Last week I was part of a memorial service.
The person I worked talked the day before. He said, “Other people don’t see the value of visiting people. But I do. In the hospital, at extended care facilities, at home.” If he didn’t go visit, he’d not see half of his congregation, because they are in those places. He’s 84, consistently caring.
I was filling in for another pastor. He wanted to be part of this service, since he had married the couple 53 years before. But his strength isn’t what it used to be, back when he was pastoring and driving a school bus and doing the funerals and weddings other people might not. At 86, he gets to say no.
The week before, I had been talking with a former colleague about the number of people who are part of the church services I lead each Sunday. It’s a small number. He told me a story from early in his ministry when a professor reminded him to focus on faithfulness rather than numbers. “I’ve remembered that all these years,” he said. That’s more than 60 years of remembering. He’s 88.
I can’t remember much about turning 35. I was in the middle of a hard stretch of work, watching my idea of “career advancement” fade away as I started to learn, slowly, the idea of doing the work in front of me. We were in a hard stretch of life, with kids starting school and trying to understand where we wanted to be. But I was getting a taste of pastoral ministry. And when I turned 36, all my family went together and bought a set of commentaries.
As I turn 60 today, I look at my friends Ken and Clyde and Wes, and I think, “I’m only halfway to where they are. How can I keep growing and caring and deepening, like they are?”
Faithful, not numbers. Apparently, I’m just getting started.