Jump Start # 2659
2 Timothy 4:5 “But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
It happened exactly forty years ago today. It was a Sunday morning. A young twenty-three year old stood behind a pulpit before a crowd of sixty-three people and preached “Compliment but Crucify.” And, in this small southern Illinois community, began a journey of preaching that continues today. That young guy was me. I had been preaching just about every Sunday for two years. It was different places each week. Now I was beginning the journey of being a full-time preacher. Just five years past being baptized I was now embarking on preaching full-time. It was a new career and a journey that I did not know where it would take me. Forty years ago. Forty years ago TODAY.
Since that time, I’ve gotten married, preached in the Indianapolis area for fifteen years. Then I moved to Kansas City for ten years. I’ve been back in southern Indiana, very near some of the places where I once first started preaching, for more than a dozen years.
When I first started, my office was a small, small room where folks changed clothes before they were baptized. I got some cinder blocks and boards to be my bookshelves. Forty years later, my office takes up two rooms, eight file cabinets, and hundreds of notebooks and file folders.
Forty years of preaching and here are some thoughts:
First, preaching remains work. It still takes time to write articles, develop a sermon and present things the way that I want. I don’t believe in short cuts. I don’t believe in just doing things to get by. Every article, every class, every sermon, and now, every podcast, every video—must be the best I can do. Hit a homerun every time, is my thinking. Sometimes one doesn’t. Some times you hit foul balls, grounders and you might even strike out. But you try. You try your best. It’s easy these days to be a lazy preacher. Get on the internet, borrow someone else’s sermon and spend the week goofing off. Not me. I’m not wired that way. God gave His best and I have to do my best. Always. And, when I can’t then it will be time to stop.
Second, people are a fascinating study. There have been so many faces that have crossed paths in forty years. Some were just a flash across the sky, like a comet. Gone as soon as they came. But others have touched my life for the better and I hope that I have made a difference for them. I know just about exactly how many sermons I’ve preached in those forty years. There has been so many funerals and weddings that I conducted. I can’t remember how many times I’ve sat with families in surgery waiting rooms. I visited prisons and even preached overseas for a few weeks. I’ve been in lectureships, Gospel Meetings, special VBS for young people, marriage seminars, on radio and on TV. And, through all of that are people. There have been people who have disappointed me. I’ve prayed and prayed for some and they just didn’t want the Lord. I never counted how many I baptized, but there’s been a bunch. Some in swimming pools at camp and some late at night at the church building. I’ve seen young men catch on fire for the Lord and some are preaching God’s word today. I’ve seen men appointed as shepherds of God’s people. So many names. So many people. And, I feel that I have benefited the most. I have been encouraged, supported, defended and called “friend” by so many. What a blessing to be surrounded by God’s people. They are indeed the greatest people on earth.
Third, preaching has put me in the circle with some of the finest preachers in the world today. I am amazed at my fellow preachers, both young and old. I love to be around them because we share something in common. Our journeys, though each unique, have many similarities. I gain so much from being around these high quality people. I love their families and I love the work that they are doing. There was an old country song that said, “All of my friends have been cowboys.” For me, my friends have been preachers.
Fourth, the Lord has been so good to me on this journey. Doors have opened. Opportunities to teach have happened. The Lord has blessed me, cared for me, and helped me. This has never been a journey of my own. The Lord has been involved all along. Days when I was so discouraged that I wanted to quit, the Lord touched my heart through the friends in my life. When I had to make some tough decisions about moving, the Lord opened doors and helped me.
In the past few weeks, three or four preachers have asked me about the number of young preachers who are quitting. The turnover seems to be high. Higher now than in times past. It could be that they had unrealistic expectations. It could be that they just could not endure as our passage states. It could be that their family wanted them around more. There is a cost to preaching. There is a sacrifice even to the family. I’m not sure why so many young preachers are quitting. This is concerning. Possibly we need to shepherd these young men more closely.
Finally, I know that the end is getting much closer than I may want to admit. There comes a time for everyone to step aside because of age and effectiveness. I won’t have another forty years of preaching in me. That’s just the way it is. I also know, from my vast study of Restoration History, that the church will carry on when my labor here is done. It is my prayer that I have helped some on the way. I hope that I have lifted weary hearts. I hope that I have taught and explained things and made the Lord come alive to some. I hope that I have made congregations stronger and better. But it’s before the Lord that I must lay my work, knowing that He has seen how hard I’ve tried and how true I have wanted to stay with him.
It all started forty years ago today! Thank you for letting me share this and walk down those wonderful lanes of memory.