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“Twenty Years in Eighteen Minutes”

I don’t own a Tesla, but after 20 years of ministry at Trinity Fellowship Church, my car could probably have driven itself. Interstate 635 and Greenville Avenue were unchanged that Sunday, but my thoughts went off-road. 

After the service that day, our church would celebrate my retirement as co-pastor.  During the 18- minute drive to church, I began to wonder what might be said. Somehow the thought of listing successes formed a pit in my stomach.

I wondered instead if there would be those who could say I had listened to them well. 

There had been times when the goal of my listening was to question, analyze, and wisely guide. These are good things and gifts God has given to bless many. But there were times I confused the means with the end. Asking good questions and offering reflection were partly what I needed (to feel valued and loved) rather than tools with which to truly hear another’s heart. 

As I revel more and more in the love of Christ, I’m becoming a listener with a different –  and far more energizing – agenda: to go with others to places I don’t control, to rest (not push), to accompany a fellow image-bearer of the Triune God side by side, or sometimes the tiniest baby steps ahead. In those few minutes on the drive, I hoped someone had experienced me as a listener, paying full attention to their words and heart, and moving together to follow the One who hears all, said and unsaid.

Five minutes away now, I thought of the leading I had done in 20 years. I had led many; whom did I launch? Who lived into and out of their God-given gifts and passions? Did I give people encouragement to boldly follow Christ and move towards what would most honor God’s design for them and through them, for His glory, and the flourishing of His kingdom? Was anyone finding the Christian life more of a joyful release of all that is good in a fallen world after time with me?

Listen. Launch. And pulling into the parking lot, the word “love” came to mind. In the beauty of this sanctuary full of broken and glorious people, with its three stained glass windows displaying the persons of the Trinity, my family and I had come weekly for over 20 years to taste, see, and share the goodness of God. I received strength and hope at the Lord’s Table, as both recipient and celebrant.  Between Sundays, who had tasted that strength, hope, and extravagant love from me? Was I sometimes too busy leading to love? Did I lead people first and foremost out of care for their soul, and only secondly towards a project or ministry outcome?  And did I receive and welcome the gift of their care for my soul as well?

As I stepped out of the car, I didn’t need affirmation of the absence or presence of any of these things. Rather, I was clearer in that moment that any legacy worth leaving as a pastor would be, in Jesus’ words, more about loving God and loving my neighbor than any other thing. 

If you’re curious about what I did hear that morning, let me share Hannah’s words.

Hannah, wife to Charlie and mom of three littles, was recently named one of Barron’s top 10 financial professionals to watch.  Her business focuses uniquely on relational aspects of money. We’ve enjoyed a lot of great coffee conversations together.  That morning, struggling through her beautiful tears, here’s part of what Hannah said:

“Diana and I spent a lot of time talking about my desire to live out my faith in the context of my work. I saw I could use what God had gifted me with to make an impact for Christ and His kingdom in an industry that often has other priorities. When we talked, I never felt like she was with me to figure out ministry things. She wanted to engage with me about what I was experiencing and how I could live fully as a follower and witness of Christ in the sphere of influence God has opened to me.”

I’m retired from a church, but never from the Church.  God willing, I’ll continue a legacy of more listening, launching, and loving. If you are earlier in your journey, don’t do as I did. Think about your legacy long before you’re on your way to the party. Guided by the scriptures, wonder with God about what you would want to be said after a season in a particular place of ministry. Ask trusted others to do the same, and get together to share. Let the lesser things be supplanted by the most important. And somewhere in your list, in honor of my retirement, please include space to listen, launch, and love.

By Diana Calvin

Diana Calvin is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, where she regularly serves as guest speaker in a course on Men and Women in Church Leadership. After roles as Women’s Ministry Director and Connections  Minister, Diana was the first woman to be ordained and to serve as Associate Pastor and then Co-Pastor of Trinity Fellowship Church in Richardson, TX. She is the co-author of Listen In: Building Faith and Friendship Through Conversations That Matter (IVP). Diana is married to John, and they have an adult daughter, Emily. 

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