I’ve been in ministry a long time. More than 55 years. (Can it really be that long?) In these five-plus decades of serving in the trenches I have learned some valuable truths . . . most of them the hard way. And honestly? I wouldn’t trade truth for youth or for anything else. I really mean that.
What’s more, I’m still on a learning curve. I’m glad the lessons don’t stop at age 45 . . . or 74 . . . or once you have your last child . . . or when you preach your fiftieth Easter sermon.
It occurred to me that there has been some pretty important stuff I’ve learned these many years. (As far as the things I haven’t learned, you’d have to ask my wife. But let’s don’t go there.) I want to share with you, in no particular order, a sampling from my growing stack of lessons that has been building over the decades.
I’ll give you the first half in this post . . . and the rest next one.
- I’ve learned that I should tell people how I feel about them now, not later. Later seldom comes. Furthermore, death has a way of making all communication one-sided. Many times as I have walked away from a funeral, I’ve wished I had told the deceased why I admired her or him . . . or what I appreciated . . . or how much I’d been helped.
- I’ve learned that things I’m not even aware of are being noticed and remembered. You wouldn’t believe the things folks have mentioned over the years that have encouraged them. A smile. A glance. An arm over the shoulder. A song sung loudly. A tear. Laughter. It’s really true: small things mean a lot . . . which can be a little scary.
- I’ve learned that being real is a lot better than looking pious. You don’t need to worry about making a good impression. You don’t live under a pile of guilt because you’re not perfect. Authenticity keeps you from gettin’ your underwear in a wad over petty stuff that legalists expect. Pursuing holiness is biblical and right. Trying to look holy stinks.
- I’ve learned that when you “fit,” most things flow . . . they don’t have to be forced. I learned that from my twenty-three years in the pastorate in California. From the day I walked into the lives of that flock I felt at home. Didn’t have to fake it or act excited when I wasn’t or hold back my opinion or hide my style. I fit, right off the bat. It’s the same at Stonebriar Community Church where I currently serve as senior pastor. I can’t remember ever having to force something to work.
- I’ve learned that it doesn’t pay to talk someone into or out of a big decision. We need to let people be. Pushing or pulling creates complications and consequences. Looking back, I can recall a few times I put added pressure on individuals to get them to say “yes” or “no” and invariably, I regretted it. The old gospel song is still true: God still “leads His dear children along.” I’ve learned to step aside and let Him.
- I’ve learned that days of maintenance are far more in number than days of magnificence. Over half of any job is just showing up. Staying faithful pays great dividends. Longing for the big-time tingles to occur is a waste. And answering “Fantastic!” every time somebody asks how you’re doing is phony. Most days call for little more than the discipline of staying with the stack.
- I’ve learned that some people aren’t going to change, no matter what. This used to drive me nuts! No longer. It was a great moment in my life when I realized I couldn’t win ‘em all . . . in fact, I can’t even fix those who wish I could. And so, I’ve learned to lighten up. It’s a full-time job taking care of the logs in my own eyes.
- I’ve learned that I have seldom felt badly for things I did not say. This business of the tongue—ugh! We preachers can be the worst, thinking everyone must hear our wisdom. Please. Occasionally, I have shown unusual restraint and held back. Later, I’ve been pleased I did. Talking too much is never wise. I do mean never.
That’s a good place to stop for now.
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