(Now when my own father was 52, I was two. Several times over the last couple of years I have thanked God that Davis Family history did not repeat itself.)
But at 52, I have twenty-four years of full-time ministry in and can anticipate fifteen or so to come. So at that stage and season of life and work, how can I stay “fresh” in ministry? How can I make sure I’m never biding my time until retirement, preaching old sermons in slightly new clothing?
Here are a few ways I’ve attempted through the years, with varying degrees of success at this “staying fresh” business. These are more descriptive of my experience than prescriptive for yours . . . but an idea or two or five might be helpful for you as well.
1. Write Everything Down. I’m always on the lookout for new series and new sermons. I have one Microsoft Word document containing only “sermon sentences” — potential bottom lines for future messages. I have another document of Series Ideas. Everything is fair game: cultural idioms, turns of phrase, new lingo (as in Sunday’s The Selfie Wash), and, yes, the bible itself.
2. Read Novels. I don’t read many books on church leadership or theology these days. Some, but not a lot. As an unrepentant English major, novels continue to give me the best insights into how families work, how hopes are dashed, and how life gets regained. In addition, all that reading teaches me how to write and the better I write, the better I preach.
3. Control The Things You Can. Since ministry is so unpredictable, I have found it necessary to locate places in my life that I can in fact control. A number of years ago — when, honestly, I wasn’t sure if I should keep doing this or not — my primary solace came in two areas of my life over which I had thorough control: mowing & edging my yard and going to the Y. I can’t control people or responses or even church attendance, but I can tend to my yard and I can exercise.
4. Pick The Right Advisors. Often in ministry I feel like I have to make so many decisions that I long for a week in which people I trust can make them all for me . . . and all I have to do is agree with what someone else has done. Living like that for even a short time means that I need to surround myself with smart, faithful people who put team above talent and mission above promotion. I’m really glad to be in the middle of those kind of people at Good Shepherd.
5. Live Out Your Gratitude. Ministry works so much better when I as a pastor daily remember that God has delivered me from self-destruction and delivered me for his proclamation. If I am not fully grounded in the redemptive story I tell, my words and my efforts are empty. Yet when I daily connected to what Jesus has done for me — You died for me; Your resurrection power animates me; You’re delivering me from myself — then community & congregation can better sense that I live the story I’m preaching.