Archives / 1998 / June


Letter to a son

David Bell


Dear Mark: I guess I've always known you would enter the ministry. It seemed to be something you were naturally drawn toward. I tried hard not to influence you in taking this kind of step because you needed to know that it was something the Lord was calling you to, not something your father wanted.

Just after you were born, as Mom and I brought you home from the hospital, we stopped beside the road and "gave" you to the Lord and asked Him to lead in your life. I believe He has done that. But, let me add, I would have been just as happy if He had led you down a different path.

As you take this step from seminary to parish, you've been on my mind. It's early Sabbath morning and I thought I would share some of those thoughts. Maybe they will be helpful.

It's important to remember that God has led you to decide for ministry—it's important to remember the call. Few of us have a dramatic Damascus Road calling, but those who are called know they are. There will be times in your ministry when you will wonder if it is worthwhile continuing, when you will doubt if God has really led you. That's when you will need to remember there was a time when God claimed you as His man.

One of the temptations that will befall you is to attempt to be like someone you admire in ministry. Don't! Be the person you are. Sure, learn from others (never stop learning). Try things others are trying.

Listen to words of wisdom from those who have been down the road a little farther— and pray for the gift of discerning what is wisdom. Allow God to change you as He sees fit. But don't try to be someone else, for that not only denies your individuality (and how long can anyone work in someone else's armor?) but in a sense it denies the fact that God called you to ministry.

You are the outsider coming into your congregation's church. Give the people time to get to know you. Encourage them to talk about their church and its history. While you will have your agenda as you go into your first parish, take time to learn from the people their dreams for their church. Try to be excited by their dreams and help them fulfill them. That's an important part of ministry. Only as you begin to know your parishioners can you begin to minister to them.

You have been called to perform a spiritual role. If I could start again, I would spend more time in prayer and Bible/ devotional reading—in connecting with the Source of spiritual power. I've known the fear of pastoring churches where a substantial number of parishioners were professionals, some of them academics. That's where I learned that while I was also considered a professional, my role was not to compete with them in learning or skill, but to provide spiritual leadership. And that's true of any church you will pastor.

Understand that you are an Adventist pastor. That means that your church will expect you to endorse and support publicly and privately certain doctrines and lifestyle practices. While you won't be expected to know the 27 fundamental beliefs by memory, and while you may wish that some had been worded differently or with a different emphasis, there is an expectation that you support them.

Preach the Word! Your congregation can get good pop psychology or sociology or a good yarn anywhere at the flick of a switch or by browsing a magazine. On Sabbath mornings they're thirsting for something different—the Word of God. It's OK to use those other things to illustrate the Word (and what wouldn't we preachers give for the right illustration) to help bring the message into contemporary understanding. But these should only illustrate the Word, not replace it.

To fulfill your responsibilities, you will work long hours. But don't be a clock watcher. Remember that you will be asking many people to volunteer their time after their 38 or 40 hours of work a week. You must be willing to do the same. But don't try to do everything yourself. In fact, one of your roles is to encourage others to minister. Help the church members fulfill their potential and spiritual gifts.

The demands of ministry can be wearing. That's why it's important to maintain a balance in your life or you will quickly burn out. You need time for relaxation, for exercise, for you and Joanne. Some of those things you can make a part of your ministry (Tuesday night basketball with the church team could be part of your exercise program, for instance).

Love Joanne and show it privately and publicly. There will be demands on both of you that will put pressure on your relationship. You will need special time together—put it in your diary. Remember that she is your first priority (and when children come, they also come before the church). Some will consider your home open to them at any time, and tragedies and others' needs will not keep to convenient times. That's added pressure. And remember, even as Joanne develops in her own profession, she's automatically involved in ministry in your church, and that puts more pressure on her.

Show love privately? Joanne needs to know that she is special to you as your life becomes busy helping other people. Publicly? Teenagers (particularly from broken homes) need to see that there can be a positive relationship between a man and a woman. Whether you like it or not, you both will model lifestyle to others. Besides this, your congregation needs to know you are in love and there is no way they can use one of you against the other, if they ever wanted to.

Don't be afraid to experiment—or to fail. While I believe the highest calling a person can have within the Adventist Church is to serve as a church pastor, there are so many different approaches to ministry you can become involved in. Try evangelism. Try working with youth. Try working with the aged. Try revamping Sabbath School.

Then, a few years down the track, work to become an expert in something. It may be a book of the Bible, it may be counselling, or youth ministry, or even church finances (or writing those books you tell me you want to write). Pastoral ministry offers such a broad scope of work and you will soon become a Jack-of-all-trades, but for your own personal fulfillment, I believe you will need to develop a specialization related to ministry.

Ministry is the most exciting of callings. You see close up God at work in people's lives. You are an instrument of His. And, because you are the pastor, people will come to you for help. What a challenge! Ministry can also be the most frustrating of callings when you see people turn away from God, or when nothing seems to be happening. You will discover those challenges soon enough.

What began as a brief letter has grown into an epistle to Mark (I'll add chapters and verses later). I hope you enjoy your ministry as much as I have and do. Mom and I will continue to pray for you and Joanne as you enter this new phase of your life.

With love, Dad

P. S. Check out 2 Timothy!


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