Life is one continuous learning experience, or as my friend Marty Dupree says, “Life is a mission trip.” There’s a lot to learn in life, and there’s even more to learn in ministry.
On the first Sunday in May, 50 years ago, I publicly announced God’s call on my life to enter vocational Christian ministry. After clear confirmation of that call through a series of events, I shared with my pastor, Vernon Helms, and my church family at New Hope Baptist Church in Charlotte that I was confident in the direction God was leading me. I must preach the gospel!
They supported me and prayed for me as I journeyed through Wingate College (it was a junior college in those days, but now it is a university), Carson Newman College and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Each of those schools handed me different challenges, but God’s clear call gave me confidence to press on. Seminary years were especially powerful in the development of God’s call on my life. The experience exceeded all of my expectations.
My father and mother stood with me and sacrificially supported my education and my calling every step of the way. I could not have asked for more from my parents.
God blessed me with a wife around the time I was beginning seminary, and He blessed both of us with a son at the end of that treasured adventure. They are two of the Father’s supreme blessings on my life that continue today.
Priceless friendships were established with so many people throughout my ministry. There are not words to accurately describe the treasure trove of valuable friends the Father has placed in my path.
At this point in life we like to list the lessons has God taught us in our walk with Him. I’m not prepared to give you “50 lessons I learned in 50 years of ministry.” I would like to do that some time, but for now I will highlight a few of the lessons learned on this journey. I think I have done some things well, but there are some things I would do differently.
I would spend more time with my family. They are much too valuable to risk losing, and there is so much that God has been accomplishing in their lives. Time holds treasures that are lost with every tick of the clock, never again to be recovered. Don’t miss those moments God provides with your family. Next to my relationship with God, the call to be faithful to my wife and son is top priority.
I would spend more time in prayer. I need the spiritual power – always! Of course, prayer does not make sense apart from scripture. Through prayer the Holy Spirit gives understanding to the truth of God’s Word. This is where I have found strength, wisdom, clarity, hope, direction and purpose.
I would invest more time in disciple-making and less in committee meetings. Making disciples in one-on-one relationships is the biblical model that must be taken seriously. It’s that simple.
I would focus more on teamwork. Nothing we do in ministry is supposed to spotlight one person, other than Jesus. Lasting ministry involves everyone on the team. That one person who thinks he or she is the most important person in the church is living in deception. Everyone on the team has an essential role to live out. There are no levels of value among the people of God.
I would ignore critical people and find ways to embolden the encouragers. Criticism is a good thing when it is constructive and shared for godly edification. We need to learn from others and grow in grace. But some people live to be critical. The great deceiver has convinced them it is their calling. The criticism of others should never define us. The majority of believers are positive encouragers who tend to quietly press on. They’re not looking for a fight. They just want to serve God. I should have looked for more ways to energize those good saints.
I would give more energy to supporting missionaries. They may be church members who are trying to reach their neighborhood, church planters in North America or career missionaries who live overseas – I should have given more energy to encouraging them and spending time with them.
I would build accountable relationships with other men into my life. I believe my walk with God and the ministries where I served would be much more effective and fruitful today if the discipline of a personal accountability system was standard fare.
In addition to these things I would do differently, there is an important lesson I learned about all people. I share this observation with the hope that it will help us better understand each other and be more patient with each other.
Maybe it will help us live out Ephesians 4:2-3, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Here it is: Everyone lives in a bubble.
A bubble is a world view. My bubble is my world. It’s what I know, see and experience every day. It defines what is valuable to me. It is the place where I am comfortable.
A bubble is not a bad thing. But it is a reality that we should be honest about. I live in a bubble. You live in a bubble.
There is deacon bubble, a choir bubble and a pastor bubble. There is a youth group bubble, a college student bubble, a seminary student bubble and a senior adult bubble. Some live in a large church bubble and some in a small church bubble. There is an IMB bubble, a NAMB bubble and a LifeWay bubble. Every church, association, state convention, and university operates in a bubble.
There are some dangers with bubbles. They impose limits on the way we live. We tend to assume that everyone’s bubble is exactly like ours, that they think like us. They don’t. We may believe our bubble is superior to others’ bubbles. We’re wrong. We may assume that our world is complete inside our bubble, that we don’t need anyone else’s perspective. Wrong again.
We need each other in the body of Christ. The term ‘body’ implies many different parts – each one doing its unique assignment, with all parts working together in precise cooperation. Our bubbles can prevent us from serving together in harmony.
This lesson in bubbleology could explain many of our communication problems, cultural conflicts, church divisions, political wars and turf battles. Everyone lives in their own world, assuming it is the same world of others around them. But it’s not.
If we wonder why everyone doesn’t see the world our way, maybe we need to consider the possibility that our individual bubble is not sovereign. It may be painful when our bubble bursts. The temporary comfort of pinning the blame on a specific person or institution will likely transition to the infection of bitterness. There is no eternal value in that.
So, let’s deal with it.
We cannot allow our bubble to become a hindrance to God’s purpose and work in our life.