The second half of ministry life
My 60th birthday is fast approaching. I’m not sure how this happened. I’m still kind of in shock. But if I’m being honest, my first real tangle with aging was well over two decades ago. I was booked as a workshop speaker at a large conference and it was my fifth year of being part of that speaking team.
Just like every year, before the conference started, the speakers gathered in a large meeting room to pray. And just like every year, the co-coordinator asked the young speakers to step into the middle of the circle and asked the older women to pray for them. And just like every other year, I stepped into the middle. It was at that moment someone whispered in my ear, I suppose to spare me the embarrassment of being physically dragged out of the centre, “Only the young ones are in the middle, Merrie.”
To add insult to injury as the years have slipped by, my body has started to betray me. My shoulder injury came as the result of not stretching before doing that 500 piece puzzle a couple of Christmases ago. Not stretching? You’ve got to be kidding me.
And then more recently, I played my first game of pickle ball and wasn’t able to get out of bed the next morning until the A535 kicked in. It was pickle ball folks, not football. Pickle ball. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with pickle ball, it’s kind of like tennis for old people.)
I distinctly remember my mother turning 50 and thinking to myself, I cannot believe how old you are! I can hardly even remember my 50th birthday at this point.
That is the thing with age – it sneaks up on you. It happens to all of us.
And for most of us, in addition to all the physical changes, we can get pretty introspective. We spend time looking back over our lives. Many of us grieve at the mistakes we’ve made and wish we had the chance to go back and do it all again. And when we’re done looking back, looking ahead often prompts us to ask sometimes painful questions. Am I still valuable? Are my best years behind me? Do I still have what it takes to make a difference? I feel like I’m being left behind; am I too old to impact this generation?
I have good news for you! In his fantastic book A Resilient Life, Gordon MacDonald says, “One must anticipate the greatest contributions God has for us to make will happen in the second half of life.” I love that! Scripture bears this out over and over again:
- Eli, as an old priest, mentored the young boy Samuel, who became one of Israel’s greatest prophets.
- Moses was in his eighties when he stood before Pharaoh and subsequently led over two million Israelites out of 430 years of captivity.
- Daniel, even into his eighth decade, held great influence in the courts of Babylon.
- Caleb is quite likely the greatest champion of the second half: “Give me the hill country,” he begged Joshua. “I am eighty-five and I’m as strong as I was when I was forty-five!”
Gordon MacDonald is not alone in his positive assessment of the second half of ministry life.
Based on his research, Pete Scazzero has found that for many, the three most fulfilling decades for those in pastoral ministry are:
- Those in their mid-sixties
- Those in their mid-seventies
- Those in their mid-fifties
MacDonald agrees. The second half of life, he says, can be the most productive, most fruitful time of ministry.
It’s such hope-filled news for those of us asking those difficult “Do I still have what it takes?” questions.
But there is a bit of a caveat. While those of us smack in the middle of the second half of life really want to finish well, this “finishing well” doesn’t happen by accident. You choose to finish well.
J. Robert Clinton is his book Focused Lives states that only 30 per cent of Biblical leaders finished well and that the same can be said about the contemporary situation. Clinton also outlines several characteristics that are critical to finishing well. A few are as follows:
- They maintain a personal vibrant relationship with God.
- They maintain a learning posture and learn from various kinds of sources – life especially.
- They evidence Christlikeness in character as evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit in their lives.
- Truth is lived out in their lives so that convictions and promises of God are seen to be real.
He also suggests that over the course of your life you need 10 to 15 significant mentors who will hold you accountable and ask you the hard questions. They will be the ones who will hug you when you’re sad and slap you when you’re stupid.
To this I would add another that maybe doesn’t sound quite as spiritual but will make a huge difference in the second half of your ministry. Take care of yourself. Self-care is essential if you want to finish well. If you’re not sure how to actually do that, why don’t you start by visiting as at KerithRetreats.ca.
For those of you that maybe want to dig a little deeper into this topic, we encourage you to take took into Crest Leadership: Become a Better Leader for the Rest of Your Life. Learn about them at CrestLeadership.ca.
So whether you’re sailing through this season of life or struggling trying to find your way, listen to God’s heart for you as described in Psalm 92:12-14:
“But the godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house. They flourish in the courts of our God. Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green.”
Merrie Eizenga is one of the program directors at the Alberta Kerith Retreats location with her husband, Marshall. For more information about our retreats, visit KerithRetreats.ca.