Twenty Years in the Ministry

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Compromise Missionary Baptist Church, Erie TN. This is the church where I was saved, baptized, licensed to preach, and ordained. Photo Credit: Flossie Umphrey (mom).

After preaching the morning service at Briggs Road Baptist Church, I spent the rest of New Year’s Eve 2017 at home, fighting a cold, finishing the last paper of my first Ph.D seminar. It wasn’t until after a night’s rest and conversing with my dad about the annual New Year’s Eve service at my home church where I grew up, that Katrina pointed out that this day was a significant milestone. It was around 1:00am on New Year’s Day 1998, at the close of a New Year’s Eve service that I told my home church that God was calling me into the ministry. I was fifteen years old. At that same hour this year, I was crashing and decompressing from the mental and physical exertion of working while sick. The significance of this moment was the furthest thing from my mind. Suddenly, the weight of this important anniversary hit me like a ton of bricks and my brain began to process several realities and reflections. Here are some reflections from my twenty-year milestone.

At first, I groaned because – 20 years. It seems like forever ago, and like yesterday at the same time. I used to think only old people talked about things from twenty years ago. I spent so much time being characterized as “the young preacher” or the “preacher boy” but 20 years has a way of doing away with those youthful qualifiers. I used to hate them. Now I kind of miss them. Nevertheless, I will not say “the former days were better than these” for this is not from wisdom.

I then asked myself, “Have I made the best use of these 20 years?” God has blessed me to achieve many significant and meaningful goals and to see many victories in these early years, but as our minds often do, my mind wandered to my failures and shortcomings as a preacher and pastor. I then thought of personal aspirations that I have yet to reach, some of which are completely outside my control. These thoughts drove me to begin setting new goals and to make others matters an intentional focus of prayer.

A third reflection is a sobering one. In these twenty years, I have seen many other brothers who have begun this same journey, yet whose ministries have been cut short by moral failure and disqualification. Others have simply fallen away from the faith and walked away from ministry. Most notable is the minister who was preaching at the service twenty years ago when I surrendered to the call of ministry. A pastor, an evangelist, and an expositor, he was an early example of rigorous study and introduced me to one of my preaching heroes, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. I will never forget the day a few years ago, when he arrived at my house with a large box of preaching and Bible study books. What I thought was simply a purge from his library and a generous gift to mine, was in fact, his farewell to ministry, the faith, and his family. Few things have devastated me as much as watching his shipwreck of faith. Not many days pass when I am not frighteningly aware that my own unchecked depravity could end my ministry in ruin and shame. May God give me the grace to run well that I may avoid the tragedy that “after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified.”

My reflections end in thankfulness to God that over half of my life has been dedicated to the ministry of preaching the Word of God. I don’t say this out of Pharisaical sanctimony, but rather in praise toward God for appointing me for His service. When I realized that this milestone had passed without my attention until hours later, I was upset with myself for not anticipating it and marking its significance. I had, in fact, preached the Christmas Eve service last week in the very church where I announced my call to ministry without so much as a mention of the significance of the occasion. After some reflection, however, I thanked God that twenty years later, at the exact moment of the the commencement of my preaching ministry, I was wrung out to the point of physical and mental exhaustion from a full day of preaching, writing, and studying so that the precious memory of the past was unobserved, being buried under the labors of the present. May this milestone be an opportunity of reinvigoration from God for the miles which lay ahead. “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I’ve come.”

Happy New Year, friends.

 

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