and other distresses.
  6. Make holiness and war with indwelling sin a priority (1 Pet. 1:15-16; 1 John 3:1-3; 1 Tim. 1:5; Titus 1:15). Read and heed John Owens’s Mortification of Sin. “Be killing sin lest it be killing you.”
  7. Given what the Bible teaches about indwelling sin and temptation, be accountable always! (Heb. 3:12-13). Do whatever it takes. Remember Jeremiah 17:9, Galatians 5:17; Romans 7. You never outgrow your need for the gospel. Ministry is littered with former pastors who were unaccountable.
  8. Make repentance from sin like involuntary breathing (Isa. 57:15). Be known by your wife and children as a man who is approachable, teachable, willing to listen and be corrected. Use these four questions on a recurring basis with your wife and children: How have I encouraged you? How have I disappointed you? How should I spend my time differently? How can I help you succeed? Give your children permission to respectfully approach you when they think you are over the top.
  9. Be known as a good listener (James 1:19-20). My wife tells me I have a sign on my back that says, “You can talk to me. I will listen.”
  10. In your pastoral counseling ask lots of open-ended questions (Mark 7:21-23). Connect the dots from the behaviors to the heart. Appropriately sharing your own failures will make you more effective. For better or worse, the power of the family of origin in the life of an adult, even Christians, is breathtaking. Everything changes but the hearts of men. Thus, the gospel is forever relevant.
  11. Develop sympathy and patience for those caught in sin and addiction (Gal. 6:1).
  12. Treat your colleagues with grace. Be lighthearted. Be interested in them. Same with your elders and deacons. Know them and their families. Spend time with them.
  13. Have the backs of your colleagues. Competition/gossip among colleagues is a red flag!
  14. Nourish and cherish your wives (Eph. 5). Court her regularly. Be curious about her. Study her. That is the best thing you can do for your children. My experience with troubled marriages where the wife has not been nourished and cherished reveals that this is a typical sin of omission for husbands. The divorce rates goes up again for empty-nesters.
  15. Do not neglect quantity time with your family thinking quality time is what matters. Your kids are unlikely to see it that way.
  16. You never stop being a parent. That’s the title of a book, but it is true. When your children become adults, you will love them, rejoice with them, and hurt with them as if they were still youngsters. I was surprised to discover that.
  17. Do not make the church your mistress. Learn to say “No” to the good and “Yes” to the best. People do not have an inherent right to know why you can’t meet their expectations about meetings or other events. It is enough to say, “I already have a commitment at that time.”
  18. Two disappearing doctrines: the church and the sinfulness of sin. The evidences of this are everywhere. Recover them. Teach them. Model being a good churchman. Only ordain men who are.
  19. Be reasonably open to intrusions in your busy days. God’s providence doesn’t always cooperate with our busy schedules. Ken Boa has said that the most important appointment you may have in a given day may well not be on your calendar.
  20. Think and live with the concept of life’s “seasons.” Seasons come in many forms: busy seasons, child-rearing seasons, seasons of suffering and distress, seasons of too little sleep, the empty-nest season, and so on. The point is, seasons transition into new seasons. Difficult seasons will usually (not always) transition to better seasons. This is a helpful perspective for persevering in difficult “seasons.” Of course, God governs all seasons of life for our good.
  21. Read good books of all sorts. Ask folks you respect what they are reading. That is an easy way to stay up to date with good reads.
  22. Manage change well when it affects God’s people. Do not surprise them. You will be spared much trouble.
  23. Don’t confuse preference with principle. God’s people often cannot distinguish between the two. An example might be preferences in worship music. Churches have been known to split over preference issues!
  24. Urge people not to speculate into/about what they don’t/can’t know. Human beings seem to be tempted to speculate into a vacuum of information and almost always speculate the worst. This is especially true with speculating about people’s motives. Multiple interpretations of a difficult conversation or disappointment are possible. Urge the judgment of charity be extended rather than just judgment.
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