Hindsight and Lessons Learned after 25 years in ministry

25-years

SUSAN SHEPHERD|GUEST

When I first joined our staff, my son was in preschool and my daughter had just started kindergarten.  I still remember looking out the window of my office to catch a glimpse of her playing on the playground with her friends, in her red Mary Jane’s and plaid uniform jumper.  Today, they are both married with children of their own and the view out my window has changed.  In part because I’m in a different office.

I’ve actually occupied seven office spaces in the past twenty-five years.  I’ve served under three senior pastors.  I’ve been through three…no, four capital campaigns.  I’ve had the privilege to enjoy somewhere around 1,300 Sundays with my church family—and we’re still on speaking terms!

Some days I wonder, “How is it possible that I am old enough to have done anything for 25 years?”  But I am…and I have…and this has been a season of reflecting.  Hindsight, while not always 20/20, is a gift since it is often only in the distance that we are able to see David’s claim of goodness and mercy following us around all the days of our lives (Psalm 23:6).  At the risk of being sentimental, here’s just a glimpse of my view…

You can’t please all the people all the time.  Seriously.  You can’t.  Everyone has an opinion.  And most of the time, opinions are equally weighted — in other words, there is not really a right or wrong.  There’s just preference.  Living in a culture that caters to preference:  chicken or beef, hot or cold, now or later, gluten-free or gluten-full leads even church people to feel entitled to their own way.  Consequently, I spent a lot of years worrying about what people would think about almost every decision that I made.  And I dreaded their inevitable disappointment.

In hindsight (and, frankly, with the benefit of wise counsel!), it is clear to me that learning to live with people’s disappointment is necessary for godliness—my own and theirs!  My godliness grows as I depend on the Holy Spirit to help me to be wise in my decision making.  The godliness of others grows as they learn to live in the context of “hope deferred” (aka not getting their way).  I am more like Christ when I remember that God alone has the prerogative to judge me.  My church siblings are transformed into the image of the Son when they are less dependent on me to meet all of their needs.

I have to remind myself of these truths even today.  My “people pleasing” genes run pretty deep…

The church is not perfect but she is strong.  I have had my share of disappointments.  In church people.  In church staff.  In church leaders.  Truth be told…in God.  Nurseries aren’t staffed.  People rehearse the failure of others.  Worship is dry.  No one comes to prayer meetings.  Someone’s heartache is dismissed.  Committees waste time.  Building plans don’t include a dishwasher…or enough bathrooms…or a nursing mother’s room…. And people leave.  Good people.  Friends.  Family.  Pastors.  Leave.  I have, often, thrown up my hands, or sunk down on my knees to weep.  It makes me so sad.  But in the midst of one such season many years ago, the Lord gave me Psalm 126: “The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad.  Restore our fortunes, O Lord…those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!”  And so it has been.  Indeed church people, church staff (me!), and church leaders fail.  I am no longer surprised.  But this I know in hindsight: He will never fail and the church always prevails.  This is not an excuse for failure…it is, however, a firm grasp on the character of God to keep His promises to His people.  No matter what.

God uses even the (perceived) failure of others for His own glory.  Yes.  This is the Romans 8:28 principle.  But it goes to the very heart of Paul’s theology because it promises that the hardship, the hurt, the disappointment that comes with ministry makes me more like Christ.  That’s verse 29, Romans 8:  “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…”  When I’ve been corrected, or refused, or dismissed, or misunderstood — very often God has used that circumstance to reveal my own sin, to help me to see my weakness, to give me the opportunity to practice humility.  In short, to become like Christ.  Which is not as easy as the 100 words in this paragraph would lead one to believe.  It is, often, excruciating.  But in hindsight, there is something glorious about seeing one’s transformation…even if it’s only in part.  Ministry as the context for growing in grace.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Hindsight.  “The understanding of a situation or event only after it has happened or developed”*.  In November, 1991, I accepted a 20-hour position in Children’s Ministry in our church.  I wanted to help little people grow up to love Jesus.  Twenty-five years later, I’m the one who has grown up.  The church has largely been the instrument of God for my sanctification.  There is always room for growth and improvement, but I am honored to have spent most of my adult life serving among kingdom-minded people who have helped to accomplish the purpose of God for my life.  And I am almost overwhelmed today with gratitude.  Surely goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life…

Promo pictureSusan is the Director of Women’s Ministries at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. Her first book, Becoming Eve, is now available along with a study guide for personal and small group use. She and her husband, Charles, have two married children and two grandsons. While Susan loves cooking, photography, reading, writing and ministry, she mostly loves being Gigi to Micah (2) and Jack (8 months)!

 

FacebooktwitterpinterestFacebooktwitterpinterest