What my grandfather taught me about the essentials of ministry
by T.J. Buckingham
It has now been 20 years since my grandfather, Jamie Buckingham, passed away. I cherish the 11 short years I had with him. He inspired me to pursue a life in ministry, for which I am very thankful.
Jamie was a unique man, and consequently a unique pastor. He often spoke and wrote about the various traits and the type of character required of those who have been called into ministry. They remain relevant for leaders today, and I am pleased to be able to share some of them with you to honor his memory.
Be real. Jamie often preached and wrote about his many flaws, citing specific examples of ways he had fallen short. He discovered how God could work in those imperfections to give encouragement to others. Living and preaching like this takes a lot of courage (and, according to my grandmother, requires permission from your spouse), but it allows you to experience an intimacy with others you might not otherwise find.
Be available. Every Sunday, Jamie was the first one in church and the last one out. He knew that you couldn't just be a pastor on Sunday—it's an everyday calling. I can remember people showing up on my grandparent's doorstep, often weeping, and often in the middle of the night. My grandfather knew being a pastor wasn't about convenience, it was about love—and the time he gave, showed the love he had.
Keep it simple. Preparing an elaborate sermon provides a way for pastors to flex their spiritual muscles. However, rarely do Greek references and Hebrew translations lead people to Christ. My grandfather always made it his goal to write a sermon so that a 12-year-old could easily understand it. He didn't try to preach in theological mumbo jumbo, but rather kept things simple. I suppose he took this tactic straight from Jesus, who taught in easy-to-understand parables.
Submit to the Spirit. Living a Spirit-led life allows God to decide: What you will do next; where you will go; whom you will mentor. Decisions are no longer just ours, but we become a messenger, acting on the Lord's behalf. Jamie wrote, "You cannot defend the Holy Spirit and reveal Him at the same time."
Love Israel. Anybody who knew Jamie knew of his love and passion for Israel. He went there many times, and spoke of how it always felt like home. Seeing the places where the stories in the Bible actually happened made him experience God in a more personal way. I have found this to be true myself.
Prick religious balloons (especially your own). Jamie often referenced "religious balloons," meaning the swell of pride that can hinder someone meant to be godly. He joked about how he enjoyed "popping" their balloons, reminding them that they were just as much a sinner as the rest of us. He was always very careful to keep his pride in check and never took himself too seriously. He knew how much God loved humility in people.
Reflecting on my grandfather's life has made me nostalgic. Now I find myself looking at a quote of his that is framed on my desk: "You are fast becoming what you are going to be." Jamie knew how precious time on this earth was; may we all be challenged to use the gift of tomorrow to become something better for Jesus.
T.J. Buckingham is a pastor in Melbourne, Fla. He and his wife, Amanda, have three children.