By Bruce Finn
Perhaps you have heard, I’m retiring... again.
Three years ago, I let go of my fulltime ministry in church planting to begin what I thought would be a slower, less stressful, and more relaxed season of life. But two years ago, that season was disrupted by unexpected changes at Covenant and the need to serve in a transitional role. Now that transition is nearly complete, and I feel released to move on to whatever God has next for me at Covenant. Ministers never really retire. We’re repurposed to serve differently than we have during our younger and more vigorous years.
At the risk of being self-serving, I’ve decided to make this, my last official blog post at Covenant, a reflection on some of the lessons I’ve learned through a lifetime in ministry, hoping that the list benefits you even as it helps me clarify important principles God has engraved on my heart.
First and foremost, I have learned that the calling of God is supreme in my life. Ministry is hard, just as life is hard, and there is great value in knowing that I am where God wants me to be and doing what God wants me to do. I think of the prophet Isaiah who, after seeing a vision of God’s breathtaking holiness, responded in humble surrender, saying, “Here I am. Send me.” Isaiah 6:8. To be honest, I didn’t want to step into the pastoral transition we faced two years ago. I said “no” twice. But before I could say it a third time, the Holy Spirit quietly, but most definitely persuaded me that He wanted me to say “yes”. After that, I never questioned God’s calling and I’ve served with great assurance. I’ve learned that a clear sense of God’s calling is indispensable.
As the oldest son of a single mom, I learned to be self-reliant early and often. This quality has its benefits. But, in ministry it can set you up for a rude awakening. “Apart of Him I can do nothing.” Mine came when I was planting a new church. The ministry hit a wall. Things were not going well. I was being criticized by those who I thought were on my side. I fell into a depression, the deepest season of sadness I had known since I was a child. I felt abandoned and alone. But Jesus met me down there and I sensed that he was asking me a question: “Am I enough for you?” In other words, “Do you need ministry success, numbers, dollars, and public recognition? Or, are you satisfied to know me, that I love you and you are mine?” That was an awakening moment for me, almost a second conversion. I learned a little about what Jesus meant when He said to the Apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I call that season, “the worst, best time of my life,” because the lesson I learned was painful, but precious.
One principle I was taught very early in my training for ministry was the significance of generational change in leadership. In other words, my job wasn’t just to do ministry, but to equip others to do ministry alongside me and, ultimately, to turn that ministry over to the next wave of leadership. A theme verse for my life has been 2 Timothy 2:2, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” I believe that the greatest things I have accomplished in ministry are not the things I have done directly, rather, they are the things done by those I have equipped and trained. Knowing that gives me great joy. I am not a person from whom you will need to pry the reins of power from my cold and lifeless fingers. I am glad to give up my seat around the table, especially when I think I might have contributed to the advancement of a next-generation leader.
Another struggle I brought with me into my life in ministry was selfish ambition. To have ambition is good, as it motivates you to work hard, take risks and strive forward. But when ambition is dominated by selfish interests you can do good things but for the wrong reasons. And when you don’t get the results you want as fast as you want them, it leads to profound discontentment. I know this from personal experience, especially in the early years of my ministry. But the Lord has used all kinds of difficulties, hardships, setbacks, and the experience of “failure” to teach me how to be satisfied with what and who God has given me. These days I have greater delight in my wife, children, grandchildren, and lifelong friends than anything I have accomplished in ministry. And I am content to know that God has used me to advance His purposes in the world in ways that are seen and unseen. As Paul says, in Philippians 4:1, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Contentment is a sweet and priceless gift from God, and I’m pleased that I experience more of it in these later years of my ministry.
Last, but not least, I must acknowledge the great value of a supportive wife. Proverbs 31:10 says, “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.” Who can find? I have! Throughout the 42 years since my ordination, I have enjoyed the constant, unequivocal, and unconditional love of my wife Debbie. During the rollercoaster ride of my life in ministry, Debbie has been a sweet, steady, and supportive partner. Whether things have gone well or not, she has been there for me, making our home a safe space of rest, faithfully discipling our children to know, love and follow Jesus, and being present for me at times when I have needed her most. And now that we are empty nesters on the brink of a fuller retirement, it is my great pleasure to anticipate spending more time with my jewel of a wife. What a treasure!
I hope my list and these lessons have been useful to you. For the most part, they are good things learned the hard way, but worth their weight in solid gold. It has taken me a lifetime to learn them. But every minute in Jesus’ school of discipleship has been worth it.