My previous post cited “Four Things I’d Do Differently” as I looked back over the decades of my life. Here are four things I’ve done right in life or ministry.
1. I’ve worked at being creative with gifts I’ve given my wife for birthdays, anniversaries, or for Christmas. Not every year, but often enough to avoid sameness and instill a sense of anticipation. Want examples?
*The love letter, hand-written, that began, “I thank God for you because…” Several pages followed, citing specific traits and anecdotes of her loyalty to me, or her nurture of our sons. (Hand-written letters pack more of an emotional wallop!)
*The 20 letters I requested from her friends, ministry associates, and relatives in which they told what they liked and appreciated about her. These were mailed to my work address, put in a box wrapped as a Christmas present, and put under the tree for her to open on Christmas morning.
*The 100-page hardcover book in 2010 that contained all the poems and love letters written to her since we began dating in 1970, along with 115 photos providing a storyline of our years together. I titled it, TERRY’S CROWN (based on Proverbs 12:4), and my favorite up-close photo of her engulfed the front cover. Expensive—but her reaction made the price a bargain!
If you were more original in gift-giving to your loved ones, how could it show?
2. I’ve consistently “exegeted my ministry experiences.” To exegete the biblical text is to take from it what is inherently there, to glean truths based on sound hermeneutics. “Exegeting an experience” is taking the time and mental effort to identify all possible lessons offered by a ministry event or encounter. We can do such brainstorming and analysis alone, or as part of a team, if others were involved. But due to jam-packed schedules, lots of leaders don’t maximize their learning due to the intentionality this requires.
I reflect on a retreat I planned for a church target group. What would I do differently next time? I analyze a seminar I taught for volunteer teachers, so when I lead the same topic somewhere else, it will be even better. (My own analysis is vital, even when I receive evaluative feedback from participants.) Or after I leave a particular full or part-time ministry position, I try to pinpoint lessons learned about relationships, conflict management, leadership and administration: insights that weren’t so clear to me before I launched the position.
A leader who regularly “exegetes his or her experiences” in ministry will learn more than the less reflective leader. Some staff members who stay in a position for three years learn lots more for future application than others who stay six years or more.
Squeeze every event, relationship encounter, ministry endeavor for all its worth.
3. I often told my young sons “stories from my childhood”—especially when I’d tuck them into bed. They especially enjoyed the embarrassing anecdotes. Like the time when I was nine when I ate 10 hot dogs at a baseball team campout, then puked in front of my teammates. Or the time I didn’t wear underwear to school, and the rear of my pants ripped from top to bottom, evoking squeals from girls behind me who saw more than they expected. Or the time I tossed a rock at a passing car, then received the worse spanking of my boyhood after the driver stopped to confront my dad.
But some stories were positive or somber. They heard about the three home runs I hit in a single Little League game. They heard me recite the first love poem I ever wrote, to a sixth-grade classmate around whom I was so shy that I never talked to her. And when they were older elementary, they heard from me how it felt for my mom to leave my dad for another man, and how I churned inside to see my dad crying aloud.
The stories created a closer bond with my sons, and perhaps made them feel a bit safer talking to me about what happened to them during the day.
4.I’ve practiced life-long learning for areas in which I teach, and for personal spiritual growth. This involves not only reading and attending conferences, but inviting experienced leaders or believers whose faith I admire to meals and picking their brains. I still recall the practical advice on discipline my wife and I gleaned from an older couple whom we took to Red Lobster in 1978.
My goal is to read several books every year on leadership, church ministry, Bible teaching—my primary realms of teaching on the undergraduate level. Tim Elmore’s Generation iY is a case in point. I devoured it several years ago for the sole purpose of identifying applications for my CIU courses. I radically revised my “Communicating God’s Word” course as a result. Then 63, I knew I needed help with reaching teens in my classes who were vastly different than the learners I had in the 1980s and 1990s. When it comes to teaching, a rut is a grave with the ends chopped off!
In an era when we’re deluged by new books and websites and bloggers, my selectivity is aided by asking key leaders “What (Who) are you reading? What’s the best book or blog on church ministry or personal soul-sustenance that you’ve read in the past year?” For instance, I can’t imagine being a senior pastor and not reading the posts by Thom Rainer, Eric Geiger, and Ron Edmondson. Practical doesn’t begin to describe their value.
As you reflect on your past life and ministry, identify the things you’ve done right as well as the things you’d do differently. And share those insights without younger leaders who can learn from your best as well as your worst.