The Secret to a Prolonged Period of Prime
In this September of 2019, my husband Douglas and I will celebrate 50 continuous years of ministry, except for a seven-year break where we did home care for two family members. The question is often asked, “how are you still doing fruitful ministry after 50 years?” First let me mention that when the opportunity was given for me to write on this subject for the Good Tidings, I eagerly agreed. A quick disclaimer: I am far from perfect. I still fall short sometimes, but basically this has been my story and how I’ve done it:
I grew up in a strong Salvation Army home. My dad was a veteran of World War 2. My parents were very godly people of prayer and faith. They were both very involved in local ministry at the church. The family altar was an everyday experience in our home. Many of the scriptures I’ve memorized came from the family altar time. They are indelibly imprinted in my mind. I was the only girl, with three brothers. Life was good, safe and protected, but in June 20, 1954, all that came crashing down as my mother was left as a 31-year-old widow with four young children.
I began to follow Jesus at a Children’s Praise meeting on March 26th, 1952. Dad’s words of instruction written in my autograph shortly before his untimely death read: “always follow God’s leading, never indulge in sin.” This inscription was little understood then, but soon became my one desire that would last until this very day. As a child, I felt early in life that my desire was to be a preacher of the Gospel.
I learned early in life that life is not a tip toe through the tulips but is much determined by the principles incorporated in one’s life. After Dad’s passing the family prayer continued with my mother, who taught us well. It wasn’t long before I was taking part in family prayer and learning to pray myself. It was there I learned early to recognize God’s voice in prayer, which continues to be my daily passion.
Mother was a lady of prayer, discipline and leadership. Many of her principles I have put into practice for the past 50 years in ministry. To the question of the secret of a prolonged period of prime in ministry, I would respond that there actually is no secret, other than the path of discipleship that is available to us all. I call it the ABCD principle. It is basically this:
Acknowledge God in all you do, regardless of the circumstance.
Believe God for the necessities of life.
Contentment with what we have. Confidentiality with people and ministry needs.
Discipline in food, finances, leisure, learning and work. Disciplined people are made, not born. There is no resurrection of killed time, and procrastination is the enemy of success.
In 1961, my husband and I were united in marriage. Shortly after that we entered ministry with three children. We continue to practice the principles I learned early in life even to this day.
Our ministry began with a short summer ministry in what is now known as Baytona. Our first full church assignment was Musgrave Harbour in September of 1969. Things were not easy financially. Many of the comforts we have today were then unheard of. Since then we have ministered all over Newfoundland and Labrador: The North and South coasts of Labrador, the Northern, Baie Verte and Bonavista Penninsulas, and Central Newfoundland, including the five years we have currently served in Cobb’s Arm.
In each of these places we have encountered all different sorts of people, perspectives, temperaments, and very humble living conditions – including places where finances were not available and housing was unsuitable for a family of our size. Yet our principles of contentment stood fast and we continued to practice the ABCD principles.
We learned to acknowledge God and wait on God in all scenarios of ministry, and to love people regardless of their life situation, perspectives, differences or choices made in the past. We have always tried to respect people’s viewpoints and to let God lead conversations, rather than being dogmatic about our own opinions or engaging in fruitless controversy. We have learned to enjoy the adventure even while enduring adversity.
Our posture has always been to believe God for the desired outcome in every difficult situation, whether at home, in church or in the community. One of my favourite scriptures is Proverbs 3:6: “In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He will direct thy path.” We believe that any trial is a potential triumph, every fear in the territory of faith, every obstacle an opportunity to prove God, and every problem a potential victory.
Being contented with what we have is not so much about abundance as it is about attitude. We have always taught both our family and congregations that “where God leads, he feeds.” He never lacks supply, and if we put Him first and honour Him, we need not worry about our needs. We have personally experienced God, literally, putting gas in our car, groceries on our table and shoes on our feet. We encourage people enduring their own hardships to trust Him for the same. We made it a principle to be confidential about our own private concerns and to put our trust in God, who knows what we need before we even ask Him.
Discipline has always been an essential ingredient of our discipleship. We cannot lead people beyond where we are, and thus it is of paramount importance to pray, study and read daily. We are only as strong as our discipline.
We have great respect for our leaders in the PAONL and have striven to respect and represent them well. However, our true employer is our Heavenly Father, and his eyes have always been on us. He knows our workmanship and our desire to please Him. Our philosophy of work has always been to ruthlessly eliminate procrastination from our lifestyle, and to exercise wisdom in our spending, eating, exercise, and rest. Perhaps honouring God with all our heart, soul, mind, and bodies has had something to do with the longevity with which we have been blessed.
With respect to change, in the 50 years since we began in 1969, there has been a great cultural shift and a definite change in the practice of effective ministry. Gone is the flannel graph Sunday School lesson, and admittedly technology has taken a little catching up for us. I fully believe that this generation is educated, smart, potential-driven and that they can take the mission of the Gospel by storm. To do that, the presence of God must be central in all that we do. Through the years, we have constantly kept our ears open to new ideas and new ways to do ministry.
Let me illustrate our philosophy for keeping up with the current generation using one of my husband’s sermon illustrations. A couple of Sundays ago he preached on the Parable of the Wine Skins from Luke 5:37-49. He basically asked, “why was the wine lost? Because of the wine or because of the wineskins?” If the wine is symbolic of the presence of God and the message of the gospel, it is not the wine that needs to change but the wineskins that need adjustment. We must learn to adapt while keeping the presence and the message central.
We feel that the younger generations have something to learn from our experience, and we can learn much from the younger. We are always open to new ways of learning, with full assurance that with our experience and expertise and their energy and teachability, anything is possible.
We personally believe that God moves in every generation in new ways to reach that generation. I want to be a wineskin that is useable. Though the body grows weaker, our inner spirit is renewed daily. To the younger generation, I say, keep the new wine skins filled with the old wine, because it is far better. For us, we are not counting the years but making the years count. My prayer is that God will use these thoughts in fertile soil to bring a harvest. When the Moses’ of our generation pass on, there will be plenty of Joshua’s to carry on the work. Thank you and God bless!