Being eighty-three years old and in the ministry for over sixty years, I often wonder if I would do things differently if I were able to start over. I know I made a lot of mistakes in the years I served. In fact, if the truth were really made known, I did some stupid things. I’m not inclined to mention those here!
But, if I could start over, I would do many things differently. I could name many, but because of space, I will limit my thoughts to five things I would do differently.
First, I would put more emphasis on building relationships. Organization is very necessary. Administration is a must, but relationships are a top priority. You simply cannot be a great minister or leader in God’s work without good relationships. One has to fulfill the second great commandment of Jesus, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 23:10, NIV)
Of course, I cared about people, but I would often put other things first. I wanted to make sure all the organizational slots were full. I made sure the records were kept correctly. I developed processes for various administrative functions and got upset if staff and volunteers didn’t follow those procedures correctly. All these things were important, but good relationships with people were more important. I just had my priorities out of order.
In the second place, I would spend more time studying God’s Word and praying if I could start over. I did read my Bible in preparation for teaching or speaking. I prayed for people to get well. I prayed for worship services. But I really had no planned and scheduled time with God. Thankfully, that has been corrected in recent years.
Another problem that I had with prayer is that I would plan events or activities and then ask God to bless those plans. Instead, I should have been seeking God’s will first and then plan how to lead the church to be on God’s agenda. I probably was not the leader God wanted me to be at that time.
Related to prayer, I would try to get churches to spend more time in corporate prayer. Yes, we had a “prayer meeting” on Wednesday evening, but we devoted very little time to prayer. If I could do it over, we would spend most of the time in prayer, not just for sick people but lost people, our nation, and other critical matters the church faced.
The third thing I would do differently is to spend more time with my family. In most of the churches I served, not only were Sunday and Wednesday evenings involved, but many other weeknights required meetings. In denomination life, many hours were spent in travel and meetings with many late nights returning home.
When our children were little, I did try to do things with them including coaching ball teams, attending games and other school events. But I recognize that I neglected my time with family. This would be a major change in my lifestyle if I could start over.
Closely related to the third change I would make is the fourth thing I would do differently. I would resolve to spend more time in recreation and relaxing. I did spend some time golfing, fishing, and hunting. However, I was never consistent with these activities. For many years we did not take a family vacation. When we did get away on vacation, I found that it took about a week before I could really relax, and then it was time to go home. If memory serves me correctly, I can only remember one or two times that we took two weeks for vacation.
The fifth and last change I would make involves my involvement in the local community. I would spend more time with local leaders of the community, school leaders, and other civic leaders. I would try to understand the community more, to get a sense of the culture of the community, and to learn how the church could better serve the community.
As stated previously, this is not an inclusive list of things I would do differently. These are things I have learned through the years that are very important. I do recognize that I cannot start over, but I can practice these items even in my old age. I only ask God to give me strength and wisdom to know-how.