MacDonald Offers Pastors Four Principles for Healthy Ministry

Post a Comment » Written on January 29th, 2008     
Filed under: News
By Stan Friedman

CHICAGO, IL (January 29, 2008) – Gordon MacDonald offered fatherly advice to an overflow crowd during the opening worship service of the Evangelical Covenant Church’s Midwinter Pastors Conference Monday evening.

Looking back on 47 years of ministry, the pastor and best-selling author told the gathering that if they hope to serve over a long period of time, they must build their lives around four core principles, all of which run contrary to what he once believed. MacDonald said he was offering nothing that was “dramatically novel,” but “they are the core of what has kept me going as a pastor year by year by year.”

MacDonaldThe four principles are these: experience conversion on a daily basis, support your life with daily discipline, live out of a sense of call, and develop community around you.

MacDonald’s religious tradition taught that once a person was converted, they no longer needed to concern themselves about their salvation. Still, he said, “I got converted 100 times by the time I reached the age of eight.” He offered his life to Jesus several more times while in high school.

His idea of conversion continued to change, and he now believes that people must be converted every day. “I want the freshness of conversion every day,” MacDonald said. He recommits his life to Jesus during every morning as part of his devotional time. “It’s fun to accept Jesus all over again.”

MacDonald added that this last year has been the best ever for his marriage, and that the relationship has been strengthened because he also recommits himself to his vows every morning.

Character also must be forged by discipline, MacDonald said. He recalled being told years ago that a person’s character is largely set by the time they are in their mid-twenties. “What a gloomy, depressing end-of-the-line kind of thought.”

MacDonald’s character changed when he was 31, he said. His three previous years in ministry were smooth and relatively easy because he had been able to lean on the lessons learned while following around his father, who also was a pastor. “Then I hit a wall in November and December 1968.”

Multiple events combined to change his life. In those months, he slept less and began to “wing” his sermons because he was so busy with other tasks, which also took him increasingly away from his family. He recalled a particular Saturday morning when his wife, Gail, told him that he had not spent much time with her and the couple’s children.

CrowdHe broke down and began to cry. “Weeping turned to sobbing, and the sobbing turned to retching,” MacDonald said. “I did this for four hours.”

That day, as he began to reflect on what had happened, he says he felt as if heaven was speaking to him, “Now you know what it’s like to try to live out of an empty soul.”

When his life fell apart – after he had failed to keep his own advice shared in his book Ordering Your Private World – “it was the disciplines that helped me climb out of the hole and gain my footing again,” he recalls.

MacDonald also encouraged the gathering to live out of their sense of call. He had never seriously considered the role this played in his life until he wrote an article for Leadership Journal about the topic, but then realized that the words did not flow from his own life. That led him to ask God, “Do you have a fresh call for a 64-year-old guy?”

He subsequently spoke at pastors’ conferences in Germany and California where people said they had been powerfully impacted by his fatherly presence. After hearing the comments at the second conference, MacDonald experienced the “stupendous moment of insight – it’s time to talk like a father.”

Each day, he now asks himself how will he live out his call in the coming hours. “I love my new call!” he declared.

Finally, MacDonald said, ministers must have a close community of friends. It is advice that goes against what he had been taught when he was younger, when ministers were told they should not have close friends, especially in the church.

“I lived that way for many years,” he said. “That was a terrible thing to do.”

He wondered if having a close-knit group of friends would have kept his life from imploding. When recovering his life, MacDonald and his wife deliberately developed friendships that have been important to them in the following years.

MacDonald closed by sharing that he has a special fondness for the Covenant. His grandfather, who immigrated from Sweden, became a Christian 100 years ago when a stranger who attended a Covenant church invited him to dinner. MacDonald’s grandfather experienced his own conversion that night.

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