Throughout my 35+ years of ministry, I have been privileged to meet a few grand old men—Calebs, if you will—whose strength remained undiminished until the day of their passing. I am not talking about physical strength, for many of these men would have been past their prime physically. Spiritually, however, they were as sturdy as they had ever been.
One such Caleb was Dr. Raymond C. Buck, one-time professor of missions here at Central Seminary. He served the Lord for many years, first in Africa as a missionary and then in Cleveland (the location of the home office of his mission). It was only in his “retirement” that he taught missions here at the seminary. What a blessing and an example to us younger men he was! His was a life well-lived and a race well-run.
I think of another older pastor whom I would bring into my church in Ontario every couple of years for some kind of conference. I used to tell my men that I brought this brother in to speak to the church for what he did for me. He was another example of a servant of God who was “retired” but not really retired. Yes, he moved to Florida where the weather was better, but he and his good wife travelled quite a bit, holding meetings in churches and being a blessing to pastors. He was surely a blessing to me in my pastoral ministry.
I think also of the former pastor of Fourth Baptist Church, who may be embarrassed that I mention him here. He is a man whom I highly esteem for the race that he has run and continues to run.
The reason I want to spend time with these brothers and others like them is that they are men that have finished well. We are not making idols of such men, but they should be appreciated for the example that they set. I did not know them at the beginning of their races, but I have been privileged to observe their lives near their finish lines, and their faithful endurance encourages me. They were, and some still are, examples to me that we can run to the end of our race without stumbling or disqualifying ourselves in some significant way.
Men in ministry are only human. The same kinds of foibles and sins of the flock beset the shepherds also. At the same time, the standard for us is higher. The rules are more exact. The consequences of failure for us are more severe. Ministerial integrity is not a commodity that can be purchased or “topped up” like a car’s gas tank. It is not something that we can keep in reserve to use only in an emergency. It is something that builds over a lifetime. But if we lose it, it is very hard to recover. Every sin that we commit, even as ministers, can be forgiven by God through Christ. But there are some sins for which the human, earthly consequences are massively destructive. People, both inside and outside the church, are damaged. The minister’s family is wounded. And the loss of ministerial integrity means that the privilege of public ministry is now lost.
In recent months, I have learned of no less than four men with whom I have some acquaintance who have severely stained their ministerial integrity. Gifted, talented men all, whose personal integrity has been so badly damaged that a future place of ministry may elude them. Of course, their sin can be forgiven. Hallelujah! God forgives sin. But the consequences of those sins will continue for years. As the old country preacher once said, “Sin will take you further than you ever intended to go, it will keep you longer than you ever intended to stay, and it will cost you more than you ever expected to pay.” Even as I write this, I shudder to think of where I might be, but for the grace of God.
I want to run to the end of the race without having disqualified myself from service. I want to be able to say with Paul, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” My course—the plan of God, sovereignly appointed to me—my duty before God and from God. These older men show that it can be done, it is being done. They set an example for others to follow that it should be done.
For this reason, one of the things that I have done over the years, in an effort to run well, is to spend time with men that have run well. To be sure, I may not have as much in common with some of these old guys, but they have something I want, something I need, something to teach me, as I keep in the race for God. They show me how it is done. They show me that it can be done. They model a well-run race.
When I hear another story of a ministerial failure, my heart sinks as I think of how it happened. No doubt, it happened incrementally. No one falls into sin as though it were a pothole on the road of life, unsuspectingly placed in the middle of our road. But I turn to think of others who have run well and demonstrate by their journeys that we all do not need to end this way. For those who have passed, having run well, thanks be to God for their testimonies. For those of you still running, thank you for your example. Run and run well! We younger guys are watching! Oh, to hear from the Father, “Well done, good and faithful servant”!
This essay is by Jeff Straub, Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
With Heavenly Power, O Lord, Defend
Rowland Hill (1744–1833)
With heavenly power, O Lord, defend
Him whom we now to Thee commend;
His person bless, his soul secure,
And make him to the end endure.
Gird him with all-sufficient grace,
Direct his feet in paths of peace;
Thy truth and faithfulness fulfill,
And help him to obey Thy will.
Before him Thy protection send:
Oh love him, save him to the end:
Nor let him as Thy pilgrim rove,
Without the convoy of Thy love.
Enlarge, inflame, and fill his heart;
In him Thy mighty power exert;
That thousands yet unborn may praise
The wonders of redeeming grace.