Society of Fellows
When trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary adopted a ministry to reclaim pastors who leave their church field through resignation or termination, one trustee commented: Surveys tell us of those who graduated from seminary, one-half are out of the ministry in 10 years.2 Another writer states that 23% of all pastors have at one time been pressured to leave the ministry.3 These statistics may be somewhat skewed; but they indicate a reality: many do not complete the course to which they have been called.
Marathon runners retire from a race for many reasons. Some break training. Some lose interest. Some are out of shape. Some can only run at only one altitude. Some are injured. Some interfere with others and are disqualified. Some break the rules. Some just get discouraged.4
Pastors retire from their race for many reasons. My plea is for us as men of God to stay the course, fixing our eyes firmly on and moving our feet inexorably toward the goal to which God has called us. How can we run in such a way that we may obtain the prize?
1. We Must Be Certain Of Our Calling To Run The Race. In his sermon Men Quitting Themselves Like Men, Dr. R. G. Lee quoted Gordon Conwell, a Baptist educator of an earlier generation: Whenever a church calls a preacher who does not preach to save souls, or elects a deacon who does not work to save souls, or selects a teacher who does not teach to save souls, or admits to the choir anyone who has no desire to save souls, or has any function unrelated to soul-saving, by so much does it fail to be a New Testament church having the approval of God.5
Dr. Lee urged men (and ministers) of the Gospel to embrace ten qualities of life. He called us to be Day Men -- men aware of what is happening in the present day; Say Men --men who speak of Jesus; Yea Men -- men who say Yes to Jesus; Nay Men -- men who say No when No should be said; Weigh Men -- men who weigh mightily on Gods scales; Pay Men -- men who love God with their pocketbooks as well as their hearts; Pray Men -- men who are strong in both theology and knee-ology; Sway Men -- men who have influence that will sway people; Lay Men -- men who will lay aside every weight which would beset us; and The Way Men -- men who are absolutely certain that only Jesus is The Way!6
Rather than dictate the terms of our acceptance or continuance in ministry to the Lord, we need to hear again a great missionary-pastor: For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship.7
2. We Must Not Compare Ourselves With Others. Ultimately, the marathon race is not one runner competing against another; it is each runner competing against himself. The Christian life differs from a single Olympic event in that not everyone starts the race at the same time. When we leave from our starting position, we cannot compare ourselves, either positively or negatively, with other runners. Two common mistakes: two young runners blow by a seasoned veteran. They think: That old timer just doesnt have it; we left him in our dust. The veteran thinks: Those young kids wont last.
When the church at Corinth tried to compare Paul with Peter and Apollos, Paul said, Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.8 He elaborated on this in his second letter to the Corinthian church: For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.9
3. We Must Stay Focused On The One Race We Are Running. Greener grass is a myth! If a pastor friends field looks greener than mine, he may be tending his flock more effectively than I am mine!10 If I get his field, it may soon look as sparse and bare as I think mine does now! I must not covet my neighbors field. Rather, I am called by God to roll up my sleeves; get busy; dig in where I am; bloom where God has planted me; stay the course He has set before me! An apostolic writer reminds me: Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.11
4. We Must Not Get Distracted by Allurements or Adversity, Internal Or External. The allurements and the hindrances which distract the runner are real. Over the years, many Olympic runners have struggled against severe adversity or have been disqualified. So have many mighty men of Scripture.
Job struggled to understand the calamities which befell him.11 David surrendered to the lusts which burned within him.12 Abraham attempted to solve Gods apparently forgotten promise by taking Hagar to his bed.13 Demas forsook both the Apostle Paul and the work of the Lord.14 Jeremiah cried out that God had deceived him.15 Jonah ran from Gods call.16 Peter warmed himself beside the devils fire.17 The unnamed man of God heeded the false counsel of the older prophet of God.18 Judas sold himself (and our Lord) for 30 pieces of silver.19
As we run our race, we must remember David. We must remember Demas. We must remember Jacob.20 We must remember Moses.21 But, on the other hand, and far more importantly, we must remember Jesus, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.22
5. We Must Remember That When We Feel Most Alone Is Often When We Are Being Most Effective In The Race. Christian ministry is usually hard, hot, agonizing, difficult, toilsome, and painful. It is a marathon of most intense proportions. The joy comes after the race. It is only when we look back that we can catch a glimpse of what God has chosen to accomplish through us. In the midst of the race, we often feel isolated, forgotten, and alone.
To make the 1968 U.S. Olympic marathon team, Ron Daws had to finish in the top three in the qualifying race. He wrote: The very distance [I] worked so hard to get on Matthews [the fourth place runner] makes me feel helpless and isolated from the world. No spectators to offer support, no other runner to share the pace-making or to serve as wind-shield. Only the thin asphalt trail paralleling an empty highway, the wind and the town in the distance. I run on. But I seem to be almost standing still. The breath burns in my throat. . . . I am haunted by the thought that I am not actually third.23 Only when he made the last turn and knew that his place on the team was secure did he toss his painters cap to the crowd and begin to rejoice in the race.24 The writer of Hebrews reminds us, For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise.25
6. We Must Draw From Resources and Reserves Of Strength Which Are Outside Ourselves. If the strength for the race came merely from our own reserves, we would be quickly exhausted. But, our strength is from God. We draw strength as we feed on His word and drink from the fountain of prayer. The Christian race is a marathon in which the Lord runs beside us stride for stride. He has the water bottle of the Spirit and the snack bar of grace. He has the massaging oils of gladness and the smelling salts of endurance. HE is the source of our strength.
A man from Mexico was converted to faith in Christ. Recognizing that his strength came from God alone, he prayed this prayer which was later put into print:
I am only a spark; make me a fire. I am only a string; make me a lyre. I am only a drop; make me a fountain. I am only an ant hill; make me a mountain. I am only a feather; make me a wing. I am only a serf; make me a king. I am only a link; make me a chain. I am only a sprinkle; make me a rain.26 To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.27
7. We Must Be Motivated Inwardly By Faithing28 The Words: WELL DONE! Feel it? As we run, our heart pulsates with the repeated reminder of the goal: Well . . Done; Well . . Done; Well . . Done; Well . . Done. As our feet land in succession, they beat the tattoo: Well . . Done; Well . . Done; Well . . Done. The ragged gasps tear from our parched throat with the steady refrain: Well . . Done; Well . . Done; Well Done. When nothing else seems to register in your mind, you still feel the murmur: Well . . Done; Well . . Done; Well . . Done. What motivates the man of God? Is it fame? Is it fortune? Is it to be called a finished scholar? Is it to be counted a wise philosopher, a ready writer, a brilliant administrator, an eloquent orator?29 No! It is to hear these words from the lips of our Lord Jesus: Well Done!
Robert G. Lee stands as a modern-day model of a man of God who ran through the tape. It is tempting, from the arm-chair of history, to think his race was easier than ours. Oh, we think, he was pastor of a big church in a big city. He was such an educated and eloquent speaker. If my race were like his, I, too, would finish strong. We forget that Dr. Lee grew up in a hard-working family in which school privileges were sporadic and inadequate. We never knew he was 19 before he attended the 8th grade. We are unaware that while working as a common laborer on the Panama Canal, trying to earn enough money to pursue his education, he contracted malarial fever and almost died. We never mention his first church fields which were quarter-time and part-time pastorates in small, unknown communities. We dont know that he served bi-vocationally as a school principal in two small South Carolina villages before he accepted his first full-time pastorate at age 31.30
When Dr. Lee was called to serve the congregation at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis at age 41, it was not the large, dynamic church it has since become. It became such a strong, dominant church largely because of the foundation Dr. Lee laid through his unflagging, tireless leadership and service.
Even after retiring from active pastoral service at age 70, Dr. Lee did not retire from Gods work. When 89 years old, Dr. Lee preached the sermon Yielded Bodies at an outdoor tabernacle which impacted my life. Though his days on earth were numbered, he still commanded passion, power, and ethos!
After almost 75 years of preaching, I believe he could have said, even as the Apostle Paul had said so many years before: For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
May we, too, establish the resolute commitment and the steadfast confidence that the God who called us will lead us to complete the course He has given us. May our hearts breathe with conviction and persistence, My God did not call me to start a race; he called me to complete it.
Written by Roger
1 cited by Bud Greenspan at (http://www.olympic.nbc.com/stories/last.html)
3 cited at (http://wantree.com.au/news/items/news21.html)
4 for a wide range of examples, see David Wallechinsky, The Complete Book of the Olympics (Penguin Books, 1984), pp. 45-52; and Stan and Shirley Fischler, The Best, Worst, and Most Unusual in Sports (Thomas Y. Crowell, 1977), pp. 189-197.
5,6 R. G. Lee, By Christ Compelled, volume 15 in Robert G. Lee Sermonic Library (Orlando: Christ for the World Publishers, 1969), pp. 64-73.
71 Corinthians 9:16-17
8 1 Corinthians 3:5-7
9 2 Corinthians 10:12
10 cf. Earl Nightingale, Acres of Diamonds, cassette 2 in the audio cassette series Lead The Field (Nightingale-Conant Corporation, 1986).
11 cf. Jobs comments and Gods questions scattered throughout the book of Job.
12 2 Samuel 11:2-4
13 Genesis 16:1-4
14 2 Timothy 4:10
15 Jeremiah 20:7-9
16 Jonah 1:1-3
17 Mark 14:54-72
18 1 Kings 13:1-32
19 Matthew 26:14-16
20 Genesis 27:15-41
21 Numbers 20:7-12
22 Hebrews 12:2
23,24 Ron Daws, The Self-Made Olympian (Mountain View, California: World Publications, 1977), pp. 15-16.
25 Hebrews 10:36
26 cited in R. G. Lee, Bread from Bellevue Oven (Wheaton: Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1947), p. 150.
27 Colossians 1:29
28 T. T. Eaton, president of the former Union College located in Murfreesboro, TN, argued for the verb faithe to correspond with the noun faith just as believe corresponds with belief in Faith and The Faith (Louisville: Baptist Book Concern, 1906), pp. 9-10.
29 adapted from R. G. Lee, A Charge to Keep, volume 5 in Robert G. Lee Sermonic Library (Orlando:Christ for the World Publishers, 1959), p. 30.
30 Paul Gericke, The Preaching of Robert G. Lee: Adorning the Doctrine of God, volume 8 in Robert G. Lee Sermonic Library (Orlando: Christ for the World Publishers, 1967), pp. 10-31.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Roger Sing Oldham has been pastor of First Baptist Church, Martin, Tennessee since 1986. He holds a BA degree from Western Kentucky University and an M. Div. and Th.D from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Debbie have three daughters: Breanne, who is a junior at Martin Westview High School; Lauren, a freshman at Martin Westview; and Ashley, a seventh grader at Martin Middle School. Dr. Oldham, at the invitation of Union University, is the second inductee into The R. G. Lee Society of Fellows.