Sometimes you hear the question: What will they say about you at your funeral?
But I’m not sure how many people care what’s said at their funeral. After all, at your funeral, you’re dead. A far more intimidating question is: What will they say about you at your retirement party? You’ll have to listen (or pretend to listen) to every word of those speeches.
A Man of Character
These thoughts came to my mind recently when I had the privilege of attending a local pastor’s retirement party. A couple hundred people from many walks of life, from multiple churches, from all over Rhode Island (and even some from distant states), gathered on a hot summer day to honor this minister for his decades of ministry. Person after person stood up to tell stories and comment on how he and his wife had impacted their lives. This man was said to be a man of:
Faith and courage
Perseverance, hard work, and faithfulness
Wisdom and prudence
Humility and service
Love for and investment in others
Love for God
If you attended this retirement party, perhaps you would have thought this man was too good to be true. But I know this man very well – he’s my father. With my inside family knowledge, I can confirm the description above is very accurate.
A Lifetime of Growth
Probably more than anyone else at the party, I found myself driven to self-examination. At my own retirement party would the speeches sound at all similar? If I retired today, certainly not. But if my dad had retired at my age, the speeches at his party would have been different, too. Developing character takes time.
Of course, the goal is not to hear accolades from others for the work we do. We are to live only for the words “well done” from our Master. However, what I find helpful is reflecting on the type of things people said about my father. They did not honor him for his accomplishments, his visionary leadership or his fresh new ideas. What people spoke about most was the kind of man my father is – his character, his lifestyle, how he handles himself in relationships, etc.
As a pastor, if I want to tell people to follow me as I follow Christ (1 Cor. 11:1), if I want people to observe the outcome of my life in order to imitate my faith (Heb. 13:7), then I need to “set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). I need to practice these things and be committed to them, so that my progress may be evident to all. I need to pay close attention to my life and teaching, and I need to persevere, for in doing this I will save both myself and my hearers (1 Tim. 4:15-16).
Randall Curtis serves as the Rhode Island regional coordinator for the Baptist Convention of New England.