Make note of the exit ramps
Suddenly contemporary life is about the exit ramps. Educators report that 7,000 American students drop out of public school every day. While marriage ages trend upward, the divorce rate in our nation still hovers around 50%. At church, the numbers are equally alarming. In our denomination, usually advertised to be the largest Protestant denomination, 8,000,000 of our 17,000,000 church members are missing every single Sunday. Civic organizations, health spas, charities, school groups, alumni associations, childrens sports, and even sleazy underground web sites like Ashley Madison report lower percentages of participants as compared to people with access. Psychology Today magazine, exploring the dropout rate at Ivy League colleges a couple of years ago, wondered if we had become a nation of quitters.
Perhaps all the statistics and research indicate a cultural trend that crosses into every life discipline. My concern, however, is more about the back doors of local churches and the escape hatches of those called to serve them. Several indicators keep this topic in the text of my next life chapter, exhibited in the title of this web site: finishperiod.com.
1. Seventeen hundred (1,700) pastors leaving the minstry every month.
2. The number of missing church members every Sunday.
3. Declining participation in Bible study and disciple making processes.
4. The growing exodus of the youngest generational cohorts.
5. Advancing secularism and an anti-Christian mindset.
Some of the cultural shifts became real to me as I prepared for retirement. Since leaving the business world to enter ministry 36 years ago my next chapter was already being scripted. From day one the plan has been to use whatever was in my personal skill set and learnings to encourage and assist pastors worn by the rigors of ministry. Over the years the scope of that passion grew to include believers struggling with the Christian life.
When retirement came into focus people started encouraging me to finish strong or finish well. Their kind thoughts were appreciated. But, as I reflected on the details of the next chapter, life truth interrupted all the back-slapping sentiment. One was a poster I saw on eBay. The text read, "Quitters never finish last. They never finish period." That very day I realized that finishing strong or well were the old paradigms. The new twenty-first century shift is to finish period, to go the distance, to live by his provision all the way to the finish line.
There was also a television spot. Once again, it was power truth with a finish period exclamation point. It was shown by www.values.com and it just about knocked me down. The one-minute clip shows an older, chubby guy like me finishing a race after all the other runners had left and the city workers were cleaning up. He was slow and labored, barely moving. The city workers hoisted the finish line banner back up and he crossed it, fell to his knees and looked up. Rather than me doing a lame job describing it, you can see it right here. Again, finishing strong or well seemed a little off-point. The message again was to finish period. Like the man in the video clip, there may be bloody knees, shortness of breath, and a totally worn body when we get there. But, finishing period is the deal.
Jesus finished (see John 19:30). Paul finished (2 Timothy 4:7). He also advised the Corinthians to finsh what they had started so that their good intentions in begining could be matched by their completion of it (2 Corinthians 8:11). In the broadest sense the Christian life isn't just about the starting line, the miraculous call of Christ to this new life. The prize awaits those who overcome the temptation of the exit ramps and run the race to the finish. It is true for those called to him regardless of the specifics of that call.
Who of us doesn't know the parable of the talents. Matthew and Luke both captured this on point teaching of Jesus. You can read it again at Matthew 25:14-30 or Luke 19:12-28. What a powerful ending, when the Master returns and says to the servant who best used his talents, "Well done, good and faithful servant". The Master waits at the finish line to give us a crown that doesn't spoil, promised to those who finish period.
How can we reverse this trend lines is all of life's endeavors? Only God knows the way to re-align an entire cultural movement. Just the same, he has entrusted his people and his church with the spiritual vision and strength to lengthen the tenure of those called by his grace. This little site, www.finishperiod.com is just one old guy with a heart for those tempted to take the exit ramps and some learnings to encourage, equip, and embolden them.
Know someone headed toward the exit ramps of their calling? Give them this address before they take it.
For I long to see you, that I may impart some spiritual gift to strengthen you---that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine.
Romans 1: 11-12, ESV