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Focus on the Family VP says ministry entails ‘surrender’

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–As Focus on the Family’s “pastor to pastors,” H.B. London exhorted an audience of seminarians to “lose control” by surrendering to God and to a lifetime of dedicated service in His church.

London, vice president of church, clergy and medical outreach at Focus on the Family and also a fifth-generation pastor, told a Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary chapel audience: “Most of us in this place are here because there was a time in our life when we felt the tap of God’s finger on our shoulder.” Referencing Jesus’ calling of Matthew in Matthew 9, London continued: “Most of us in this place felt in some significant way the touch of God in our lives. There was this moment when He said, ‘Follow me.’”

London recounted God’s calling on his life and the advice he received from a youth pastor.

“He said, ‘I promise you H.B., if you’ll invest your life in the souls of men and the Word of God, you’ll always reap a benefit in ministry, you’ll always have something to show for it,’” London said in his visit to the Kansas City, Mo., campus in early February.

Those “pivotal words” were a catalyst in his life as he begun a journey in pastoral ministry that lasted more than 31 years before joining Focus on the Family 10 years ago to minister to pastors and their spouses.

“If you’re really committed to invest your life in that, then commit your life for a lifetime,” London said. “Don’t just use it as a stopgap. Make it your life’s work.”

The service to which Jesus called his disciples was one of endurance and sacrifice, London said.

“That’s what Jesus was saying to Peter and the other guys,” he said. “It’s not a 100-yard dash. It’s going to be a marathon. And you’ll probably not get out of it alive.”

The “high cost” and “dedication” required in God’s service is not a regular topic throughout many ministries today, London acknowledged.

Approximately 1,500 pastors leave the ministry every month, he said. Through Focus on the Family’s pastor’s hotline alone, at least one pastor a day calls who is leaving the ministry.

“It usually begins with pride,” London said. “It usually begins with a guy who sets his own rules. He lives by his own standard.”

London mentioned an acrostic –- “GRACE” –- which represents a vital set of principles for helping pastors maintain a godly life and fruitful ministry throughout their lives. The acrostic, which is a part of his ministry’s Shepherd’s Covenant that pastors sign, stands for: “Genuine accountability,” “Right relationships,” “A shepherd’s heart,” “Constant safeguards” and “Embracing Christ intimately.”

The “whole purpose of it,” London said, “is to live above reproach, to live a lifestyle that is not only pleasing to God, but winsome to people who will look in on your life.”

He recounted a time early in his ministry when he was asked by his denomination to travel the country speaking to other church leaders about the successes he was having in his ministry.

“They wanted me to fly around and tell people what we were doing. And I didn’t know what we were doing,” London said.

Then the emptiness he held in his heart finally caught up to him.

“I remember laying myself flat on the floor in front of the communion altar and I just started crying like a baby, because I felt so ugly and felt so phony,” London said. “I was playing a game and everybody else thought I was winning, when the reality was I was losing.”

London said he confessed to the Lord that his efforts were centered on himself rather than God.

“I remember saying to the Lord, ‘This is really stupid. Is there some way I can get out of this without embarrassing one another?’” London said. “In the quietness of that moment, there was a surrender and a realization that it was more about Him than me and that it was His church.”

London said three things came of that humbling experience: he came to a renewed surrender to the Lord; his view of the Bible changed from being a “preaching text” to a “light and a lamp”; and he gained a new boldness.

“I’d been in ministry for 10 years, pastoring a big church, having all those things that go along with it,” London said. “But there was an emptiness that I couldn’t explain until that moment of surrender to the person of Christ, who a bunch of years before had walked by and tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Follow Me.’

“I tell you, this ministry thing is not for the faint of heart, for the ego-minded. It’s not for people who want to be served. It’s not about position or prestige or power. It’s all about surrender. And it seems nobody wants to do that anymore. Because when you surrender, you lose control,” London said.

“The truth of the matter is in ministry today there are a lot of us who need to lose control.”

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  • Cory Miller