On Friday morning, John Greening delivered his last conference sermon as national representative. “This could not have been a more delightful experience,” he said, referring to his 22 years of leading the association. “Honestly, I can say that from the bottom of my heart.”
Greening’s Scripture text was Ephesians 5:22–6:23, one of the most practical sections of the entire epistle. In these verses, Paul gave extended instructions to the Ephesians on how their position in Christ should impact every other area of their lives. It was a fitting passage, then, for Greening to use as a launchpad from which to offer some final words of advice, both to the association in general and to his successor Mike Hess in particular. These words of advice covered the following wide range of topics:
- The church. “The first thing for us to understand,” Greening said, “is the love that Christ has for His bride, the church. It is a love that is so vast and immeasurable.” Because Christ’s love for the church is so vast, it demands a serious, careful, coordinated response. Church leaders need to give themselves to the work of caring for Christ’s bride and fulfilling His purpose for her—namely, that she be brought increasingly into a state of spiritual maturity through dependence on Him.
- Marriage. Seeing the relationship between Christ and the church—characterized, as it is, by the self-sacrificing love of Christ and the respectful submission of the church—should inspire us to order our marriages after the same pattern.
- Family. “Your family is an ideal student-teacher classroom,” Greening said. In the educational world, student-teacher classrooms are where aspiring teachers learn to “put the theory into practice,” Greening explained. In the same way, Christian ministry leaders should view their homes and families as arenas in which the abstract concepts of theology are constantly translated into concrete godly living, service, and learning.
- The workplace. “It is no small task to lead a non-profit organization,” Greening said, speaking from extensive firsthand experience. “Leaders are required to have a remarkably diversified skillset.” But “of all the competencies that leaders need, top on the list is not MBA—it’s Christlikeness.” This principle applies not only to ministry leaders, but also to those who have administrative or managerial positions in the secular workforce. “Christlikeness is not only a subject for church, marriage, and family. It is also meant to establish behavioral expectations for the workplace,” Greening explained.
- A threat. Satan is real, and he is constantly on the prowl. His strategy is to seek out Christians of all backgrounds—and ministry leaders in particular—and assault them relentlessly. He is especially adept at finding the chinks in our armor and exploiting them mercilessly. Christians must resist him steadfastly. “Therefore take up the whole armor of God,” Paul urged his readers, “that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Eph. 6:13).
- Reliance. The strength to succeed—in any endeavor, but especially in the Christian life and in the work of the ministry—comes not from within, but from Christ. “You’ve got to avail yourself of the Lord’s competencies,” Greening explained. “God’s resources. Avail yourself of them every day. And recognize the network of prayer: we’ve got to pray for each other.”
- Communication. Paul made every effort to keep his friends, followers, and supporters updated on his ministry work. Much the same way, Greening said, ministry leaders today need to maintain their networks carefully. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can just work within a vacuum. You must work constantly to keep people informed.”
- Gratitude. Perhaps more than anything else, Paul’s life was marked by gratitude. He was acutely aware that he had become a recipient of God’s grace through no merit or achievement of his own, and he offered thanksgiving to God constantly. We too should constantly exhibit a spirit of gratitude, Greening said. “Make sure that people know how grateful you are for them, and that you desire the best for them in their lives.” As he turned to leave the platform, Greening put this principle into practice by thanking the association for the privilege of ministering to them for 22 years. “Listen, you folks have been so abundantly gracious to us,” he said. “It has been the highest, most humbling privilege and honor to serve you. And all I wish for you is God’s blessing.”