Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Failure is Not Final

I was 16 years old when my father died. A year and a half later, as a high school senior, I was called to succeed him as the pastor of Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. I did not have many years with my father, but he was and is the primary influence on my ministry. Now, after 25 years of pastoral ministry, I see more clearly the ways my father mentored me. Most of it was not formal instruction. He took me with him to services, classes, funerals, hospital visitations, and meetings. Here are a few of the lessons my father taught me.

Young people are longing for authenticity and direction.

Read widely.
My father was a voracious reader. Many of my early mental images are of him holding a book. He owned thousands of books. They were scattered about everywhere. He constantly fussed at me about not reading enough. When I would ask my father a question, he would go to his library and get a book for me to read. I would respond by saying, "Never mind." But his discipline for reading rubbed off on me over the years. When I now meet with the associate ministers at my church, I typically begin by asking the question I heard my father ask countless times: "What are you reading?"

Take sermon preparation seriously. 
My father preached two different sermons on Sunday mornings. Each message was fully handwritten. I never saw him go into the pulpit unprepared. He also taught a class for ministers on Tuesday evenings. He would give a devotional message and discuss some area of ministry, then he wanted to know what each preacher present was studying. It didn't matter if you only preached once a year! His discipline for study and readiness in the pulpit taught me to take my sermon preparation seriously.

Love your congregation. 
Some pastors love to preach but cannot stand the people to whom they preach. My father definitely loved to preach, but he loved his congregation just as much as he loved the pulpit. I never heard him complain about the congregation. He loved being with them. He was there in times of crisis. He even loved those who were hard to love. My father was a pulpiteer. But when I meet his former members, they don't talk about his preaching. They tell me about visits, baptisms, funerals, weddings, and countless ways he lovingly shepherded his congregation.

He faced betrayals, opposition, and dry seasons with stubborn trust in the Lord.

Weather ministry storms with faith.
My father's pastorate was not storm-free. The sun cannot shine every day for 40 years. He endured several ministerial hurricanes. Yet my father weathered ministry storms with unwavering in the faithfulness of God. "The house may shake," he often said, "but it won't fall down." It never did. He faced betrayals, church splits, financial reversals, opposition, and dry seasons with faith that the Lord would care for him, his family, and the church. Through it all, the Lord sustained him. My father's stubborn trust has been a great benefit to me as I have faced my own ministerial storms over the years.

Admit your mistakes.

My father also taught me what not to do by his negative example at times. Though young, I saw my father make some colossal mistakes. I had a front-row seat for things he should not have said or done. Yet my father did not hide from his mistakes. He admitted it when he was wrong. I cannot tell you the impact it had on me to see this titanic figure apologize, privately and publicly, when he was in the wrong. Many of his ministry setbacks were his own doing, but by God's rescuing grace, he would get off the mat and keep fighting. Setbacks would become comebacks. By seeing my father's mistakes, I learned that failure is not final. God can give you a fresh start, a new beginning, and another chance!

H.B. Charles, Jr. is pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Church, 
Jacksonville, Florida.

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