(A series of eight installments)
Number Six – Mulligans for Ministry
Having been preoccupied with our new appointment (retired), with plenty of time for thought amid the unpacking and putting up pictures, I thought that I might dedicate my final three installments to what I would focus on in my ministry if I had a “do-over”. Maybe a more appropriate term might be a Mulligan for Ministry. Yes, that’s what I would like. What would I do differently if I had the chance? I’m not talking about the mistakes I made, and I have made more than my fair share. Nope. This is more about what I would invest more time and energy in if I had an opportunity for a ministry mulligan.
First would be to pay closer attention to those important influencers in my life. Father, grandfather, teachers, local officers with greater life experience than me with a willingness to share life-wisdom. I can count more than a dozen important influencers/mentors that have taken me under their wing; those who have helped me make many life decisions over the last forty-one years. My regret is a lack of awareness of my need of good mentors early on in the ministry.
Like most, there were some confusing issues and experiences that brought doubt and fear early on in ministry. How much easier it might have been with a mentor guiding me through those events and experiences, reminding me that things will become clearer and brighter as we grow through tough times. There were times when a “Dutch Uncle” approach would have been good with a mentor saying “get on with it” or “get over it”! Mostly, though, I needed someone to challenge me to holy living and growing in grace… No, they needed to demonstrate by example how to do that and insist that I follow their example.
Some of my greatest influencers were local, non-commissioned, officers. To begin to name any of them would be a dis-service, since I’m bound to leave a couple out. I recall returning to a corps I soldiered at before entering the Training College, returning with my “red” epaulettes to hear and see the reaction of the Corps Sergeant Major, (senior lay position of the church). His expression and embrace didn’t disappoint me…in fact, it gave me great encouragement. When feeling alone and almost defeated, I would replay that moment in my head. It helped me keep my focus knowing that I had cheerleaders somewhere.
It wasn’t always the divisional officers that kept my spirit afloat … and we had many good divisional officers. Nope. I loved being near and learning from senior corps officers within the division. Some had never served in a divisional headquarters appointment yet they had great life experience that they were willing to share with “younger” officers. THANK GOD for the likes of older captains, majors and brigadiers and their willingness and faithfulness to share. They are the un-sung Army heroes.
Sharon and I had the privilege to serve for many years outside our territory and home country. We met many wise, talented, and obedient believers, many were soldiers and officers but others were pastors and lay leaders of other churches. You discover quickly once outside your home country that in order to live, not merely survive, you need close and lasting relationships. We are better people and leaders as a result of who we leaned on and learned from. We would have never even survived living on the Island of St. Helena without the mentorship and fellowship of friends from the Catholic, Anglican, Baptist or Seventh Day Adventist Churches.
Who we are today is a composite of all of those who have loved, led and mentored us….still I feel as though I needed a more attentive heart and mind and a learning spirit. If I could have one, I would ask for a mulligan, a do-over, wanting to listen more carefully or ask different questions. I suspect I’m no different than anyone reading this short article. It motivates me now to pay closer attention during the time left in this world and to invest myself in as many young leaders who will allow me their ear. The good news is there is still time for us all. To borrow a phrase from the author of the Revelations… “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev 2:7NIV).
Dennis Strissel, Colonel