"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." – Paul (2 Timothy 4:7)
When I look decades down the road, several things come to mind. If God allows, I hope to live long enough for my wife and I to meet our great grandchildren. I enjoy considering what God may do through the generations. Hope rises. Also, I think about finishing the ministry well. As I think about a future "retirement" from formal ministry, there are five things I hope are true about me at that time. If these five things are true, I will be exceedingly happy.
1. Still Loved By Christ and Still Loving Christ
I don't want to be a cold-hearted old man. I want communion with God. If I can get to the end of formal ministry still in awe of the love of God in Christ Jesus, I will be happy. I want that so badly.
2. My Wife Still Likes Me
Who wants to be in a marriage that simply guts it out for 4 or 5 decades? I know Jordan and I don't. Surviving is not enough; thriving is far better! If I am 65 or 70 staring down the barrel of 20 more years of a dreadful marriage, I will have failed. I want my last 20 years of marriage to be better than the first 30!
3. My Kids Respect Me And Hopefully Love Jesus
Powerless to save – that's what I am. But I long for my sons to become my brothers. The Holy Spirit is at work in my oldest son even now. It is a wonderful thing to see God at work in a 5-year-old. But even if my boys are never saved by Jesus, I long for a relationship with them all the days of my life. I can't help but tearing up here at Panera even as I write this. My sons are such a gift! As an old man, I will be pleased to see them as godly men who love their wives, children, church, and the world well.
4. No Hidden Moral Failure
It is one thing to come face to face with indwelling sin and have God expose it publically. That's not shameful. It is shameful to grow old with skeletons in the closet. Many men have finished well who failed miserably and publically only to experience how deep and wide the grace of God truly is! They have backup! Jesus came for sinners after all. Pastors can say like Paul, "No, I am the chief of all sinners" as we look to Christ with a thankful smile that he would make his enemy his brother! Public moral failure does not have to disqualify anyone from finishing well, but hidden moral failure sure does.
5. Still Making Disciples
I never want to abandon the Great Commission. Who are you discipling? Who is discipling you? I hope 70-year-old Jared Sparks has smile-filled answers for that.
These five criteria have become a way for me to think about finishing ministry well. Notice, there are no numbers. There is no mention of accolades or book deals.
Unfortunately, I only know one pastor who fits this bill. I have my eye on another, but to this point, only one. Brother pastor, if these things could be yours at retirement, you will have done well! You will have finished well. May it be!