I have been most impressed by the reception of this series. I am sure there are those who have not appreciated my breaking the "code" of pastoral silence. However, all of the public and private responses have been positive. There are a few other things; actually, a wealth of material I could continue to write on this topic. However, I believe it is time to put it to rest for a season. With that said, let me offer some honest reflection on my history in ministry.
- I know I am called. Everyone who is a Believer in Christ is called. We are called with, or without, a piece of paper that says we are a "minister." The paper carries an inherent respect of man and allows you the privilege of legally performing marriages. But, it does not make, nor does it break, a calling on anyone's life. By the way, I still have the "paper."
- I see my days in vocational ministry ended. By vocational, I mean holding a paid staff or pastoral position. My days as a minister are not ended. For, as long as I belong to Him, that is just the way it is.
- I have stopped proclaiming, "I am a Christian!" or, "I am a minister!" I find life just works better without the announcement. Once you proclaim one of those "labels," people expect perfection that will never be found. However, if you just ARE a "Christian," or, a just ARE a "minister," people naturally gravitate toward you, allow you to minister to them, and do not expect perfection. Then, you have a genuine opportunity to lead them to the Savior. I hope you see the difference.
- Looking back, I see some strategic ministry and professional mis-steps I have made. I would definitely take a few mulligans. But, who wouldn't? And, I have decided not to detail those mis-steps out for you. It would make some feel unloved; like our relationship was not genuine. And, that is just not the case. Even when I have made some possible strategic mistakes in where I have served, God has turned those mistakes into joy by placing people in my life I would not have met, otherwise. So, I do see places in hindsight where I wish I hadn't ended up. But, I also see people shining like jewels in the night whose encounter we shared were not mistakes.
- There are a few things I wish I could have done better. Regardless of my right, my tiredness or the situation, I wish I had been more patient and gentle with people than I was at times. I wish I had stood my ground more strongly when it came to matters of principle rather than submitting to the authority of abusers. I wish I could have had more compassion on an individual basis than I displayed, at times. And, I wish I were better at leaving the ninety and nine and going after the one.
As they say, hindsight is twenty/twenty. Even though there are things I wish I could have done better, I did the best I could at the time with what I had to work with. So, I rest in His love, grace and mercy. Some have called me a failure because I "resigned" vocational ministry. I do not see myself as a failure. How can influencing hundreds of lives to be changed by the power of the Holy Spirit be failure? How can leading dozens of people to the foot of the cross in salvation be failure? How can laying my hands on the sick and seeing them recover be failure? How can witnessing the joy of joining people together in marriage be failure? How can saying the final words of love and respect over a deceased loved one, bringing comfort and hope to hurting families, be failure? How can holding children in your arms and dedicating them to the Lord be failure? How can starting a work for God, from nothing, be failure? How can taking a broken, hurting congregation and bringing it back to health and stage it to prosper again be failure? No, my friends, those are wondrous, miraculous successes I have been blessed to encounter. And, they are still occurring regardless of my wearing a pastor label, or not.
To be frank, those who call me a failure have fallen off of my "friends" list. I don't need such people in my life. I count it all success. Where I am today, I am because God allowed my path to bring me here. All things have worked together for my good because I love Him and I am called according to His purpose, not theirs. So, be encouraged my friends. Love Him and love people. That is what I have learned it is all about. It is not about "ministries," "buildings," or "programs." In and of themselves, none of those are bad things. But, the most important thing is God and man.