Monday, July 12, 2004

You Can Never Go Back?

Ministry is hard.

It takes a tremendous amount of energy and sacrifice to pastor a small church... and it is rarely obvious whether or not the sacrifices are worth the effort. Certainly, it is a rewarding venture when viewed from a high level, but that level is difficult to achieve when you're standing in the middle of the day-to-day circumstances. I recently heard someone say about their vacation in Switzerland "I didn't get to see any scenery because of all the mountains in the way." That is a pretty good analogy to the daily pressures of ministry.

I entered the first church that I pastored with a passion... I was going to grow that thing come hell or high water. We were going to see lives changed, people healed, disciples raised up and sent into fulltime ministry. After almost 5 years passed I was tired and discouraged and I resigned, leaving fulltime ministry. I left feeling like... well, if not a failure I certainly left feeling like less that a success.

Lots of years have passed since then... with many successes and many failures under my (substantial) belt. Those early days aren't a shame, I wear them as a badge (a purple heart, perhaps), even with pride these days. I thank God for the opportunity he provided to be part of the lives of some awesome people... friends that I know, even if we haven't talked for months or years, I could call today if I were in need and they would be there for me.

But there are still times when I can truthfully ask, was it worth it? Was there lasting value?

There were two occurrences recently that touched me deeply.

I was back in that church for a wedding recently. As I sat prior to the wedding a little girl came up and sat down next to me... 7 or 8 years old. She looked up at me and laid her head on my arm. I smiled down and asked her name... she told me and asked, "You're Mr. Duke!"...

"That's right", I answered.

She asked, "Know what my mommy said?"

Now I was interested... I still didn't know who she was. "What?"

"She said you gave me to Jesus when I was a baby!"

Now I'm a sucker for little girls anyway but this really touched me... I turned to see Mitch and Beth Hawley and realized that it was their daughter that I had been privileged to dedicate to the Lord as an infant many years earlier. The little girl knew me from the signature on her dedication certificate still hanging in her bedroom.

This past weekend I was back in the church for yet another wedding. A couple came up during the reception that I recognized. John and Angie Unruh whom I had married nearly 10 years ago. They were there to introduce me to their daughter whom was 8 or 9 years old. They wanted her to meet the "man who married your Mom and I."

There are many other things about being back that were blessings. I (and others) worked hard to instill a mission focus in the church. The day I was there they were sending 13 people to the mission field for an "extreme mission" to Mexico.

To see that the work you toiled at is still producing fruit, to see people whom you loved and poured yourself into still serving and faithful and themselves producing disciples, to see young people you held in your lap now praying for others, or a young woman whom you remember when her first boyfriend broke up with her now walking down the aisle to be handed to her new husband, it is fulfilling. God bless Mike and Gail who continue to serve and lead that body.

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