Most of my closest friends are pastors. There’s a special fraternity that exists among guys in ministry. I would assume that the same sense of camaraderie exists in other lines of work. I remember being in a group where some men in the military were talking. They had their own language, using acronyms that were part of their day-to-day vocabulary. I had no idea what they were talking about. While pastors don’t have their own language, we are probably more inclined to “talk shop” with companions in ministry than we are with those who aren’t. On a practical level, I could bounce ideas off my pastor friends or share problems that I would not, or could not, share with most of the people in my church.
This fellowship among men in ministry is something I’ve written about often, in large part because it’s been so important in my own life. But I was recently thinking about how my circle of friends has gotten more “experienced” (I won’t say older). When we get together, sometimes we look back on past experiences. I thought it would be encouraging to younger guys to let them in on what they have to look forward to when they look back on a couple of decades in ministry.
You’re going to laugh . . .
I have stories. You can’t work with people and not have stories. People are incredible, and they do amazing things – some of which make you shake your head. I wish that I could share my stories on this blog, but it would be inappropriate in many cases. But there are times when I look back, or when a fellow pastor shares a story, and you can’t help but laugh. Not at the people, of course, but at the situation. You get to a point where you think you’ve heard and seen it all. And some of it is the best humor no one will hear.
You’re going to cry . . .
You’re going to cry for your people. From time to time a person will come to mind and you’ll remember their moments of pain or the results of their wrong choices and recall the way you mourned for them. Depending on your personality, you may even shed a tear or two as you look back. You’re also going to cry for yourself. Every once in awhile you’ll recall times when you were hurt, when you were treated badly, when people said things that weren’t kind, helpful, or true. You may have gone through a betrayal or have someone you were close to leave your church over a dispute. Men who are emotionally healthy have dreams about some of those hurts. So plan to shed the occasional tear.
You will have learned . . .
You’re going to look back at some of the sermons you preached and be amazed that people listened to you and came back the next week. If you’ve worked hard at your craft, you will become a better preacher and teacher as the years pass, and you will see that improvement in your sermon notes. So keep them. Even the ones that beg to be discarded.
You will have learned God’s Word in a deeper way. You may lose some of the technical sharpness you had with the languages or finer points of theology, but you will know the Bible so much better because you’ve taught so much of it. You will refine your beliefs. You’ll explore sections of the Bible in ways you couldn’t during your education. You’ll be reading more, studying more, and you’ll have grown in your understanding of Scripture. And if you’ve approached your study in the right way, you’ll have grown in your understanding of God.
You’ll be amazed . . .
You’ll look back and realize that you had nothing special to offer. You were just someone God sovereignly chose to be a tool in building his church. But you’ll think of the lives you touched, the opportunities you had, the privilege you were given to equip your people to know and follow Christ. You’ll be amazed and grateful for the time you spent serving. Not every church experience may have been positive, but you spoke truth into the lives of people who wanted to hear. You ministered to people in their darkest hours, and you bore others’ burdens. There will be some who may tell you that you’ve had an impact on their lives in ways you didn’t even realize.
Of course, there’s always the chance that little or none of this will be true.
Sadly, some men begin well and finish poorly. Some wash out along the way by making awful choices. I hope that everyone who reads this will come to a point where they look back in a way that brings joy.
Love your people. Work hard. Follow Christ. Be faithful. Make those commitments today and every day, and when you turn around and look back at the long and winding road that was your life, you will do so with a glad and grateful heart.