By Thom Rainer
I am writing this article on my 62nd birthday.
Yeah, I’m a real party animal.
Let me shoot straight. I have so much for which to be thankful. God has blessed me immeasurably, none of which I deserve. If my ministry were to end today through death or disability, I could only praise Him for the life and ministry He gave me.
But I am assuming I have a few more years left in ministry. And this point in my life is both a time of reflection and looking forward. I want this fourth quarter of my ministry to make a difference for His glory. To be clear, I want to avoid seven dangers in my last years of ministry. And I know I can succumb to any and all of these dangers without His strength, His mercy, and His plan.
- Coasting. Lord, show me how to give my all for You. Wake me up to the reality of coasting if I ever move in that direction. Remind me that laziness is not just a bad work ethic; it is a sin and affront against You.
- Hanging on. I pray I will not hang on for just another paycheck. I pray I will place the timing of my ministry in God’s hands, not my 401(k). I pray I will not love my position in ministry so much that I can’t hear Your voice when it’s time to move on.
- Weariness. Ministry is not for cowards. Yes, there are the constant streams of human critics but, even more dangerous, ministry is spiritual warfare. I pray I will not grow weary, but find my strength in God through prayer and the daily reading of His Word.
- Misplaced identity. My identity is not president, pastor, or church staff member. My identity is in Christ. If my identity is in my present vocation, I will not let go when it’s time. I will hold onto the idols of ego, self-gratification, and ephemeral titles.
- Change aversion. My prayer is I will always be open to needed change, that I will not leave the work of change for the one who follows me. I pray I will still have the courage and strength to make the tough decisions, not to kick the can for another time and another leader.
- Failure to stay current. It’s a challenge to keep up. Change is hitting us so rapidly. I could get lazy and not read, not be challenged by others, or scream that the way we’ve always done it is just fine. In my later years of ministry, I pray I will not succumb to the temptation of no longer learning.
- Regret. For sure, I’ve made plenty of mistakes. If I wrote a book about stupid things I’ve done in ministry, it would have to be a multi-volume series. But, in these latter years of ministry, I can’t look back. I can’t wallow in the self-pity of past stupidity. The past is past. I look to God’s future.
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind, and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.—(Philippians 3:13-14, CSB)
May those verses be my theme for the years I have left to serve the One who has called me, strengthened me, and given me the great promise of His presence and power.