Patty and I are at the Shepherds 360 conference at Colonial Baptist Church in Cary, NC (right next to Raleigh) There are hundreds of pastors, missionaries and church ministries here. This is the first conference that Patty and I have attended where we knew no one going in. It’s strange to be a stranger, but everyone here has been welcoming and encouraging.
I’m not the best one on one, especially when I am meeting people for the first time. I am struggling with stepping out and pulling someone to our table. I hate it when those guys in the mall try to put hand cream in your palm. Do I look like the kind of man who uses hand cream? So I am trying to overcome my own reticence to being approached by or approaching strangers.
Somehow though my gift is public speaking. I understand that most folks freeze at the thought of speaking to a crowd. I’m strange that way. If twenty minutes from now I am approached and asked to speak to this crowd of over 400 pastors, I’d jump at the chance. Even if I was asked to speak on a particular subject that I wasn’t prepared for. I love that danger.
When that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach hits, that’s when the Holy Spirit steps in and takes over, giving me words, bringing out scriptures I didn’t know I had memorized, filling me with His power to speak the Word of God with unction. A good friend of mine once told me he preaches to make a living- the pastoral care aspect of ministry is what he loves, preaching is something he is expected to do. But I live to preach, he said. I think he’s right. I preach even when I’m not in the pulpit.
Ask me what I’ve done for a living? I’ll gladly tell you all about my various careers and experiences, my brushes with fame, my past fistfights, what it’s like to wear riot gear, do a stakeout, write a book. And I’ll preach every second of it.
Ask me about Military Evangelism? I’ll preach all the wonderful things we do to reach our troops. Ask me to preach? Dude, I’m stoked!
I was telling another missionary yesterday that I am over the “bigger is better” attitude. I don’t care if I ever become the most successful, fastest growing, best selling anything. I just want to preach. I want to speak the Word of God and let Him worry about the results, and He never does.
Patty and I are in White Marsh, MD this week for the Missions Conference of our home church, New Life Baptist. New Life sent us out 15 years ago to plant a church, and they are sending us now to the Military. Its been great week so far, catching up with old friends we haven’t seen in years, meeting other missionaries, and having the mornings and afternoons free to relax and rest.
It feels good, and it feels strange. Nearly twenty years ago Patty and I visited New Life for the first time. We were so young, our boys were just toddlers. Twenty years later so much has changed. Yet when old friend see us, its like the years between never happened. Many have asked us this week why we didn’t bring our boys with us. I had to pull out my phone, show them pictures of two young bearded men, and explain that my sons are grown men with jobs and lives of their own. That’s why they aren’t on my prayer cards. Patty and I are the older Missionaries, without ever having been the younger Missionaries.
The young Missionary couples we are meeting this week make us nostalgic. I told one that watching him preach reminded me that once I stood in that same pulpit young, vulnerable, and with a full head of black, not silver hair. Tonight I preach, the old man of the group. There was a time when that would have been an enormous pressure, a cause for a case of nerves. Not anymore. I’ve been doing this too long. This is my home church, my friends, my pastor.
There is still the great responsibility of preaching the Gospel. Thankfully that pressure never goes away. It keeps me tight, a bit edgy, and focused. I like that. But any feelings of “maybe I’ll bomb” are long gone. I know my God is greater than I am. I know He will use my feeble attempts to preach to His Glory. And I know my friends will forgive any failures.
I love being the older Missionary. I started in the Ministry when I was 30. In 11 days I turn 50. There is an ease that comes to a man as he ages. I’ve made it through much. Experienced the Power of God firsthand. When I started out in the Ministry I sought out mentors. Older men in the ministry who were not bitter. I didn’t always take their advise, but I tried to always listen. More often than not they were right. Now I am one of those old men in the ministry. Years behind me, ready to be there for the next generation. I pray I can help them make fewer mistakes than I did.