Fame is an elusive commodity. It has a shelf life, an expiration date. While some names are remembered for centuries (Julius Caesar, Attila the Hun, and William Shakespeare come to mind), the very few who attain some measure of fame in their own time will not be long remembered. The vast majority will be forgotten, even by those who knew them, in a few short decades.
You doubt this? Then, quickly, name the 15th President of the United States. You know, the one right before Abraham Lincoln. Unless you are an American history buff, you likely had to turn to a search engine to discover that James Buchanan, the only man ever elected to that office from Pennsylvania, and the only life-long bachelor, was the 15th President.
I asked two people this week if they knew who John Wayne was. A tiny sampling to be certain but neither could place the man who was, arguably, the greatest cinema hero and action figure of his day … which coincided with my childhood and teen years.
During my younger years in ministry one of the leading figures of what became known as the Charismatic Movement, or Charismatic Renewal, was Judson Cornwall. The author of over 50 books, Dr. Cornwall was a leading theologian in that particular niche of Christianity. He was featured on Christian television programs and spoke and lectured extensively. Three of his books, “Let Us Worship,” “Elements of Worship,” and “Let Us Praise,” are widely considered Christian classics.
I was privileged to have him as a guest speaker in the church I then served at least twice. By then, he was in his mid to late 60s, heading for 70. Both times, in addition to offering superb ministry, he spoke into my life at critical times.
Once, when we were at lunch, he asked me, “David, what do you fear most?”
I replied, “Missing God and God’s will.” “Hmmm,” he said.
“Well, let me ask you this. How small is your God that you think you can miss Him that easily? And how big do you think you are that He could not redirect your path if you did miss Him?” He smiled and said, “Relax, David. God is not that small and you are not that big!”
On a return visit, he discovered we had experienced what turned out to be a minor split. But, never having been through such a thing, I was devastated, feeling like a failure, and trying to figure out how to get them back. He patiently listened to my angst and spoke into my life again.
“David, you are not doing right. You are making the same mistake as King David did with his son Absalom.”
Absalom, in the Old Testament, had led a rebellion and was, for a time, successful. Then the day came when Absalom was killed in battle against his father’s forces. When a soldier delivered what he thought would be news well received, King David ripped his clothing, wailed his sorrow, and cried out, “Oh, Absalom, my son, my son. I wish that I had died instead of you.”
Dr. Cornwall pointed out that I was doing the same thing — agonizing over people who had chosen, by their feet, to fire me as their pastor. All the while, I was giving little notice to the 90% who had remained with the church and had expressed support.
“David, like King David, you are weeping over your losses and ignoring those who are faithful and stand with you. Like David’s soldiers, they feel like they don’t matter to you as much as the ones you lost. They are gone. Forget them and focus on those who love you.” It was sound advice which I took to heart.
Later, Judson was diagnosed with inoperable cancer of the spine. His traveling ministry ended in 2001 as a result. Ever the teacher, however, he used his own life experiences to write another book. “Dying with Grace.” He passed in 2005 at the age of 79.
I felt like I lost a friend and a mentor and that the Church had lost a great man. Today, however, younger people in that same slice of the church are unlikely to even know his name. Fame is fleeting.
In my life, I have served as the pastor to eight churches, including the one I have now served for 23 years. For the time I was at those other seven, I poured my very life into the members who were part of those congregations.
However, I am under no illusions that I am fondly remembered or even remembered at all. There may be some few who remember, but most will not. When I left my last church, one staff member said, “You can’t leave! This church will fall apart! We’ll never make it!”
I said, “Yes you will. The congregation will likely find someone younger and better than me. You’ll be fine.” And they did and they were.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t give it all we have, whatever the task. It simply means that “whatever our hand finds to do, do it with all your might,” and live in the present reality, realize that our legacy will not likely be fame, and leave the results to God.
And speaking of God, He never called us to be successful, at least as the world sees success. He called us to be faithful. If we are that, we are successful to the only one who matters.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA between Newnan and Peachtree City (www.ctk.life). He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South which consists of Georgia and Tennessee and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at email@example.com.]