This month I celebrate 25 years of full-time ministry. During this time I have been honored to serve as a university chaplain, to minister in people in 36 nations and in my current role to serve as Lead Pastor of Capital Life Church in Arlington, Virginia.
When I began in the ministry 25 years ago Ronald Reagan was beginning his second term as president, top entertainers were gathering together to sing, “We are the World” and "Back to the Future" was the highest-grossing film.
In the last 25 years I have witnessed the end of the Cold War and the beginning of a new kind of war that brought forth the worst attack on U. S. soil in our nation’s history.
I now have what few could have foreseen just 25 years ago: A GPS system in my car, a cell phone in my hand and a DVR in my living room. Our world has changed.
What I have learned is that the Psalmist knew what he was talking about when he said, “If the Lord delights in a man’s way he makes his steps firm.” The last 25 years have only reaffirmed the convictions that led me to commit my life full-time to serving God.
The following are 10 lessons I’ve learned in 25 years of ministry:
1. The goal is not to win a debate but to redeem the heart.
2. One’s public witness is only as authentic as one’s private integrity.
3. There is no greater source of wisdom than the Bible and no investment that yields greater returns than prayer.
4. Hate is only validated when one responds in like spirit.
5. Jesus should never be presented as less than he claimed to be: the way, the truth and the life.
6. One should live first and foremost so as to please a heavenly audience.
7. One’s legacy is found not in things that matter least but in people who matter most.
8. The generation into which I am born is my calling and it beckons me to be fully engaged.
9. When Jesus paused while dying on the cross to make certain his mother was cared for, he showed how to prioritize family amidst ministry.
10. Sermons can inspire but it is love in action that makes the most profound impact.
As I look to the next generation of ministers I am keenly aware that they will seek to touch a world that is increasingly distracted. Absolutes will be challenged as those who oppose Biblical precepts become more organized and vocal. Their strength will be in presenting not religion but a relationship with Jesus Christ.
To the generation of ministers who have served before me that includes Billy Graham, Bill Bright and others less well-known but equally faithful I owe a debt of gratitude. They heralded a gospel of love, maintained their integrity and loved their families well. They bequeath to others and me a legacy.
Rev. Bill Shuler is lead pastor at Capital Life Church in Arlington, Virginia. For more visit CapitalLife.org.