Let's talk about the finish line
Finish. Period. Going the Distance in Ministry is not an academic book. That's not to say there's no potential for learning in it's 175 pages or that I ignored the many writer's resources that make a book readable. Rather, my intent from the outset was totally practical. I simply wanted to encourage pastors, spiritual leaders, and believers as they wrestle with the challenges of their kingdom assignments in these spiritually uncertain times. For the most part, it is a collection of experiences and observations from thirty-five years of pastoral ministry. Though I'm certainly no Bible scholar I tried to be faithful in applying the truth of Scripture to the practice of ministry, especially pastoral ministry,
Being an image driven person the finish line was central to the thought process throughout. The artists on the editorial staff provided dozens of renderings from which I could choose a book cover. More than a design function, though, their drawings were the catalysts that helped me formulate the themes carried throughout the book. The one I chose, depicted on the cover pictured above, was actually selected before I had outlined the chapters. Choosing it was very deliberate. It pictures a younger man, in a suit, breaking a ribbon symbolic of a finish line. This choice clarified the strategic target I intended as readers: young leaders serving in basically traditional churches.
This picture doesn't illustrate winning the race, finishing first, or being the champion of anything. There aren't any other runners in the picture because the race so evident in Scripture isn't against other people. So, there are no winners or losers here. The picture is about crossing the finish line. It was a rendering that encouraged me greatly as I anticipated my retirement from pastoral ministry. In those months it reminded me of several important truths that are so often over-looked by our performance oriented culture. They are the broad sweep of Finish. Period. Going the Distance in Ministry---
1. The pace and challenges of ministry often obscure the finish line from view.
2. Sadly, we seldom discuss the finish line and what Jesus has promised to those
who reach it.
3. God promises to finish what He began in those He called.
4. Jesus modeled the steps and endurance to finish God's redemptive plan.
5. There is great joy promised to those who finish.
There's more, of course. If I reduced the entire book to those five things you'd have no occasion to pick up a copy. But, those are the basic topics, simple things that are so often forgotten.
Then there's the title. After I announced my retirement date, with still six months of ministry remaining, people started giving me the popular cliches about finishing. They would say, with good intent and in a blessed spirit, "Finish strong", or "Finish well". That's when I started reading some of the statistics about the number of pastors who leave the ministry every month. The first numbers I read were staggering. Later it was discovered that they were outdated. But, the new numbers were just as alarming. With those numbers so vivid in my thoughts, and with so many friends who were leaving ministry, the cliches didn't work. "Finish strong?" Not quite. The new words were "Finish. Period".
There was a visual too. One late night I was watching TV and a commercial caught my attention, a clip from values.com, the Foundation for a Better life. It pictured city employees cleaning up after a city wide run. They were sweeping, gathering garbage, and removing the finish line sign strung over the street. About that time an older, out of shape man came around the corner. He was wearing old shoes, sweating profusely, had bloody knees, and was laboring toward the finish. So, the city workers raised the sign back to it's place over the street and cheered him across the finish line. When he crossed he fell to his knees and looked back at the sign. It was very inspiring. You can watch it by clicking right here.
It confirmed the next chapter of ministry for me: to encourage as many as I can across the finish line, to Finish. Period.
Paul wrote it well---
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord,
the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also
to all who have loved his appearing.
2 Timothy 4:7-8, ESV
The finish line. The crown of righteousness. The Lord will reward to me on that day. Let's start talking about that more.