Reflections on Fifty Years of Ministry
[Actually, it is closer to 56 years of ministry, but 50 sounds much better—and who’s counting?] I was one of those guys who, from his mid-teens, knew what he wanted to do and be—at least in general terms. I wanted to be a preacher. I had a great mentor in my home congregation in Temple, Texas (James LeFan), who was at the Western Hills Church of Christ for 39 years. Looking back, my life in ministry took me to places and situations and positions I could never have dreamed of at age 15, or even age 30. But I never forsook my calling to ministry.
Two dimensions of my life and ministry stand out as being particularly influential. First, my formal education at Abilene Christian University (ACU) and later at Baylor University helped shape my ministry in profound ways. In particular, I recall a love of church history, planted in my mind and soul by Dr. Bill Humble in the mid-1960s in my graduate work; and it is still there. The ability to reflect on the past and let it inform and contextualize the present is a true blessing to me, even to this day. To be sure, Christian history is not deterministic, but it certainly is repetitive and “circular” in many aspects. That perspective helped me frame many of the current controversies and pressing issues of the time. And it frequently helps me chart a solution going forward.
The second major dimension of influence came more from circumstance than from the formal route. But it still involved education. In my years of full-time congregational ministry, I became overwhelmed by the amount of human suffering and struggles my congregants were having to endure. The complex, virtually unanswerable situations in which they found themselves sent me searching for additional tools to give them some relief. In the late 1970s, I, along with two other ministers in my area, decided to do some graduate leveling work in counseling and become better equipped to deal with the pastoral issues we were facing. That decision proved to be pivotal in my coming to ACU to focus on teaching pastoral ministry in 1981—another unexpected turn in my ministry career. And then came other opportunities in Christian higher education I could never have dreamed of in my early years of ministry.
I thank God for professors, mentors and church members who shaped my lifetime of ministry. Let me invite you to reflect upon men and women who have shaped your heart for ministry, and then say a prayer of gratitude for them. And you never know what the Lord still has in store for you.