FIRST-PERSON: A half-century of ministry

by David Hankins, posted Monday, October 08, 2018 (7 days ago)

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP) -- I made the decision to attend the 50-year reunion of my high school graduating class.

As I read posts about the event on social media, I think everyone in the class may have had the same questions I do: (1) Where did all the time go? and (2) Who are all these senior citizens?

I am passing/approaching the half-century mark in other areas as well. I preached my first sermon just over 50 years ago. The 50th anniversary of my wedding is a few months away as is that of my ordination to the ministry.

There is something sobering about measuring life events in segments of 50 years.

As I look back on the past half-century, I remember the aspirations I had at the beginning that my life and ministry to be faithful, fulfilling and fruitful. Have I hit the mark? Others -- and ultimately God -- will be the final arbiters, but I hope there is evidence of my having lived consistently with these aims.

Faithfulness

I remember sitting in a restaurant as a high-schooler while my dad had a cup of coffee with a colleague. At one point, the man said, "David, what are you going to be?" My dad answered for me. "David is planning to go into ministry."

There was an awkward pause. Then the guy replied, "Well, a lot of young guys think that for a while. But then they move on to other things." So much for a word of encouragement. He probably thought he was just being a realist. But I have imagined a conversation from time to time where I would say to him, "Still here!"

I am thankful that, after all these years, I am still pursuing my calling. I make no claim of doing it perfectly, and no one recognizes more than I that God's grace has been operating vigorously to keep me from veering onto destructive, disqualifying paths.

That is why, in my first few days as a pastor, I adopted my motto for ministry: "O Lord God of the armies of heaven, don't let me be a stumbling block to those who trust in you. O God of Israel, don't let me cause them to be confused" (Psalm 69:6, The Living Bible). While this prayer is admittedly defensive, it has reminded me of the value of faithfulness for the long haul. If you are on the front end of ministry currently, a great aspiration would be "to finish well."

Fulfillment

I like what I am doing. I grew comfortable a long while back telling people that I am a Baptist preacher when they inquired about my occupation. They don't always know what to say about that. One guy responded, "Well, I guess you get to work with a nice group of people." Yes and no.

Ministry hasn't always been easy, but it has always been fulfilling. In fact, for me, the more difficult assignments often were the most fulfilling.

I do not mean to minimize the struggles some in ministry have faced. The circumstances can sometimes be grueling, even brutal. But I want to challenge my fellow strugglers to remember their high calling, to consider it joy to serve the Lord, and to be happy in their labor.

Ministry for Jesus ought to be satisfying. The satisfaction should come more from the what of your service than the where of your service. I find my ministry fulfilling because the cause is right. I find my ministry fulfilling because it is purposeful and pleases God. God's ministers should say with the apostle Paul: I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.

Fruitfulness

A psychology professor once taught me that there are two kinds of people: "get ahead" people and "get by" people. I have always wanted to achieve, to be successful, to be fruitful. (The caption on a picture of me and the other class officers in our senior yearbook reads: Climbing the Ladder of Success.)

In ministry, while we ought to avoid the excesses that "get ahead" people can fall into (pride, self-sufficiency, misplaced priorities, burnout, etc.), there is nothing virtuous in laziness, lack of ambition or being a slacker. God will evaluate our "fruitfulness." Will it be gold, silver precious stones or wood, hay and stubble?

I want to be a good steward of my opportunities to bear fruit for the Kingdom. I look back thankfully on those individuals who came to salvation as we prayed together, on those families who renewed their commitment to God and one another, to those churches that sacrificed to be on mission, to those strategies that led to spiritual and numerical advance.

Carlos McLeod, the late Texas Baptist evangelism director, told of his boyhood days of picking cotton. When he was tempted to hide behind the plants and not do his work, he would remember that his father would be waiting at the end of the day to weigh the cotton he had picked. He didn't want to disappoint his father by a paltry amount in his sack. Then, Dr. McLeod challenged us all: We have an eternal harvest to reap. Let's not appear before the Father empty-handed.

Thank you, Lord, for 50 years and counting. May God grant us all the gift of a faithful, fulfilling, fruitful ministry for Jesus sake!

David Hankins is executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. This column first appeared in the convention's newsjournal, the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com).
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