The following article is a guest post from Robert McFarland, a retired minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. He served pastorates in Rose Point (PA), Park City, Quinter, and Topeka (KS). He also served as the RPCNA’s Director of Educational Services and Youth Ministry, and the Midwest Presbytery’s Regional Home Missionary. He has been married to Georgia for 60 years, and they have three children, seven grandchildren, and one great grandson. Mistakenly, the second half of Bob's article was left off the original post, so it is printed here in its entirety.
While attending Geneva College, I took my student teaching in Beaver Falls High School. One day while I was teaching a class the dismissal bell rang. Students needed no benediction to leave the room! I opened my notebook and wrote something down. Miss Cook, my supervising teacher, saw me writing, came up to me and said, “Mr. McFarland, I have noticed you writing down things at the end of your days of teaching. Could I ask what you are writing?” I showed her my page of notes entitled What I learned today about teaching school. That day I had written down: Do not make a homework assignment after the bell rings!
I soon learned that I needed a similar page in the pastorate. Here are only a few things I have learned by experience in my 60 years as an ordained Reformed Presbyterian minister. I have learned much from life and people. I thank God for the counsel of those who taught me. Solomon, the wisest man, wrote, "I went by the field of the lazy man, and by the vineyard of the man devoid of understanding . . . I considered it well; I looked on it and received instruction" (Prov. 24:30-32).
I have learned just how brief life can be. It was our regular monthly session meeting. Elder Dr. McElroy asked to relate to us his recent medical X-ray results. Cancer was spread throughout, and he told us, “The doctor says three months to live or at the most six months.” He died five months later at age 63 (two years younger than me). As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone (Psalm 103:15, 16).
I am not indispensable. The college organizations where I used to be an officer were left behind. The congregation where I served as pastor has a new pastor. The church class of youth whom I taught for years has a new teacher. They are all still functioning well without my involvement. I say to every man there is among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think (Rom. 12:3).
I learned to be faithful and have courage. After preaching in a service, an older person told me at the door of the church, “If what you said today is true, then I am headed for Hell!” My message that day was on one of the Reformed and distinctive principles of our denomination. Preach the word! Be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction (2 Tim. 4:2).
I learned the meaning of ‘servanthood’. It was cold day, and a big truck pulled up to our church building. The driver knocked at our parsonage next door and asked if I knew anybody that could help him unload the new tables he was delivering for the church. I grabbed a coat and met him at the church door. When he saw the six steps leading to the basement, he told me loudly “I don’t do stairs!” I quickly yelled back, “Stairs were not agreed to in my Gospel Call contract either, but hang on! We’re going downstairs!” And we did. Rather silently, I might add. For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all (1 Cor. 9:19).
I learned the importance of training interns. During the seventeen years I served as pastor in a small, rural congregation, the Session members worked with me to have fourteen theological students to come as summer interns in our congregation. It took a cattleman/farmer to describe my method of training. One day at his farm, he showed me an old mule in the pen and a young calf tied to him on a five foot rope. When I asked what he was doing, he said "I am training this young calf like you are training the young interns. He is tied to you and learns to do things your way. He learns the importance of leadership after a few days of experiencing being led." In all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works, in doctrine showing integrity, reverence. . . sound speech that cannot be condemned (Titus 2:7,8).
I had to learn how to "swim down". As a young pastor it did not take long before I realized that I, like a dead fish, was floating to the top. I was always asked to pray to start the class. I was asked to lead many prayer requests. I was asked to inform them if anything was wanted in the parsonage, etc. I was the "minister" living in the manse. This was not the type of ministry I felt God calling me to have. I left the pastoral ministry for several years, and when I returned to pastor a congregation I used every opportunity I could to be one of the congregation in addition to my weekly preaching, morning and evening. I asked men if I could meet with them for prayer and fellowship. I went to cattle sale barns where the men were, attended school programs, was the assistant football coach, participated in Rotary and local community drama productions. And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2).
Always be ready for the unexpected. While on a camping trip, my family dropped into a small Reformed Presbyterian congregation for Sabbath morning service. To my total surprise, at the close of the Sabbath School the superintendent announced "Mr. McFarland is here. We will now have preachin'." Although my attire looked camp-wrinkled and I had nothing but my Bible, I preached. Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15). (The honorarium must have gotten lost in the mail!)
I have written just a few of my many learning experiences ( I have in my notes listed 6o!) so that others may know learning never stops at the graduation ceremony. John Calvin comments: "Those who far surpass others are still far distant from the goal."
Hence, whatever progress we may have made, let us always keep in view our deficiencies, that we may not be reluctant to aim at something farther." Paul was anxious to inform Timothy concerning his life of learning. You Timothy, have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me (2 Timothy 3:1o).
Still learning in retirement ministry,