As I hear of church leaders who fall in some way, I'm also reminded of pastors who finished well—who served God faithfully until God called them home.
Here are some of their characteristics that challenge me.
1. They loved Jesus with an obvious, undying love. You could just listen to their words and watch their actions—and you knew how deeply they loved the Lord. Their hearts melted when they talked to Him and about Him.
2. They never thought the story was about them. Nor did they ever make it about them. They knew the story was always about Jesus. Always.
3. They never assumed a fall wouldn't happen to them. They knew it could, no matter how hard they fought against it. They recognized the power of sin.
4. They deeply loved their family and the people of God. They so loved others that they never, never wanted to let them down. Allowing themselves to fall would have simply brought them too much pain.
5. They prayed continually. Most of the men I've known who finished well lived lives marked by prayer. In fact, I often turned to them when I most needed prayer support.
6. They memorized Scripture regularly. I loved hearing them teach not only because they knew the Word, but also because the Word just fell from their lips. I always wanted to memorize more when I heard them.
7. They set wise boundaries for themselves. By taking steps like including others in their ministry tasks, they made it more difficult for the enemy to win.
8. They focused where they were and weren't concerned about "greener grass." They stood firmly wherever God placed them, and they rejoiced with whatever ministry He gave them. They weren't always looking for something new.
9. They learned to rejoice in the difficult times of life and ministry. Rather than get frustrated with God and His plan, they, like the apostle Paul, learned to "take pleasure in weaknesses ... and in distresses for Christ's sake" (2 Cor 12:10b).
10. They finished well in all their ministry settings. That's not to say they never hit rough patches; it's simply to say they worked through those times, pressed on faithfully and gained the love and respect of their congregations. If we finish well today wherever we are, we're more likely to finish well in the end.
11. They never really retired. Sure, they stepped away from full-time paid ministry, but they never stopped preaching the Word. They seldom passed on an opportunity to teach the Scriptures—which means they always knew others were watching their lives.
What would you add to this list as you think about others who guarded themselves against a fall?
Chuck Lawless is dean of doctoral studies and vice president of spiritual formation and ministry centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he also serves as professor of evangelism and missions. In addition, he is team leader for global theological education strategies for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. He formerly served as vice president for Global Theological Advance of the IMB, in addition to leading the Lawless Group, a church consulting firm.
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