During the recent Christmas season I got a letter from Maureen whom I had not seen or heard from in 50 years. Back then she was a teenager in the church I served in New Westminster, B.C. Now she is a grandmother and she and her husband, Charlie, have three grown children, and seven grandchildren to nurture.
I remember Maureen well. She was a quiet, shy teenager, very faithful in attendance at the youth group. I remember her as quietly thoughtful. She appeared to be open to the truth of the gospel though she did not say much. And I gathered from my contacts with her that she was blessed with a sensitive conscience.
In her handwritten letter she tells me that last June she returned to New Westminster to attend the fiftieth reunion of her graduating class at Lester Pearson High School in 1961. There she met up with Betty and Shirley. They had graduated in the same class with Maureen and all three had been members of our church’s youth group.
Her letter is addressed to both my wife and me. In it she tells us that during the weekend of celebration the three of them had spent time reflecting on their high school days. She writes me now to say thanks for helping “this quiet shy girl to grow into a self-confident adult with high moral values.”
In agreement with Betty and Shirley she writes that “we three (now 68 year olds) agreed that your family was a wonderfully positive influence on our lives.”
This is not the sort of information that one normally makes public but with her permission I am breaking that expected modesty for a very special reason – there is in it a word for pastors:
We pastors as a class want to succeed in our calling but our success is too often measured mostly in numbers: number of conversions gained, Sunday morning attendance, funds raised for missions, increase in membership, success with major or minor building projects, number of small groups, etc.
Numbers are certainly important and do give certain measurements of our ministry. Numerical growth is not to be scorned. For example, we can’t think of ourselves as succeeding if our statistics are dropping by 10% a year. Even break-even for succeeding years is a danger signal for growth-oriented pastors.
But some aspects of pastoral success can’t be reduced to numbers. Godly influence is not always easy to quantify. Nor is the giving of wise counsel. For examples, who can measure the effect of spiritual support given a wife abandoned by her husband; or wise counsel offered to a couple about to marry; or prayers with an apprehensive patient the evening before surgery; and, of course, the effect of being role models for teenagers who have value struggles as they mature.
We know that effective pastors work hard. Ours is never a mere forty-hour week. And effective pastors work to a system. We have times set aside for study and for pastoral visitation and for the administrating of a church. We build our ministries on prayer and faithfulness to the Scriptures. And often we don’t learn of the effect of our ministry until years later.
That’s why Maureen’s letter has given me such a surge of joy. It has now been followed up by a pleasant telephone conversation. In it all I am reminded of St. Paul’s assurance to the Corinthian believers that, “your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (I Cor. 15:58). Seed sown may not germinate immediately, but it is seed sown. The harvest is with the Lord. For this renewed contact we give our Savior all the glory and we rejoice!