Ministry can be like a rollercoaster ride
I am old enough now, and smart enough, usually, to stay off of rollercoasters.
I know you know about the twists and turns of that “fun” machine called the rollercoaster. The excitement builds as the rollercoaster slowly climbs to the top of the hill. Once at the top, you can see for miles and miles. From the top of the hill you can see (albeit briefly, but at least momentarily) all the other attractions of the amusement park. And everything looks good when you are at the top.
But then, still slowly, the rollercoaster begins the descent. The twists and turns and ups and downs of the track, the bouncing and hopping of the rollercoaster car, the wrenching and jerking of the body, the two-second freefall from the top to the bottom, the bloodcurdling screams and the look of terror on the faces of the riders—all of those things come together to create so much fun that the “fun” almost kills you! What was it that ever convinced me that the rollercoaster was fun?
Most of you know exactly what I am talking about when I mention the rollercoaster ride of life in the ministry. The everyday twists and turns of life, the perpetual ups and downs of working with people, the freefall from the top of the world to the bottom, and spiritual highs followed by emotional lows are common to Christians everywhere. But to the minister it is even more prevalent.
A minister will likely spend only a short time in ministry before grabbing hold of victory in the face of defeat. But that same minister will also experience defeat where victory could have and should have been. The joy of serving God is often overshadowed by the unyielding expectations of men and women. That’s the rollercoaster ride of life in the ministry.
I recall one week as a pastor when we baptized several new Christians on Sunday. Our committee met to finalize future building plans on Tuesday. Wednesday was another great day with a Spirit-filled prayer meeting. But on Thursday one of the oldest and seemingly most faithful saints in the church took his own life. The following Saturday I had the privilege to officiate the wedding of two dedicated Christians. That was more like a worship service than a wedding ceremony, but I had to go from that happy celebration and a family full of promise and great joy to the funeral visitation and a family full of grief and drowning in despair. The next day, Sunday, I spoke to the church about the rollercoaster ride of life that all of us experience. That’s the rollercoaster ride of life in the ministry.
And over the last couple of weeks, again, I have experienced the ups and downs, the ins and outs of the rollercoaster ride of Missouri Baptist life. Early last week, I was reminded that I had been invited to participate in M-Counter (as in “missions encounter,” or “encountering missions first-hand). That was the theme of this year’s annual meeting of the Missouri Women’s Missionary Union.
I was invited to and attended their meeting last year. It was a great event then and I anticipated that this year would be another time of missions focus and fellowship with some of the most missions-minded people in Missouri. The ladies of the WMU actually listen enthusiastically when I tell them about the effects and the effectiveness of the Cooperative Program.
It was a wonderful meeting, but just as I was feeling on top of the world, just as the rollercoaster was about to crest the hill, I learned about the tragic death of one of our Missouri Baptist missions partners.
Keith and Karen Ward had been in El Salvador only three weeks. This dedicated couple had sold all their belongings and left behind their home and their life in Cape Girardeau County to go to El Salvador. They were missionaries sent by the Fruitland Community Church and were serving as the volunteer coordinators for the new Missouri-El Salvador Missions Partnership. They were hosting some Missouri missionaries from Jefferson City, Hannibal and the Cape Girardeau area, and the group was fellowshipping and winding down after a week of missions work when Keith and Karen both were caught in an undertow in the ocean and Keith drowned. Heber Mena, pastor of the Hispanic Church in Jefferson City, was able to save Karen, but no one was able to reach Keith until it was too late.
Calvin Brown, director of missions for the Concord Baptist Association, was on the trip and had this to say: “Let me share how God was glorified in spite of this accident. On Sunday team members were to preach in several different churches across the country. Instead the national Baptist leaders and we agreed to hold one joint service in honor of Keith. Karen’s request for this was that the Gospel be preached. The Holy Spirit was very evident throughout the service. During the invitation time, one came for salvation, six surrendered to ministry and a number of others came rededicating their lives. God is good.”
From tragedy to triumph! I hope that all Missouri Baptists will honor the dedication of the Wards through personal recommitment to Christ and to worldwide missions and ministry! Last week, many of us experienced the rollercoaster ride of life in the ministry. We moved from grief over the loss of a brother in Christ, to joy in knowing that Keith Ward is right now in the presence of His Lord enjoying the glories of heaven, to hope for all those who will hear the Gospel and also come to know Christ because of Keith’s witness and sacrifice.
Keith and Karen’s sacrifice on behalf of missions was fresh on my mind when I participated in M-Counter. I arrived in Hannibal wondering if there would be a cloud over this normally celebrative meeting. There was no cloud. There was, rather, thanksgiving for all the Southern Baptist missionaries who have given themselves in service to lost people.
What a joy to personally meet Shad and Michelle Spannagel, International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries to West Africa. I was thrilled to hear my friend, Diane Combs (Don Combs and I were fellow pastors and seminary buddies, and now Don and Diane are IMB missionaries to Kazakhstan) relate their own dedication to missions, to the commitment of Missouri WMU ladies to pray, and to the continued support of Missouri Baptist churches that give through the Cooperative Program. I also met Kaye Miller, national WMU president, and heard her speak about her commitment to missions. That was certainly inspiring.
The Cooperative Program, the Lottie Moon Offering for International Missions, the Annie Armstrong Offering for North American Missions, and the Rheubin L. South Missouri Missions Offering—those missions endeavors have no better friend than the ladies of the Woman’s Missionary Union, and no better examples of commitment to see the world come to Christ than dedicated servants like Keith and Karen Ward.
The rollercoaster ride of life in the ministry has taken me around the world, and I am better off for having been on the ride. I love serving Missouri Baptists.