If you’ve been following this blog, you know by now that one of our dearest friends and mentors, Dave Long, recently died. Like Barry, I’ve been trying to not only grieve but to think and consider, to remember lessons Dave taught me by precept or example. In family worship over the past week, I tried to teach my kids some of the biggest lessons God taught me through my friend Dave.
I’d like to tell you one of those, too.
In Acts 9:26-30, the church in Jerusalem is, wisely, worried about the sincerity of the Saul’s conversion, who until recently had been “breathing threats” against the church. Were it not for Barnabas – who had seen the fruit of Saul’s conversion firsthand and put his own reputation on the line to speak up for Saul – the whole situation might have turned out very differently. Although Barnabas wasn’t at the heart of the story, he was instrumental in the success of Saul’s ministry.
Here’s the lesson Dave showed me: Work for the success of others, not your own.
Often Dave recalled his own and greatest Barnabas, Bill Long. Bill was an elder in the Lafayette RP congregation when the fledgling pastor first came to minister there. Bill not only took Dave under his wing to give him counsel, he constantly promoted Dave, supporting his ministry and encouraging the congregation to appreciate and follow this young pastor. Dave was quick to confess how vital Bill’s role was in his own success as a pastor.
Bill’s example didn’t go to waste. As soon as he was able, Dave sought to bring other men into the gospel ministry. In the process, he never protected his own turf, but was glad to give us opportunities to serve and even minister publicly when he would have done a much better job at it.
As the years went on, in countless ways Dave worked to make each of his students and friends truly successful in the pastorate. A couple of us were brought back to serve as his associate pastor at different times. As one of those, it’s hard to express how much Dave tried to help me be successful: he encouraged me, he challenged me, he met weekly with me, he counseled me, he promoted my ministry to the congregation. And when I was sent out to church plant, he and the congregation joyfully sent out with me many loved members of the church.
Here’s what stood out to me the most: Dave was deeply and genuinely delighted when he believed one of his disciples surpassed him in some way or another. He was quick to point out how this one became such a great preacher or how this other one had a better way with certain people. Although we would shudder to ever claim such things, it gave Dave such joy.
Like every good parent who hopes and prays their children grow to surpass them in godliness and success, so was Dave with those he taught. It’s yet another reason Barry preached on 1 Thessalonians 2:8 at the funeral: “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”
Whether you knew Dave or not, please consider with me how we might work for the success of others this year. Who can you encourage and promote and protect? For parents, this should begin with our children. Take it further: which of your coworkers could you be helping to be successful? Who in your church could use ministry opportunities that you might prefer to keep to yourself?
In other words…
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phil. 2:3-4)