Take the Long View

Posted on May 1, 2012 by


The world in which we do ministry is moving at a break-neck pace. Families rarely eat meals together, relying rather on fast food from the drive thru as kids are shuttled from one activity to the next. The Information Age and Digital Revolution have placed more information at our finger tips than used to be consumed in an entire life time. Smart phones have made email and social media as accessible as calling someone on a cell phone just a few years ago. We have created a culture of immediacy. How does this impact your ministry? Do you find yourself expecting immediate results? Are you developing relationships of depth and quality? Are you able to have meaningful conversations? Are your cabin times significant and worthwhile at summer camp of on a Fall Weekend? Are you disappointed with how long it takes young people to “catch the vision?”

I am thankful for the great men that I had a privilege to learn from early in my time on staff. On a few occasions, I had the privilege to spend extended time with John Miller. He would talk about many of his friends and relationships he built over the years. In Back to the Basics, he wrote “There are 365 days in a year. Harvest takes one. The other 364 are the true work…(C)ontact work is the very essence of what God has called us to do in Young Life. It’s our highest calling.” John valued relationships above all, and he acknowledged that building relationships is hard work. Similarly, in my first year on staff, I asked Mal McSwain what advice he’d offer me as a trainee (what we now call staff associates). Mal replied, “When you meet a kid, meet him as a friend for life. When you meet a college student, meet him as a friend for life. When you meet an adult in the community, meet him as a friend for life.” The point was to build friendships and not merely use people for the purpose of building Young Life. The time frame of Mal’s advice was, and remains, striking. Take the long view and build relationships to last a life time; of course, many of these relationships will last for eternity! Take a moment to reflect on that. What else are you involved in that will last for eternity? What are you finest investments, and what is their return?

Similarly, Tom Hammon challenged my training group almost 20 years ago with the idea that we rarely stay long enough. In doing contact work at dismissal, we return to our cars too quickly. When watching practices at the school, we leave as soon as it becomes a bit uncomfortable. Likewise, we don’t remain in a club long enough as volunteer leaders nor in an area long enough as the area director. The value that is affirmed in our culture is mobility – especially when that equates to career advancement.

I have recently discovered words from Charles Spurgeon preached to students in London in the late 1800’s.

“There are some of us who have, by God’s grace, been so richly blessed that we have all around us a large number of people who have been spiritually quickened through our instrumentality, people who have been awakened by our ministry, who have been instructed and strengthened by us, and who are doing good service for God. Let me warn you not to look for this at first, for it is the work of time. Do not expect to get, in the first year of your pastorate, that result which is the reward of twenty years of continuous toil in one place…It is equally foolish to expect the people immediately to be what they might be after they have been trained by a godly minister for a quarter of a century.” P118 The Soulwinner, CH Spurgeon

Spurgeon labored as pastor of Metropolitan Tabernacle in London for 38 years. The portion of the lecture quoted above demonstrates Spurgeon’s perspective on the impact of taking the long view. Do you observe any examples from folks in your life who take the long view?

One hundred years later, Robert Coleman penned words that conveyed the same sentiment in The Master Plan of Evangelism written in 1963.

“Building men is not that easy. It requires constant personal attention, much like a father gives His children. This is something no organization or class can ever do. Children are not raised by proxy. The example of Jesus would teach us that it can only be done by persons staying right with those they seek to lead….There is a lot of talk in the church about evangelism and Christian nurture, but little concern for personal association when it becomes evident that such work involves the sacrifice of personal indulgence.”

Take inventory of your relationships. How are you doing with expectations? Are you satisfied with the depth of your friendships? Whether you are meeting kids for the first time, sharing the gospel with them, or continuing on in a disicpling relationship, be prepared to walk alongside people for the long haul. If you are feeling discouraged, consider the examples and words of others – thinkers, pastors, teachers, and ministers who have gone before us. Enjoy the best of technology and the fascinating time that we live, but keep the long view.