1. Don’t neglect your daily devotional time with the Lord. The preaching ministry is the easiest place in the world to grow cold spiritually! The reason is that we are always studying to see what God says to someone else! We must be in a vital and growing with God who alone can keep our hearts passionate about our ministry. If you do not maintain this personal relationship with God, you will not make it to the end. You will face the fearful challenges that both praise and criticism provide for you. Both are dangerous as we will always face the praise of those who love us and the criticism of those not so inclined to do that. There will be enough crises in your life that you cannot navigate the waters of ministry without a strong relationship with the Lord. Don’t get used to your ministry. Stay in awe that God would present such a ministry to you and empower you to do it. It is the highest privilege of all to live and serve out of your relationship with the Lord.
2. Keep your sermons fresh. By the time you reach many years of ministry, you will have many sermons you have preached before and be tempted to preach them again. There is nothing wrong with preaching a message again, but not every time! God will give you some messages that become like a life message for you. They will provide a focus on what God is saying through you each week. My counsel is to start from scratch to study the passage fresh and don’t refer back to your old sermon notes. You will be surprised how fresh and new the message will be to you. I recently preached through the book of Ephesians during an interim pastorate, and just went back to study each passage with a new look at the context, culture in which it was written and a study of the words in the passages. New truth emerged every week and I found things I would have missed if I just redid an old sermon.
3. Keep building relationships. By now you have strong relationships in your life, but the keyword for ministry that ends well is to always work on building new relationships and strengthening long-held relationships. You need the strength that such relationships provide you along the way. They are also the key to making wise decisions as you near retirement.
4. You are a steward of your influence. Make time to mentor younger ministers. Don’t dare come to retirement without having poured yourself into the lives of those who will follow behind you! Paul had his Timothy and Titus. Jesus poured Himself into twelve disciples/apostles. None of us should fail to bring on those who follow us. I am 84 years old and just today made an appointment to spend time with a second-year seminary student. Earlier last week a young pastor who is in a new pastorate in a large city called to spend time discussing his ministry and asked me to come to preach to his congregation and spend time with him. The last two years I was at LifeWay, I met with over a thousand young ministers face to face all across the convention. Don’t come to the end without preparing others to take your place.
5. Stretch yourself. Be flexible. As we get older, we get set in our ways and tend to get inflexible. That is true physically, but it is also true spiritually. We don’t like change and don’t like that things are not what they used to be. However, we have to come to the realization that this ministry is not about us. It is about the Lord who called us to Himself. We must learn to appreciate some things we don’t like. We must realize that strategies and methods have to change, but the message never changes. Change is an opportunity for a new day to share the unsearchable riches of the Lord. Don’t be afraid to risk, to reach out to make changes that help us fulfill God’s call. Don’t change just for change’s sake, but for His sake, we must change. I believe Paul or Jesus would make use of every technological tool that has been developed to use it for God’s glory. Satan will surely use it and control its use if we don’t courageously take advantage of the opportunities that are before us.
6. Guard your integrity. Don’t fall short of your calling in these last days. Keep your eyes on the goal. We look forward to our Lord’s return and we know that His Kingdom will triumph and endure. Let us do what the Apostle Paul said, “One thing I do: forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus…Our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly wait for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of his glorious body, by the power that enables him to subject everything to himself.” (Phil. 3:23-14, 20-21)
7. Don’t quit! We never retire from the ministry. Our call is to Him. We never stop strengthening that relationship! We will have new doors open and new assignments during those closing days of our lives, but we are still in His call. Those who follow behind us have never been our age, but we have been theirs! They don’t know what is it like to be our age, but we know what it is like to be theirs. Let us rise up to pass the torch! Don’t be jealous that others are now in the limelight. We had our day and are grateful. But our day is drawing to a close. Don’t resent that, embrace it and praise God through it all.
Jimmy Draper is President Emeritus of LifeWay Christian Resources.