Ever watch an old man, strong in his faith, walk to the end of life, with his head held high sensing a “Well-done, good and faithful servant” just around the corner? I have. Or how about the old man who looks back on life only to regret how it all turned out and how poorly he finished? I have seen that as well.
The first three kings of Israel demonstrate three different ways to finish the journey of life. Then the third one’s great-grandson serves as a composite of too many successful pastors in the 21st century.
Saul had the political party pedigree. He just had the “king” look about him. Tall, dark, handsome, good family, well educated … he had it all. Saul started strong, had a great career, and then something happened. He allowed his leadership to be derailed for a variety of reasons. Suffice it to say, he did not finish well at all. He bombed and ended up committing suicide .
David didn’t have the pedigree. He was the youngest of a bucket load of brothers. He had the ruddy good looks but still people couldn’t quite see “king” material in him. He was just a kid. But when he started, David started strong and he ended strong. Had a few bumps along the way but he went sprinting across the finish line of life and faith in a blaze of glory.
Solomon was born into it. After all the battles and uprisings from brother Absalom and Absalom’s cronies, Solomon took his place in history, the first to inherit the kingdom. Solomon’s was an interesting story from start to finish. Like both his predecessors, he had a great start. And he had wisdom. He had riches. He had it all. However, although he did finish, some would classify his finish as crawling across the finish line of faith at the end of life, barely making it.
In my experience interacting with pastors, I have not found many of them who fail completely and fall out of the race. There is a strong work ethic and commitment with the pastors I know. I admire them greatly. They are nowhere near total failure. So for purposes of this article we will not address “Saul” pastors.
However, I would like for us to take time to consider how more of us can become “David” pastors, hitting the finish line strong. We go to the starting line with a glint in our eye and by the end we are holding our head high, knowing we have run the race and kept the faith. God smiles on “David” pastors as they enter heaven’s gates.
Unfortunately, more often than not, I watch pastors at the end of their ministry careers just kind of plod to the end. They had high hopes in the beginning and much of their launch into ministry showed every promise of success. However, somewhere along the line, life happened, ministry happened, stuff happened. The wisdom they demonstrated in their 20s, 30s and 40s was Solomon-like and it should have flourished into their 50s, 60s and beyond. But something happened.
Stuff started to preoccupy Solomon. Lots of money and lots of women. He already had the power so the big three factors that topple more humans than any others became ingrained in Solomon’s DNA. While most pastors don’t fall prey to the ultimate failure morally or ethically in these three areas, their effectiveness in ministry can be diluted with preoccupation on these and other things. Their laser-focused entrance to the life of ministry dissipates by the end and they finish the course stumbling across the line of faith, weary, exhausted and sometimes disillusioned.
Along this line I think it is worthwhile to observe another in the genealogy of David to Jesus—King Asa, great-grandson of Solomon. I had a 30-something pastor friend recently ask me (a 50-something) what was up with so many successful pastors failing morally. Although he was not naive, it did genuinely bother him that so many with so much promise seemed to be failing miserably in the work of faith and ministry.
I noted to him a clear illustration in the Old Testament in the life of King Asa. If you track this guy, you will note that in the early days of his reign—in his 20s and 30s—he was constantly going to God asking for guidance and counsel. Even the simple things kept Asa in tune with what God wanted for his life. He sought God’s counsel on everything!
Then a problem developed. Asa got good at being king. In other words, he developed competencies that lessened his perceived dependence on God. As you read further in Asa’s life, you see him going to medical doctors and others when needs arose rather than going to God first or at all. It is almost as if he forgot where the true source of strength, wisdom and power came from.
Pastors who move out of their 40s and into their 50s and 60s have generally gotten good at pastoring. They’ve been doing the drill for 20 years, 30 years and more. When dependence on the Lord diminishes, the door opens for the pride born of competency to step in. The enemy of dependence on God is competence in self.
You can finish strong. I implore every pastor reading this article to stop at whatever age you are and examine your dependence on God. Few finish as Saul did. Many finish as did Solomon. Too many finish as Asa. As your friend in ministry I challenge you to finish as did King David. You know of his imperfections and failures along the way, just like you know of your own. You also watched him finish with power and grace.
You can do the same by adhering to the following, eight steps to finishing well.
- Resist pride – Don’t believe your press clippings.
- Embrace humility.
- Acknowledge 100% dependency on God for everything.
- Develop competence and dependence in tandem.
- Pursue holiness.
- Submit to God’s authority.
- Crave the things of the Spirit.
- Pray some more.
I look forward to having to scramble to find “Saul, Solomon and Asa” pastors at the end of the journey. I will celebrate with you, along with all the other “David” pastors, the “Well done, good and faithful servant” you’ll receive at the end of your marathon of life and ministry. As for me, I purpose to see you there! Finish strong!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dick Hardy is the Founder and President of The Hardy Group, a Pastoral Leadership Consulting firm for lead pastors. The Hardy Group believes that church does not always have to be what it has always been and that pastors can lead at entirely new levels. Dick’s tag line is, “Everything But Preaching.” He notes that pastors love to preach. It’s all the other stuff that eats their lunch.
Dick has served as an Administrative Pastor, Chief Operating Officer, Non-Profit Executive Director and College Vice-President. He consults personally with pastors who are tired of the status quo and want to see substantive change and growth in the ministries they serve.