Attentiveness: Twenty-Five Years
Dr. Scott W. Sunquist
Twenty-five years is a reason to celebrate a marriage or a birthday. It is also a great occasion to celebrate a length of time in the same ministry.
Ministry is becoming more difficult with the rise in depression and the appalling divisiveness in our society. A global pandemic has made it all worse.
Last week, Nancy and I were invited to celebrate twenty-five years of ministry of four InterVarsity Christian Fellowship staff. I worked for six years with InterVarsity, and I know that twenty-five years of raising money, reaching out to non-Christians on campuses, and training leaders only to have them graduate and move on: well, it can be tiring. These four staff have been faithful for twenty-five years, and they were honored with a banquet, a small gift, and stories of congratulations from across the world.
There was an amazingly consistent vocabulary from well-wishers about these folks. In fact, I would say we all had a brief lesson on Christian character and Christian leadership in one, two-hour banquet. What seemed to be the secret sauce to longevity in (student) ministry?
First, since every one of these were married, their spouses and family were mentioned again and again. Children were mentioned (some even performed as a way of honoring their parents). Most every letter of congratulations spoke of the couple as a team, or a unit. Healthy family relationships seem to be one key element in longevity in ministry.
Secondly, an element of courage or drive even when things are difficult was evident for each person. Another way of putting it is that they were not fragile, but strong and stable. It seemed like each person had experienced some very difficult challenges, and they were each honored for staying faithful and strong in these difficult times.
Thirdly, each of these silver anniversary staff members still have a strong commitment to see students come to know Christ. They each spoke about, or were honored for, their desire to see students come to faith in Jesus Christ. Again, this is quite admirable because college and university environments are less kind to evangelism than a generation or two ago. Twenty-five years of evangelism, brief discipling, and then saying good-bye can wear on you. Each one seemed to be a steadfast evangelist.
Finally, each staff member is strongly committed to global mission. I was surprised to hear that over the decades they had served in Mongolia, New Zealand, England, France, and others I have not remembered. All of them came back to serve on U.S. campuses, but when called upon to help overseas, they each uprooted their families and moved to serve. I know something about moving a family overseas, and it can be very stressful. These staff seemed to have done well. They had their families intact and were appreciated by their peers, students, and subordinates.
In fact, I believe the reason they have done so well even with overseas moves is because of the first three characteristics. We can summarize all four of the characteristics of long serving with these phrases:
- Healthy family relationships
- Love of evangelism
- Commitment to mission
Oh, there was one other characteristic that I will not forget. They all had a sense of humor and joy of life. There was a lot of laughing during that long banquet. Maybe humor should be added as an important characteristic of long-term ministers.
Scott W. Sunquist, the President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, writes a weekly blog, “Attentiveness” which is posted each Tuesday on the Gordon-Conwell web site. He welcomes comments, responses, and good ideas.