“Fulfill your ministry!”
My sister called and asked where I will live when I retire.
I guess my upcoming hip thing and father-in-law Ralph going to heaven on August 2, 2016 provoked a thought that’s never been on my radar.
It also betrayed the profound love of siblings that has grown over the years.
She even told me to “get it done” in Pennsylvania so my mom and dad who, like her, have been cheated of so many holidays and happy days because of my vocation can hang out with me without me being able to get away or being called away without regard to anything happening in my family’s life; or as I’ve said on occasion to young pastors as a metaphor for the whole thing, “People die without consulting your calendar.”
Anyway, I reminded her that I’ll never retire for at least four reasons.
First, I’ll probably be assassinated before that happens because I take the first few of the big ten about idolatry more seriously than most denominational, congregational, or national jingoists.
Second, ever since October 2011 with Eugene and my covenant brothers, I’m more energized and psyched for gospeling than ever before after recognizing that I’m just scratching the surface of my relationship with Jesus by the book. Really, retirement is for people who never should have been doing what they were doing which is why they wanna quit or for people who are tired of doing it or can’t do it anymore for emotional, intellectual, spiritual, or physical reasons. Besides, there’s this upper octogenarian guy in Rockford, something of a mentor for me, who’s still going stronger than pastors a lot younger than me. Why quit if you love what you’re doing and can still do it? So, for me, it’s like marriage, ordination, and other vows: “I do and I will.”
Third, now that I’m into the second decade of ministry on the corner of Lincoln and Main, I wouldn’t want anyone to follow me without me being dead. Really, the first few years of following somebody in pastoral ministry can be so tough; because, you know, people like to break the first few of the big ten and think people like me are paid to be abused; or as I tell young folks who think they may be called to do what I do, “If you’d like to know what it’s like to be a pastor, put on a deerskin and go walking through the woods on the first day of hunting season.”
Fourth, I haven’t finished what God called me to do on the corner of Lincoln and Main and…
In short, I’m not going anywhere.
My sister is persistent.
She said, “You know, Bobby, there are lots of churches around here that would love to have you as their pastor. I think they’ll appreciate you a lot more than…”
She sounded like somebody running for the big house in D.C.
Anyway, I reminded her that I’ll never leave our family of faith on the corner of Lincoln and Main for at least three reasons.
First, I like Belvidere, Boone and surrounding counties, and even Illinois if you subtract Chicago and Springfield politics and liabilities from the mix; moreover, I made a promise to Muffet and Fleming and I’ve been getting better at keeping my promises since I’ve been scratching the surface of my relationship with Jesus by the book.
Second, I wouldn’t want to go through the early years of ministry in any church ever again because, as I often quote for young pastors or pastors starting all over again in churches, “Revival sometimes don’t mean bringin’ people in but gettin’ the people out who don’t love Jesus and all His children.” When people finally figure out you’re going to take the church from them and give it back to Jesus and that the minority like them who hate you ain’t the majority, they leave and you don’t have to flee. I also said, “O.K., Sue, if God told me to think about it, I’d tell the search committee to call a congregational meeting where I’d say, ‘If you really want me to be your pastor, it’s because you don’t want me to encourage, enable, condone, participate in, or preside over your idolatries antithetical to Jesus by the book. I will be iconoclastic, sarcastic, salty, blindingly radiant, and shattering the sound of silence about anything that you esteem that dishonors Him; though if proven wrong by Jesus, Holy Scripture, and common sense that I’m wrong, I’ll confess, repent, ask forgiveness, and press on. If you’re looking for a pastor to join you in leavenating, looking up, standing up, speaking up, and acting up for Jesus, I’m your guy! If you’re looking for someone who will always be there for you and literally die for you no matter who, what, where, when, or why, I’m your guy. But, as Dylan sings, if you’re looking for an errand boy for your wandering desires, go to any local mainline denominational executive and she/he will give a pile of PIFs/resumes to you.’”
Third, go back to the fourth reason why I’ll be assassinated or die of my Grandpa Jacob’s cancer genes before I retire.
My sister said, “O.K., I get it!”
Here’s the point.
When Paul wrote about “fulfilling” or filling full ministry, he was saying, as far as I can tell, “May you live and minister as God has called and gifted you for as long as you want to and want to for as long as you live and minister.”
Knowing English is notoriously imprecise in translating Greek for common consumption, it helps to look at how different versions of the Bible put it (2 Timothy 4:5):
“Make full proof of thy ministry” (KJV).
“Fulfill your ministry” (RSV, NKJV, and ESV).
“Leave nothing undone that you ought to do” (LB).
“Carry out to the full the commission that God gave you” (PME).
“Perform your whole duty as a servant of God” (TEV).
“Discharge all the duties of your ministry” (NIV).
“Do all the duties of your calling” (NEB).
“Complete the ministry to which you have been called” (Voice).
“Complete the ministry God has given you” (NLT).
“Do a thorough job as God’s servant” (Message).
“Carry out your job” (Cotton Patch).
Lots of little twists and turns and nuances to capture the essence of the original language.
But you catch the drift!
I still kinda like my summary within the context of texts like Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12: “May you live and minister as God has called and gifted you for as long as you want to and want to for as long as you live and minister.”
That’s really why I’ll be assassinated or get Grandpa Jacob’s cancer before I quit.
Of course, it’s not easy.
Paul instructed, “Preach the word of God. Be persistent, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people…Work at bringing others to Christ.”
He also warned, “A time is coming when people will no longer listen to right teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever they want to hear. They will reject the truth and follow strange myths.”
Then he encouraged, “But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord.”
In other words, do your job even though people are gonna reject Him and reject you as His messenger.
The reward comes from God as Jesus promised: “Those who endure to the end will be saved.”
As we’ve come to know, we’re going to live a lot longer with Jesus in heaven than in time filled with meanness, madness, misery, and miscreance.
That’s why we press on.
But it’s not easy.
I had to laugh when my youngest got a postcard from college just a few days before the start of his freshman year.
Here’s the part that got me: “Pack up your excitement and ambition! Get ready for the best four years of your life!”
It seems like only yesterday when I said something like that to a professor during orientation of my first year in seminary: “I’ve heard seminary is going to be the best years of my life!”
He said, “You heard wrong. You are going to want to get out of here as fast as you can. I have worse news. After a few years in ministry, you’re going to want to retire as fast as you can.”
I just got a Glock 19.
Uh, not really.
I’m holding if for a pastor near St. Louis if you know what I mean.
I know two of the best pastors in my presbytery who are counting the days until they retire.
I remember Charlie, my age now back then when I was 25 and just starting, who bummed me out by saying to a group of young pastors, “Last night as I walked up the steps to my bedroom, I threw up my hands and shouted, ‘Take me now, God! My life is better to you than anybody down here.’”
One of my classmates blew out his brains because his church near Detroit rejected him.
I could go on; and I know the same holds true for too many no matter what God’s call is upon their lives.
I know lots of politicians, teachers, husbands, wives,…you name it…who feel like that every now and then and sometimes more often than not.
Some folks want to check out…retire…escape…
And if you’re not doing what you want to do…or you can’t do it anymore…or never should have started…or have an emotional, intellectual, spiritual, or physical reason compelling you to retire from it, get out before you have to give your Glock to me or discourage those around you by always talking about quitting or beg God to do what you can do for yourself or make a permanent decision to a temporary problem or…
You don’t have to continue to be who you’re not called to be and do what you’re not called to do.
If you do, you’ll end up being self-destructive or no heaven good to anyone around you.
Step back, look deep inside, look up and pray for guidance and perseverance, get some personal as well as vocational counseling, and don’t do anything until your certainty about who to be and what to do are confirmed by family and friends in concert with your Father.
But if you’re still psyched and capable for what you thought He had in mind for you yesterday, keep keepin’ on until there are no more tomorrows left.
You will be glad you did; and everyone around you will be blessed by the blessings entrusted to You by Him that were never intended by Him to be kept by yourself.
I guess it all boils down to this.
Be who He made you to be.
Do what He made you to do.
Don’t let anyone else influence you otherwise.
He defines you.
When we figure that out, life is as good as He designed from Genesis.
Blessings and Love!
Look up! Stand up! Speak up! Act up for Jesus!
Salt! Shine! Leavenate!
Sometime in your life you should go back home to your family Mom,on some Easter , Christmas, Just so they can say my son came home. Just to make them Happy.
Pastors Have the toughest job First thing you have to fight the Devil in Church.
Then you have to get the peoples attention. Then you tell them who Jesus is.
The world is getting bad. But when I`m in church I feel calm. No worries for that hour Thanks to you. God Bless
I hope I didn`t ramble to much.
Brother Bob --
I've been through Belvidere, Illinois, not so long ago. I was on a great Midwest Art Tour, taking me from the Art Institute of Chicago all the way to the Bone Creek Museum, in Saint David, Nebraska. And, along the way, I passed through Belvidere.
I got your email today. A couple of days ago I got one of your messages forwarded from a group of PCUSA pastors I sometimes hang out with -- they call themselves PEPNE (Presbyterian Evangelical Pastors of the Northeast (NE Philadelphia, that is).
I have a Presbyterian pastor for 11 years and I think I shared your view of your role in the PCUSA for nine of those years -- a faithful witness within a blighted organization.
But a couple of years ago, God threw a switch in my brain, and my congregation and I made the exodus out of Sodom to the greener fields of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
Having the perspective of having lived both inside and outside the PCUSA, I feel compelled to tell you that you're not fighting a good fight. You're fighting an unnecessary fight. I realize that turning our struggles -- and we always have them -- into something heroic and meaningful makes them easier to bear. But from where I stand, the fight you are fighting is silly, fruitless, and a waste of your valuable energy.
Prior to moving to the EPC, I had never been a member of any church except for a PCUSA church. And the move out felt like a step off the edge of the known universe. I had been really convinced that life did not exist outside of the benign light of the PCUSA. But once I took that step, instead of looking back with longing or regret, I kicked myself and wondered why I took so long.
There is a larger universe of Reformed and Presbyterian people out there. And having stepped out of the PCUSA ghetto, I feel I have stepped into a much, much larger world. I feel challenged by being in a growing organization with healthy churches. I feel challenged with the range theological discussions that are happening in my new environment. While in the PCUSA, we discussed milk issues like, "Is Jesus really God?" now in the EPC, I feel challenged by discussions of meat issues like, "In the ordo salutis, must repentance precede conversion?" I feel like I've graduated from a confirmation class to a graduate school. And it is very bracing and challenging.
Yes, I should have gone years ago. But God's timing was good and our departure only cost us money.
I pray that the agoraphobic myopia of discontented, dislocated people in the PCUSA would give way to a fearless recognition that the door really is open, that you really can leave, that you will never ask to be back in your cell once you leave, and that health and happiness will replace your struggle in places of darkness.
And I beg you to stop casting your pointless struggle as a heroic crusade. It's not. And that characterization is embarrassing.
The door is open. Just walk out.
All the best,
While our calls are the same in heralding Jesus, the context is a little different.
I respect yours, my friend.
With your permission, I would like to share these important sentiments with others.
Your faith encourages mine.
Blessings and Love!
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