I was ordained 20 years ago. On that day there were many mentors, friends and family members who participated in the service. My great friend, Doug Dornhecker, delivered a brilliant sermon, one that I read and reread at least once a year. Dick Wing, my mentor and one of the finest preachers in America, was inspiring as he invited us to the largest table in the world, the Lord's Table, where no one is turned away. My mother, a beautifully voiced contralto, sang a solo. My father, the single most influential man in my life, gave the ordination prayer. The members and leaders of the First Christian Church of Hanford, CA were the warm and gracious hosts.
There was one man, though, whose simple word continues to be the finest advice I have ever received on ministry. This man grew up on a farm in southeastern Kansas. In his early teens he helped to run the farm while also attending high school and playing every sport offered. He was unable to afford to pay the tuition for college but his solid Midwestern values - you know, things like being kind, fair, courteous and responsible - those standards helped him carve out a very successful business career.
At the reception following the service this 75-year-old former Kansas farm boy said to me, "There is only one thing you need to remember in your ministry: love the people God sends you to serve. Whether you are in a large congregation or a small country chapel, love the people God places in your care and you will be a success in the eyes of God."
That man, by the way, was my grandfather, Robert Small. I am named after him. The R in my name is for "Robert." Every time I sign my name I'm reminded of him and his simple yet profound advice.
The author of the letter to the church in Ephesus gave similar help. He elaborated a little more than my grandpa. The old Bible author wrote:
Put away bitterness and wrath and slander and malice.
Be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving.
Be imitators of God.
Live in love.
Simple, yet profound.
Grace and Peace to you,