I have been around many older ministers over 28 years of full-time ministry. I have also noticed that only very few seem satisfied with the way they prioritized their time in regards to their life and ministry.

Because of this I often spend my time thinking ahead about many years from now, when I will be near the end of my earthly sojourn, and try to visualize what activity and fruit borne that would give me the most pleasure based on the Scriptures and my calling.  The following observations are those I have made for myself, looking ahead so that I will not live my last days with regret, cynicism, and denial.

I.    I Sacrificed My Spouse and Children on the Altar of Ministry

1.    People come and go in a church, but there is only one guaranteed set of people for which a minister will always be responsible: their spouse and children!

2.    Most ministers are so ambitious they try to build a ministry with folks that may or may not be with them a few years down the road.

3.    The wives of spouses are usually the neediest people I meet in a typical congregation. Statistics show that most wives of senior pastors blame the ministry for the marital difficulties they have! Do we need to talk about what pictures come to mind when we think of the term “P.K.”? The children and spouse of senior pastors often become embittered because the husband’s focus is constantly on the needs and vision of the church, to the emotional neglect of the ones he is most responsible for!

II.    I Put Programs Before People

1.    Getting new programs off the ground can often be exciting because it often promises to greatly add to the life and vision of the church. Unfortunately, most of the time, the amount of energy and focus needed to properly implement a program takes the energy and focus of the senior pastor away from spending time with the key people they are assigned to mentor, develop, and release into their destiny!

2.    By the time most pastors realize being program-based has unnecessarily robbed them from the greatest asset for the church vision–key committed leaders and emerging leaders–they have already passed their prime and spent their greatest energy.

III.    I Spent Most of My Time Attempting to Nurture the Whole Church Myself Instead of Concentrating on Potential Leaders

1.    Senior pastors are often spending unnecessary time either lamenting the loss of one of their members or spending many hours with high maintenance people that usually never mature into a high-output fruit-bearing saint.

2.    I learned a long time ago that Satan will often try to wear me out by spending countless hours counseling a person who really has no interest in changing, but loves my attention because of their emotional need for affirmation.

3.    Since the late 1980’s I have made up my mind that I will build our local church based on the priorities Paul the Apostle laid out in 2 Timothy 2:2, in which he instructed Timothy to spend his time with people who were:
A.    Faithful
B.    Able
C.    Called to teach others

4.    If any one of these three components Paul laid out is missing in a person, a senior should not spend a lot of time working with the person. For example, a person may have ability but if they are not faithful, then their character is not commensurate with their gifting and they are a train wreck waiting to happen. Or, a person may be very faithful but doesn’t have a lot of anointing or calling on his or her life to be a leader. Thus, this person should be delegated to one of the cell group leaders or lay ministers that can and should spend the adequate time they need being nurtured.

5.    Also, every church has attending folks that are either part of the “A” team or “B” team.
A.    The “A” team is made up of people totally committed to the discipleship process and vision of the church.
B.    The “B” team is made up of those who want to attend church but do not really want to be discipled and/or do not want a person to hold them accountable for growth. They just want to come to church to fulfill the minimum requirements of their Christian obligations. Those in the “B” category should never be the priority of the senior pastor’s time unless the Lord clearly gives a leading to focus on them. Sometimes people respond great to the attention of the senior pastor; they do not think they have much of a calling or ability, and all they need is the pastor to speak a few words to them which begins a great acceleration in regards to their Christian growth.

IV.    I Never Befriended Young People

1.    Rev. Billy Graham once said that one of the regrets he had in regards to his life was that he never prioritized making friends with younger ministers. He has said now that he is in his late eighties many of his friends have already gone to be with the Lord. This statement is very powerful and made a great impact on me.

2.    Because of incorporating a strategy to speak into the lives of much younger men than myself, I have now started another mentoring group composed of emerging leaders in their early to late twenties and thirties. My goal is not only to develop great leaders for the Lord but to have a well-rounded life in which I am surrounded by people half my age–not just those my age.

V.    I Raised Up Faithful Church Members Instead of Sons and Daughters

1.    Years ago, one minister I related to once told me not to get too close to people in our fledging church because it would create jealousy and division among church members who witnessed my favoritism. Thank God I never agreed with or took that advice because the Gospel accounts are replete with Jesus showing favoritism with the 70, then the 12, and then His inner circle of three that He took with Him everywhere He went!

2.    I have many titles in my life: doctor, bishop, pastor, reverend. But by far, the title I appreciate most and I believe to be the most important is when a person in our church calls me dad. God is never called doctor, apostle, bishop or the “great general in the sky”! He is called Father because father (or mother if you are a female pastor) is by far the most important relationship any person can have with other human beings in a church. (We don’t count husband or wife because you are only supposed to have one of those in a lifetime!)

3.    John the Apostle once said (in his twilight years) that the greatest joy he had on the earth was that his children would walk in the truth (3 John 4).

4.    A few years ago I was in a hotel room speaking with two ministers who were at least 20 years older than me. I asked them two very important questions as part of our very meaningful dialogue. The first question was: In your opinion, do most ministers end well and, if not, what is the number one reason they do not? I was expecting their first answer, but I was not ready for the other reason they both gave. They said that older ministers they meet are dissatisfied with their lives (some are even bitter and cynical) because they have few or no spiritual sons and daughters around them in their latter years.

5.    When we don’t prioritize and facilitate meaningful relationships that transcend the ministry and membership of a church, we will regret it when we are in our twilight years! Members come and go but sons and daughters remain a part of your life for eternity, whether you stay in full-time church ministry or not!

6.    Finally, when all is said and done, when you realize you are breathing your last breaths on the earth, the only fond memories you will have and the things that matter most to you will be the key relationships you were responsible for! After all, in eternity we are not going to be able to take beautiful cathedrals, homes, cars, money, etc. with us–only the people we have won to the Lord. Woe to the person who realizes this when it is too late!

Article used with permission
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