a question for young christian leaders

to you young ones that give us old ones hope:  may i ask you a question?

what do you need?  what are you pursuing?  what does success look like to you?

because today, this very day, i arrived.  i attained.

just so you’ll know, i am 52 years old.  for as long as i can remember, i have served in the local church. i went from volunteer, to full-time youth pastor, to planting the church i am now leading.  more than 30 years in total.  for the entire time, i have desperately wanted to be useful.  in my late 30’s (and without realizing it at the time), i began intermingling my vocation and my identity in a very unhealthy way.  if you had asked me, i would have said that i was kingdom-motivated.  i was very sincere and we saw god do some pretty incredible things.  as i look back on that time in my life, however, i realize that i was secretly nursing some pretty ugly desires.  i wanted to be noticed.  i badly wanted to be respected by my peers.  i wanted to be loved and admired by my congregants.  and, most of all, i wanted to be seen as humble.  in short, i wanted to be successful.

well today, i am.

please do not misunderstand.  i am neither renowned nor revered.  my fellowship is smaller than it was five years ago.  my financial outlook is somewhere between laughable and grim.  and even with all i’ve learned in 30-plus years of ministry, i feel like a rank rookie.

yet, i am exceedingly successful.

(WARNING: sappy granddaughter story to follow!)

as i’ve mentioned before in this space, 15 month-old emma spends her days at the child-care center at our church.  a couple of times a day, i find some important task that needs to be done in that area.  today, i was going to the child-care office to work on the computer.  as i walked by the door to emma’s classroom, she saw me (yes, i was walking very slowly).  a huge smile lit up her face and she ran to me.

and, suddenly, i was validated.  completely and absolutely.

she doesn’t care how many people come to hear me preach, or how much money i have (although i’m sure that will change), or how influential i am.  or am not.  she loves me just because i’m “grandpa.”  i tell you, i’ve had some powerful experiences in my life, but nothing can compare to the feeling that i feel when emma smiles at me.

and here’s my point, young leader…

most of what you think is important is not.  most of your hours are spent in trivial pursuit.  and the things that seem so important today–acclaim, authority, affluence, advancement–will lose their allure as the years pass.  paul communicates this concept masterfully:

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 corinthians 4:18)

Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity. (1 john 2:15-16 – the message)

so here is my advice (unsolicited, but priceless) from a ministry dinosaur…

close the book, close your laptop, close the office.  spend time with your children.  find a way to become their hero.  cherish your spouse.  enjoy nature.  have coffee with your parents.  make yourself available to people who do not have the capacity to help you build “your ministry.”  strategize less and laugh more.  and don’t start tomorrow or next month or next year–start today.  because until we get to heaven, these are the things in your life that are “unseen”…”eternal.”

and in them you will find success beyond your wildest dreams.

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4 thoughts on “a question for young christian leaders

  1. Screw Donald Miller…that is some great writing. Seriously, this may be the best post you have ever written. It’s just the “doing” part that always messes me up…but I think I will start “again” today.

  2. I am one of those young ministers out there today. Honestly I have no clue what that idea of success means anymore to me. I remember being younger and having these outlandish dreams and visions, and I used to think that once I accomplished those I would be successful. Looking back though, I have had some detours on my way to fulfilling my dreams. Often times I refer to them as my dreams because even though God gave me those dreams, I have inadvertently made them more of my own than what God had originally intended and lost the true meaning of them. Would I still like to achieve those goals and dreams? Sure, but with my head on good enough to realize that I can’t do them on my own and I am not doing them for myself, but rather for God. I also need to keep in mind that I am not necessarily working for God, but with Him instead. I’ve served in ministry long enough to realize and reach burnout. I have left a church before because I lost track of why I was doing what I was doing. Thankfully, God has led my path back to that church because it is like a home to me. I guess you could say that I am still kind of on that road to recovering from that burnout and making sure that I don’t end up on that path again.
    I think another enemy of success is comparison. Too many of us young people have seen people who have been in ministry for decades and some of us have wanted to follow in their footsteps. We can’t. God has given us our own dreams to fulfill. We will do things different than y’all, and the Lord willing, the next generation will do things different than mine. I was preaching at a small church a few weeks ago and I somehow ended up on this point that we are not running this race against each other, but rather with each other to achieve one common goal of winning the lost to Christ. We can’t look at the Billy Graham’s of this world and expect to do the same as him. I’m not saying there is never going to be another Billy Graham, but God hasn’t called all of us to do that. If we do, many will get discouraged and not use the resources that we have to fulfill our call.
    Getting back to my point though, the detours that I have been on in the past several years have been ministry. I have reached people that I would have never had the chance to reach if I hadn’t gone down those roads. Rob says all the time that our distractions are our ministry. I am glad that I am learning that lesson at an early age.

  3. Somebody once said, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans”. That fits with ministry too. I think we need to be reminded very frequently to slow down and enjoy life, our children and the ‘things’ that last forever. Thanks!

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