Coasting Is For Sleds

Bible Book: 2 Timothy  4 : 4-8
Subject: Motivation; Faithful Service; Christian Living
[Editor's Note: This sermon is presented to pastors and ministers of the gospel, but many of the points made are useful in calling upon Christians to be faithful to the end.]

Sometime ago, I preached a message in my church about retirees staying active in serving the Lord and living righteously. I entitled it, "When You Hang up Your Spikes." As an object lesson, I brought onto the platform a replica of part of a dressing room locker, complete with hooks holding a well- worn Yankee cap, my baseball glove, and a pair of my old baseball spikes. The message itself set off a thinking process in me. "What will I do when I retire?" and literally, "When will I retire?" I had just turned sixty-three, so the issue was somewhat on my mind. Apart from the usual aches and pains that accompany sixty-three years of working and playing sports (albeit playing at a mediocre level), I generally feel pretty good. But how long do I want to push it?

The loss of value in the stock market has greatly affected my retirement funds and made me rethink the whole issue of how long to continue. But I do want to retire one day. My wife wants me to retire. I don't want to be someone whose ego requires that I go on so long that I drop dead in the pulpit, though frankly that would be an honorable way to go. It has happened to friends of mine.

My wife has saved some of her teacher salary for years so that in retirement we could travel. That "bug" has bitten us severely! We talk about doing volunteer missions, perhaps returning to Alaska, this time not for vacation, but to relieve a local pastor so he can return to the lower forty-eight for a couple of months to thaw out.

Actually, there is no concept of retirement in the Bible. Retirement is a relatively modern concept. The Temple priests and other servants of God were generally expected to serve God until their dying day, with the exception of the Levites.

But honestly, my idea of retirement is not simply playing golf, working in the yard and lying in a hammock. My call to ministry is not removed because I sign up for Social Security or begin to draw annuity payments. So the issue really is, I don't want to fully retire, but I do want to reach the point I can do the things about ministry I really love, without having to do the things I don't love. There is a sign hanging in my office that says, "Preachers love feeding and tending the fold. It's committee meetings that leave them cold." That about sums up my perfect retirement activity! I am looking forward to a time I can be relatively busy with the parts of ministry that truly fit my gifts and not worry about the other.

But there is another issue to consider besides when I should retire. That issue is currently of even greater concern to me, and it is, how do I approach ministry until I retire? How do I go about serving the Lord and serving the Church until the day comes that I shift into a different kind of ministry? Do I "coast"? Do I stop working as hard and turn most of the ministries over to the staff so I can focus mainly on preaching? Do I stop looking for challenges and stop presenting a vision to the church?

As I was working recently with the staff on some very challenging issues facing the church in the next three to five years, issues that must be addressed, one of the staff said, "The church is not going to let you coast, are they?" The first words out of my mouth were, "I'm not interested in that. Coasting is for sleds, not preachers."

I'm sure that reference came from a childhood memory buried deep in my mind. When I was growing up, there was a large park about six blocks from my home, with steep hills, perfect for sledding.

Because it was Virginia we had a good bit of snow. We would drag sleds to the park for a great time. In my family, however, my brother had the only sled. At the bottom of the hill was an area that led to a winding, asphalt road, which led downhill another one hundred fifty yards or so. With just the right maneuver one could turn the sled onto this road and coast for what seemed like forever.

Coasting is great on a sled. But if a preacher tries it, almost certainly he won't have an effective ministry. He won't be satisfied and the church almost certainly won't be. A man just doesn't want to finish his work with a feeling of emptiness or not having given the best he could.

Years ago my father, who by that time was a retired Southern Baptist Pastor came to see me for a father-son visit and a round of golf. I asked one of my neighbors, a retired minister from another denomination to join us. I thought they might have a lot in common and might enjoy knowing each other. My father was sixty-eight, and actively involved in supply preaching and interim pastorates. In fact, one of the churches where he served as interim for nearly a year was a large church in western North Carolina, and was probably one of the most successful works he had in his entire career.

During the round of golf he said to my friend, "I suppose you still stay busy preaching, even in retirement." My friend replied, "Oh no, when I gave that stuff up, I really gave it up." Later my father said to me, "I suppose that's the difference between ____________ and Baptists." My father was determined not to coast, in the last years of active ministry or in retirement. A preacher just can't afford to.

Of course, one denomination does not have a corner on zeal, and another doesn't harbor all the quitters. There are determined and diligent servants of every denominational affiliation and there are in every fellowship those who just "slide by" in their last year. You just have to determine for yourself which you will be. I am convinced that a genuine sense of call will keep ringing in our ears and motivating our hearts until we physically can't keep up the pace anymore.

As I reflected on all these issues, I began to wonder, how can I stay up to the task for as long as possible? How can I keep from simply gliding or coasting to the finish line in a way that will leave me unfulfilled, leave the church less effective and probably discontent with me, and may soon dishonor the Lord? If this is an issue that concerns you, and it should, don't think it means you have to work twice as hard and twice as long as you ever did. But it does mean that you will still have to possess an inner enthusiasm and drive that will make you do some of your best work if not some of your most active work. You should be wiser as you get more mature, and the Word of God certainly magnifies the value of older people and their wisdom. If nothing else, the cross of Jesus Christ ought to be our motivation to follow through all the way to the end. Long before the end of his life Jesus "set his face toward Jerusalem" though he knew it would mean his death. We can follow that example.

In our text, the Apostle Paul, by that time weakened physically by both age and suffering, nonetheless sounded forth a tremendous victory cry as he summed up his approach not only to the last years of his ministry but to the last months of his life. The best way to describe it is, he was determined to be faithful to the end. For one thing, he was

I. Faithful to the Faith

In verse seven he says, "I have kept the faith." It is important to understand that in the Greek text, the definite article "the" is present before the word "faith," implying that he has been faithful to the body of doctrines and beliefs that are the ground of the Christian life. To the end Paul had been faithful to preach, teach, defend and live by the body of truth that gives shape to our personal trust.

Certainly we are not saved by just believing intellectually the facts of the faith, but we have absolutely no ground for our trust if we do not hold to certain absolutes, certain essential beliefs that do not change. This will certainly be an intellectual challenge and intellectual challenges can be fuel to keep our older engines running. In a day when false teaching surrounds us and many of our people do not know the difference between truth and error, a faithful pastor can make a huge difference. The pastor is the "resident theologian" of the church. In the sense that we must believe and teach the total truth, pure doctrine, we are the earthly guardians of people's spiritual welfare. The pastor interprets events on the world stage to the people in light of the Word of God. He is the Shepherd and Protector of the people. In this deceived and fast changing world, when we are surrounded by wolves, there is no place for the Shepherd to let down his guard. If the pastor goes into "coast mode," just letting the world pass him by, hundreds of his sheep may fall victim to the demonic deceptions of the false teachers that are ever lurking, ever ready to consume believers. Paul also said he had been

II. Faithful to the Fight

"I have fought a good fight," he asserted. It is interesting to me that he used the term "fight" to describe the ministry and the Christian life. Many of you can identify with that. You bear battle scars from having gone through devastating times of outright war in your church. Sometimes it has been over critical issues, but perhaps most often it has been over petty issues, issues of human pride and stubbornness.

The Christian life in itself is a warfare. It is a war against the world, the flesh and the Devil. But the Christian life, and especially the ministry, involves a war against both false-teaching and worldly practices that constantly threaten to invade the church. No preacher who cares about the faith, the flock and the finish can ignore that constant conflict. The church truly needs a seasoned leader who has been on the battlefield, engaged in the war, to lead them safely through the treacherous mine fields of this world. The church can't afford for you not to give your full attention to the fight for as long as you can. Further, Paul could claim that he had been,

III. Faithful to the Finish

With no apology he said, "I have finished my course." The picture is obviously of a runner who has completed the course laid out for him." Paul spoke in another place, Philippians 3:14, of "press(ing) toward the mark for the prize of the high calling in God in Christ Jesus." Again, the picture is of a runner diligently completing the race, still exerting his full effort and strength. As we age, we may not have as much strength as we once had but we should be smarter and more determined to use it in the right place.

If we are serious about the Gospel, if we are serious about the eternal souls of men and women, if we want to leave the church in the best condition possible when we do finish, there is simply no place to sit down, take off our running shoes, soak our feet and let others do the running. We are called to finish as well as we started.

Now I am aware that Paul was talking about being faithful to Christ until the time of his death. His use of the nautical term "departure" in verse six literally gives the idea of casting off the tie down ropes and setting sail. And he was faithful. Until the day his noble head dropped into the executioner's basket Paul was totally faithful. But there is an application to how we finish out our days in active ministry and move into retirement, when most of us really do want to be continually useful, though at a different pace.

For myself, I have identified some challenges to keep before me, and that may be useful to you. I know that I am a Type A personality. I tend to be a bit driven and a bit perfectionistic. On days that I do not feel have "saved the world" I tend to get down on myself and feel a bit of a failure. Coasting would not be a major temptation. However, because I am human, I am just as much a victim of the fall out of The Fall as anyone else and I could have a tendency toward laziness. I am not a workaholic; there are other things I love to do besides work. But I can't stand the idea of becoming stale. The church will know it and I will know it. I want to turn over to my successor a church that is passionate about revival, focused on souls, grounded on the Rock, excited about Jesus, faithful in its giving, enthusiastic about the future, concerned about families, and all that will take work by me, work right up to the time the good-byes have been spoken and the office cleaned out. So I share with you this list of suggestions about how to "keep the pedal to the metal," and not to coast.

Stay as physically fit as possible. Some of the most important words in our vocabulary as we mature are, "proper diet and exercise." There are enough "sofa spuds" in the world without preachers adding to their numbers. But exercise and diet are not just for the purpose of living longer, though that has its appeal.

The issue is, because we are body, spirit and soul unities, what affects the body affects the spirit, the mind and the creativity. Physical laziness produces mental dullness. A lack of self-control in regard to eating will rob a person of their desire to stay in the harness, pulling the load faithfully. An    intentional program of physical fitness and a healthy diet will go a long way toward helping a person stay alert mentally, with a desire to stay fully involved in their work.

Of course, as you age, decisions have to be made about work-loads. An older person cannot work the number of hours they once did - and of course, there may likely be those wonderful creatures called "grandchildren" that need more of your time. But physical fitness is a key to not drifting into the "coast mode."

A. Stay Focused on your Purpose as a Minister

That does not change though your physical abilities do. You need to know your strengths and not get strung out trying to be everything to everybody. You are blessed if you have a church that allows you to focus mainly on who you are. When you know that, you will be much more likely to, and much more passionate about staying as active as possible for as long as possible. Perhaps you could have a conversation with your lay leaders about just that. They may be more understanding than you think, and they will definitely be excited about the fact you want to give all you can for as long as you can - in fact, they expect that.

B. Maintain a Biblical View of Success

It is the perception of failure in ministry that drives many ministers to quit, or at least to not give their all during their later years. Usually that perception of failure, however, derives from comparison with the statistics of other ministers and their churches. God makes it very clear in His Word that such comparisons are "not wise" (2 Corinthians 10:12). The purest definition of biblical success I have ever heard is that of Dr. George W. Truett who said, "Success is finding and doing the will of God."

And because God's will for us is tailored to us as individuals, and is "good, acceptable and   perfect" (Romans 12:2), he will never require of a sixty-four year old, physically, what he does of a twenty-five year old. When you are finding and doing His will for you, you can follow through with all you have right on to the end. If your offering is the best you can give, in the power of the Holy Spirit, it will be a worthy offering, acceptable to God, though it may not involve as many hours as a person twenty years your junior could give.

C. Stay Fresh in your Personal, Spiritual Growth

That means staying fresh in your quiet time and the other spiritual disciplines of the Christian life. You can continue to grow spiritually as you age. Almost everyone has heard the story of the college professor who applied for the vacant position as chairman of his department, but was rejected. He angrily confronted the dean and said, "I have twenty one years of experience!" The dean replied, "No, you have one year of experience, repeated twenty times.

Frequent moves between churches may indicate a lack of real growth throughout the years. A lack of growth and freshness will definitely lead to a lack of creative thought and a lack of desire to strongly lead and minister as you get older.

Stay current in your reading and your exposure to trends in the world.

Read newspapers and current books. Attend conferences. Not just conferences on preparing for retirement, but conferences that will keep you up on trends in the church. If you come away from a conference with two fresh ideas it was worth it. The sheer mental challenge of staying in touch with what is happening in the Church in our day is impetus enough to stay busy and fresh. Deciding how to respond to those trends means there is no place to back away from the work.

Rework your church's vision and mission statements

If your church's polity requires that a committee or special team does that, see that such a team is named. That process alone will keep you thinking and working on something meaningful. It will keep you focused on the future, not the past. Don't ever fall victim to the temptation to live in the past, or to live on the energy of past victories. The old statement is true, "When you have more memories than vision, your church is in trouble." And so are you.

Mentor a younger, less experienced minister

If there are people in your church who have felt a calling to the ministry, they will benefit not only from your wisdom and experience, but from the relationship with you. You will benefit from the opportunity to invest in their lives.

Many younger pastors would be more open to your counsel than you might imagine. You will feel a new sense of usefulness and purpose in your ministry.

Formulate at least one new idea a year that will be a challenge to your church, and help it move toward fulfilling its mission.

Begin a Bible study for business people at breakfast or lunch. Help your church become an 'adoption friendly" church. Start a worship service in a nursing home. Form a "Vision Team" to set goals for the future. Again, that will keep you thinking about continuing your journey, not just "treading water" where you are, or, worse, quitting.

Enjoy deepening your relationships with your people

Having been in my church for twenty nine years, I enjoy "having a history" with people. I enjoy being able to look back and remember births, baptisms, weddings and times we walked together through life's crises. As you develop a history with people, as you concentrate on people, you will forget about yourself. Enjoying relationships more truly will give life and freshness to your spirit.

Of course, conflicts come in relationships also, but even then it can be stimulating using your experience and wisdom to help resolve those conflicts.

Don't use your age as a cop out

Don't whine about your age. Don't justify arriving late and leaving early by your age. Don't disappear on your staff, and do just enough to get by. Stay engaged in your ministry. Coasting through your closing years may cost the church in the end, and leave a memory of you that is not what you wanted it to be.

We have all heard, and probably used the quotation, "God calls us to be faithful not until we are tired, or retired, but until we are expired." The Bible says, ". . . It is required of stewards that a man be found faithful." (I Corinthians 4:2). You and I are stewards of the ministries entrusted to us.

There are many familiar stories of people who did their best work when they were older. Emmanuel Kant wrote his most famous work on philosophy when he was seventh-four. Verdi wrote the beautiful setting of "Ave Maria" at the age of eighty-five. When he was eighty Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote his poem, "Crossing the Bar." At eighty, Goethe finished "Faust" and Moses started on the exodus from Egypt. Caleb stormed and claimed a mountain at eighty-five. When Michelangelo died at age eighty seven he was still supervising the work on St. Peter's Cathedral and was carving the "Pieta." Why not determine to add your name to that list? Not for the sake of your ego but for the sake of the Kingdom.


I have already referred to my father, who was a Southern Baptist pastor for over sixty years, counting the time he was a student pastor. My father once acknowledged that late in his ministry he had reached a point of such frustration, that he would consider doing something else. He did not leave the ministry, however, and as has already been noted, his last years of active ministry saw some great victories.

The point is that staying the course until the end does not mean you will never have times when you consider stopping short of the goal line. "Finishing the course" as Paul said will not be an accident, but the product of purposeful action, deliberate thinking, careful planning and reliance on the refreshing power of the Holy Spirit.

Those who labor for the Lord are guaranteed to receive rewards. Our task is to remain faithful. God has taken on Himself the responsibility of giving those rewards. If you are faithful, you are a winner regardless of the world's definition of success.

A group of adventurous college students decided to climb a mountain in North Georgia one Saturday and camp overnight at the summit. After several hours, all but one had reached the top. The group perched on the peak, but the straggler kept repeating, "I'm exhausted. I just can't make it." They said, "But the view will make it worth it." Finally, just before sundown, he summoned up his last ounce of strength, and clamored to the top. When he stood up and surveyed the view, he said, "The difference was worth the distance."

Finishing well is worth going the distance in ministry. Don't get sidetracked. Don't blow your opportunity. Don't miss the fruit and the reward that wait at the end. Be faithful to the end. Don't chicken out, and don't just coast your way to the finish line. As a track coach would say, "Run all the way through the tape." Coasting is for sleds, not preachers!