By Eddie Pipkin
Does what we build last? Watching the news from Paris this week was a reminder that even the sturdiest and most meaningful structures are impermanent. We spend countless hours crafting programs, planning events, writing reports, and sitting in meetings. We (hopefully) do all that we do with passion and purpose, but how much of that effort has impact that matters beyond next week or next month? How much of it leaves behind a legacy? It is worth noting that Jesus – although he recruited a strong team and communicated a bold vision – never led a building campaign, incorporated a charitable trust, or published a leadership guide. And yet, we are still building off the foundation of his ministry two millennia later.
Really, I started thinking about this topic after a surprising revelation in Cocoa Beach a couple of weekends ago. I was staying there and had walked over to the beach to watch the sunrise, and on the way back, as I walked along the sidewalk next to the famous Ron Jon Surf Shop complex, I noticed some words etched into the cement (no doubt by a finger when the cement was still wet): “Pipkin 73.” What? Pipkin is not that common a name, and apparently some mysterious rogue Pipkins had left their mark! I was tickled. But then it occurred to me that my family had celebrated a famous Florida vacation right in that time frame. What if 10-year-old me had left his mark? It’s a tantalizing possibility.
We all want to leave our mark somewhere. We want history to remember us. The difference between day-to-day ministry and what I’m calling legacy ministry is whether it lives on beyond us – beyond our tenancy at our current position, beyond the stage of life in which we are passionate about starting initiative “X,” beyond our time on this earth. What lives on? What builds a foundation upon which others can creatively improvise and evolve?
One of my proudest “professional” accomplishments was the establishment of a youth basketball league in Jones County, Georgia in the early 1980s. This is no epoch-changing achievement. It earned no awards or honors, but I was only 20 at the time, new head of the parks and recreation department of this rural Georgia county that had never had a basketball league for kids, and everybody said it wasn’t possible, because the only way to do it was to convince the crusty, old curmudgeon who ran the school board to let us use middle school and high school gyms. I was young and dumb and went for it, and, surprisingly, he said yes. Last time I visited up that way, I was delighted to find that basketball league still in existence. Nobody involved in it now would even remember that I ever had anything to do with it. But I remember. And it warms my heart to think about all those kids playing all that basketball over the decades.
As we think about the way we spend our ministry time, it’s worthwhile to think about whether we are investing ourselves in efforts that will pay dividends far down the road. Obviously, a lot of our days are consumed with logistics and details, but are these logistics and details in the service of things that fade away or things that last? Jesus showed the importance of investing in the future:
- Jesus invested in building relationships. Jesus left the logistical details of the ministry to others. He practiced a wonderful kind of “slow leadership,” however, in which he spent time growing relationships with integrity and purpose.
- Jesus invested in developing leaders. This is a very specific kind of relationship building in which people are empowered to understand and utilize their gifts. It is not enough for us to proclaim that “everyone is gifted by God” and “all parts of the body are important.” We, as leaders, have to cultivate other leaders and turn them loose to do the work to which they are called.
- Jesus invested in establishing bedrock, core principles and dreaming big dreams. Again and again, in his interactions with all the people he encountered, Jesus communicated his vision and shared hope.
- Jesus understood his community and invested himself in advancing that community. This is perhaps the determining factor for the local church’s long-term impact. Good preaching and good music are accessible from anywhere these days, but a uniquely local connection is specific and relevant.
- Jesus was always focused on eternal goals. Eternal goals can be reinforced by giving the proper perspective to the day-to-day details. Dishes must be washed. Meetings must be scheduled. But any seemingly mundane task can enforce eternal principals if engaged with the right perspective and attitude.
If we are leading programs or studies or preaching or teaching, all of these normal functions should be tuned to serve higher, long-lasting goals. It’s a question worth asking: is what I am doing (and how I am doing it) right now going to matter five or 10 years down the road?
Such questions force us to think about fundamentals. Through this lens it is perhaps easy to see the impact of a solid youth or children’s /family ministry. But even in those areas, such questions can help us think more deeply about “how” we are doing what we’re doing. Are we creating a fun atmosphere? Or are we developing leaders (not only for the future but in the here and now)?
Are we establishing community partnerships that are going to live on? Are we impacting the social justice issues that were so close to Jesus’ heart? Are we establishing a moral center in our community which is a place where people know they can come to find healing and serve others?
Are we leaving a lasting legacy?