This past Sunday, July 13, 2008 marked for me, the completion of 19 years of work with the South Green Street Church of Christ in Glasgow, KY. Now, I know that today, as I begin working in my 20th year, that this amount of time is a drop in the bucket to some people. For instance, my dad, Frank Higginbotham, has been preaching full-time for the Virginia Avenue Church of Christ in Chester, WV for the past 44 years. So while I acknowledge that there are many preachers who possess much more knowledge and experience than I will ever attain, I do want to take this opportunity to share a few observations, and even tips for longevity, as I begin my 20th year of work with the same congregation.
- I Must Remember I Am A Preacher, And Not A Policeman. My job as a preacher is to teach the truth, it is not to enforce the truth. My job is to shine the light of God’s word on the pathway to Heaven, but I cannot force a person to walk down that pathway. I have observed that when I find myself most discouraged and frustrated I am usually trying to enforce a certain behavior in others. However, when I realize that my obligation and success as a preacher is not measured by the response of others, but is measured by the truth I speak, and the manner in which I speak it (Eph. 4:15) I can find contentment.
- Patience Is Required. For any preacher to work any length of time with a congregation, he must be patient with people. Truth can be spoken much quicker than it can be absorbed and put into practice. While I want people to immediately put into practice what I preach, I have to understand that most people need time to absorb and mull over the idea of making changes to their lives. While it is true that good preachers have suffered at the hands of worldly congregations, it is also true that many congregations have suffered at the hands of impatient preachers who have terribly poor judgment and people skills. Have you ever stopped to consider the amount of money that is “wasted” by the Lord’s church in “moving expenses” because of a lack of forbearance and patience on the part of a congregation as well as a preacher? (Not to mention the cost in attitudes, influence, and souls!)
- A Preacher Needs To Continue To Read And Study. Twenty years of sermon outlines adds up to a lot of sermons. The temptation could be to coast, rotely reuse old sermons, and put very little time into sermon preparation. Rather than feeling secure and thinking one can “coast” after twenty years, I think the exact opposite is the case. The people you are preaching and teaching have heard all your illustrations, and know all your stories. If one stops learning, he becomes stale, old, and people lose interest. However, if one continues to study, read, use fresh illustrations, his preaching and teaching will continue to impact the congregation in a positive way.
There is much more than I can share with you, but these observations are enough for now. I would however like you, the reader, to leave some comments, and share your experiences, observations, and tips to a long and successful ministry with a congregation.