In the past few months, I’ve been exploring God’s direction and seeking new opportunities to minister to people. During this season, I have learned that one of the greatest assets I’ve found in looking ahead is looking behind and remembering how my ministry and pursuits have been shaped by people in the past.
I am convicted about this: I should never forget that even new steps are taken on the foundation often laid down by others who helped you get where you are.
I wanted to take a second a just name a few:
- The children’s pastor I had growing up who always smiled and just made you feel good to be at church.
- The youth pastor who saw me sitting alone across a room and came over to talk to me and made me feel connected – and made me want to come back.
- The youth pastor who gave me opportunities to serve, and also became such a great friend, that he conducted the ceremony at my wedding. A friend who still takes the time out to talk to me when needed, 25 years after first meeting me.
- The pastor of the church I grew up in who always reminded us every week that love for people was “why we do things the way we do them here.”
- The Mercer University professor who challenged my ways of thinking – not just in the classroom, but beyond it. He could teach you life lessons while eating a crappy college cafeteria lunch with you. Amazingly, the insights he taught me over 20 years ago planted the seeds of ideas that are just now taking form!
- The RUF campus minister who bugged the snot out of me by asking me over and over, “How’s your walk with God?” until I gave him an answer. His persistence turned my life around.
- The Beeson Divinity School professor who challenged me to break down the walls between church and culture – often while sitting in his living room, not a lecture hall.
- The grad school professor who encouraged me to find my gift in teaching and preaching.
- The pastor of the church in Birmingham who made me realize that church didn’t have to be boring.
- A few crazy folks who tried – yet failed – to start a church in Birmingham. But the real failure would have been not to try. I love them because they first taught me to dare.
- The pastor of my previous church who always viewed church and mission through the lenses of wild possibilities. Daring, for him, is second nature.
- The local pastor who will just sit and dream about “Kingdom” possibilities with me.
- The pastor and associate pastor of a church in Tennessee who are just crazy enough to encourage me and pour into me during a tough, transitional season of my life.
- The countless friends who I have laughed with, cried with, goofed off with, worked hard with. Far too many to name, but always at the front of my mind as I think about the people who molded and shaped me. Bands of brothers and sisters, we have been.
- My parents and my family, who always steered me towards God. Even during the darkest times, they not only saw the best in me, but the best possibilities of God working through me. Who supported me even when they thought I was out of my mind.
The list could go on and on, but this is the point: If you’re in ministry, it’s often too easy to focus on the negatives of our past. It’s too easy to focus on obstacles. It’s too easy to remember difficult seasons. It’s too easy to look back and think, “Wow! I survived that!” It’s too easy to want to forget.
And while there may be some truth and necessity in acknowledging and learning from difficult times, remembering the past merely through the lenses of “who let me down” or “that season hurt” will often make us forget to appreciate those who helped mold us and shape us into who we have become.
If we don’t stop and appreciate the good things, we risk moving forward with a noble agenda polluted by hard feelings, bitterness, spite, and pain. If we don’t acknowledge those who have taught us, counseled us, or partnered with us – even if only for a season or two – we risk living under the illusion that our success is our own and ours alone.
So take a moment. Think of those who have impacted you and your walk with God and your ministry. Write it down if you have to. Then call them. Thank them. Re-connect with them, if possible.
Then, with a strong appreciation for the people and ministries that have shaped you, plow ahead and embrace the new opportunities and relationships that are yet to be discovered.
Then, maybe, one day someone will remember the impact you had on them.
We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.
– The Apostle Paul (2 Thesselonians 2:13-15 ESV)