When I was getting started in my profession, I used to wonder what happened to preachers when they got old. (In those days, “old” meant somewhere in the 40s. I have since recalculated.) I supposed that old preachers, like old soldiers, did not die; they just faded away. Now that I have reached middle age, I am getting my answers.
Not that I am old. (As I mentioned before, I have recalculated.) True, I can no longer sign John 8:57 after my name (“Thou art not yet fifty years old”), but there are plenty of other verses to choose from. My friends who own pocket calculators tell me that nobody can know when he is at middle age until he knows how long he will live. But even if the Lord graciously grants me fourscore years, I am still past that midpoint, and that makes me a middle-aged minister.
Dante found himself “in a dark wood” when he arrived at “the middle of the road of life,” but it was his own fault. He admitted that he “strayed from the straight path.” Byron had nothing good to say about the middle years: “That horrid equinox, that hateful section / Of human years, that half-way house, that rude / Hut …” His experienced estimate was that our middle years are the time “when we hover between fool and sage.” I think Byron must have followed Dante off the straight path.
Not that middle age doesn’t have its special problems. Bob Hope once defined middle age as that time of life “when your age starts to show around your middle.” My wife told me that swimming was good for my figure, and I asked her if she had ever looked at a duck’s figure. Many golfers I know are tediously overweight, and I don’t golf anyway. I still get my exercise by carrying books up and down the stairs and occasionally strolling about the neighborhood.
But I sometimes have a problem understanding what is going on in the high councils of Christendom. A whole new vocabulary has developed while I was out of the room parsing a Greek verb. The church renewal movement has occasionally given me slight headaches, and I have to pray extra hard before reviewing books by some authors. The new “tell-it-like-it-is” school of biography and autobiography upsets me. I sometimes feel like taking a shower after reading such stuff, and I suppose that dates me.
All sorts of new winds are blowing. Fences are coming down that used to seem sturdy. The fellow who used to draw the boundary lines was ran over by a gang of protest marchers and we don’t see him any more. Perhaps that’s the biggest problem of the middle-aged minister: he is not always sure where he belongs. He is too wise to follow every flag that marches by, and yet he has no desire merely to be a spectator.
Some ministers solve this problem by jumping on a noisy bandwagon and hitching their future to an evangelical superstar, a “man with a cause.” Their own light is dim, so they live on a borrowed glow. “There is safety in numbers.” they argue; but, as a witty British minister once remarked, “There is more safety in exodus.”
I have never felt happy on a bandwagon. Like Thoreau, I tend to listen to a different drummer. I have never asked my friends to follow my flag; all I have asked is that they give me the privilege of following it myself, and I will do the same for them. Jehovah is a God of infinite variety and there is no need for us to be carbon copies or clones. Too many middle-aged ministers huddle together for warmth and safety when they ought to be out cutting new trails for the gospel.
All the books tell me that my middle years are a time for evaluation. I am embarrassed to confess that I never had an identity crisis. My parents always reminded me who I was, and when they forgot, my two brothers and sister took up the quarrel with the foe. I don’t recall that any of my professors ever lectured on the subject, although more than once I did have a crisis trying to identity what they were lecturing about.
The books also tell me that the middle years bring threats of fear of failure. Perhaps they do. My own feeling is that God and his people have treated me far better than I deserve, and that God has balanced the blessings and burdens in a beautiful way. My early optimism has become realism; I trust there is no pessimism. I am not as critical as I used to be, not because my standards are lower, but because my sight is clearer. What I thought were blemishes in others have turned out to be scars. In my earlier years, I was one of the six blind men describing the elephant. Today I can see the elephant clearer and also the other five men.
A friend once said to me, “I want to get mellow, but not rotten.” A good point. I recall that one of the great saints prayed, “Lord, don’t let me become a mean old man.” I suppose this has special relevance when we see others achieving goals that, to us today, are either dreams or memories. When I read the news columns of religious periodicals, I am amazed at the number of “immature young men” who are filling important places of leadership. Why, I knew some of those fellows way back in Youth for Christ days! They were just kids!
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SOURCE: Christianity Today