I am a survivor of 46 years of ministry. As I reflect on these years there were times I wasn’t sure I would survive the pressures of ministry. Early on as a 22-year-old, my motivational ministry verse was I Timothy 4:12, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.”
In this first quarter of ministry, this verse was a perfect fit for an extremely shy introvert who surrendered to vocational ministry as an 18-year-old. I was absolutely determined to live out these words. I grew up in a church environment that put great emphasis on being an “example” to mean “doing” or not “doing” certain things. I don’t ever recall hearing verbally that God’s love for me was based on what I did or didn’t do, but the nonverbals were loud and clear. I do remember hearing multiple times, “It is better for you to burn out, than to rust out.” So, the early spiritual imprinting was all about “doing.” In those early days of ministry, I preached the same thing.
Little by little I began to understand the unconditional love of God. God’s love for me wasn’t based on what I did or didn’t do, but instead, He loves me for who I am. In other words, who I “be” is far more important than what I “do.” (Note: Not good grammar, but good theology).
The freedom of this truth greatly impacted the second and third quarters of ministry. To realize that my significance and value are not determined by what I do or what other people think about me, but my significance and value rests in who I am in Christ, was a life-changer. There is so much more to be said about these truths, but I will save those thoughts for a later blog.
The first three-quarters of ministry seems like a blur. Today, at the age of 67, I find myself in the fourth quarter of ministry with many of my friends and contemporaries asking the question, “When are you going to retire?” My answer is in my fourth quarter motivational memory verse, Psalm 71:18, “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come.”
For those of you reading this who are considering retirement or have retired, may I suggest you reconsider? God may want you to “re-deploy” not retire.
What I’m finding in my fourth quarter is the generations behind me don’t know what they don’t know. They are using different methods of ministry, not wrong methods but different. And, yes, many of them have piercings and tattoos, but they are just as passionate about reaching the world for Jesus as I was at their age. Many of them are looking and longing for “spiritual mentors,” men and women who have survived ministry and who are willing to share their mistakes and their successes.
What you should know as an aging ministry leader:
- You don’t have the same energy and stamina that you had in the first three quarters, as if you didn’t already know that.
- Your worth and value is not in what you do but in who you are in Christ.
- Contrary to what we have heard, your age does not determine your usefulness in ministry.
- Redeployment may be different, but that doesn’t mean you no longer have a Kingdom impact. In fact, I am convinced that my greatest Kingdom impact is in declaring God’s power to the next generation.
- Experience is priceless. You have experienced things in ministry that can never be taught in a seminary class. Those coming behind you need to know the spiritual pitfalls, dangers, and warning signs of life and ministry.
- If you ask the generations coming behind you if you can help them, you might be surprised at the answer. But you have to stop being critical and judgmental just because they are different. Wait, didn’t most of us experience criticism and judgment from older ministry leaders when we did ministry different? It is time to break the cycle.
- There may be a young Timothy just waiting for you to be a Paul for them.
- And if I may be so bold as to say, “Stop feeling sorry for yourself for being in the fourth quarter.” Instead, ask God how you can declare His power to the next generation, His might to all who are coming behind you!
What you should know, if you know an aging ministry leader, is they have so much wisdom and experience to offer you. They probably won’t offer it on their own, but if you ask, you might be surprised at what they have to share.