(This post has been updated with funeral information. The original headline was “Throwback Thursday: Wayne Shaw and ‘Finishing Well.'”)
Dr. Wayne E. Shaw, 89, dean emeritus with Lincoln (Ill.) Christian University, died Wednesday, July 14. The 1954 graduate of Lincoln Bible Institute started preaching upon arriving at the school in 1950 and, over time, preached everywhere from small country churches on up to the stage at the North American Christian Convention.
Shaw “served as Lincoln Christian University’s first full-time preaching professor, second Seminary Dean, and lifelong ambassador,” LCU wrote on its website last week.
The Pantagraph newspaper published an obituary for Shaw over the weekend. Services will be at 10 a.m. Friday at Lincoln Christian Church with Don Green and Tom Ewald sharing messages from Scripture. Visitation will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the church.
Shaw wrote this “Reflections” column about finishing well for a 2001 issue of Christian Standard.
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Finishing Well: A Magnificent Obsession
September 16, 2001; p. 20
By Wayne Shaw
Lecturing at our seminary in Lincoln, Illinois, Professor J. Robert Clinton of Fuller Theological Seminary made this shocking statement from his research: “Two out of every three Christian leaders do not finish well.”
He was not saying that all these leaders from the Bible and church history aborted their faith in God—just that most of them finished their lives poorly. I determined then that, by God’s grace, I would finish well. That has become a magnificent obsession.
Incidentally, Clinton’s definition of a Christian leader is one of the best I have heard. “Leadership,” he says, “is a dynamic process in which a man or woman with God-given capacity influences a specific group of God’s people toward the purposes for the group.” Contrary to the popular notion that a leader must have a formal position, title, or formal training, leaders of all kinds in the church can fit this description.
Clinton’s description of the stages of development of a Christian leader changed my perspective toward retirement. His ministry timeline begins with Ministry Foundations, when basic character and values are shaped, conversion occurs, and the potential leader comes alive to God. In the second stage, Early Ministry, we make a basic commitment to leadership, experience hands-on ministry, and gain insight into our giftedness and life purpose.
In the third stage, Middle Ministry, leaders clarify their life purpose, learn to empower others, face authority issues, and hone ministry skills.
The emphasis during the Latter Ministry stage is not on what leaders can do but what leaders are. Skills are still valued, but character has ripened and deepened. The Finishing Well stage consolidates a lifetime of ministry and develops a legacy as leaders invest themselves in mentoring the emerging generation of leaders.
For a few, the afterglow of their ministry goes on long after they are retired or deceased. Earl C. Hargrove, founding president of Lincoln Christian College and Seminary, and Enos E. Dowling, first dean of the graduate school, are two such examples for me. They, being dead, still speak. For me, equipping Christian leaders to preach the Word of God is a key life purpose. I want very much to pass on their legacy and mine.
The Scriptures have a lot to say about God’s desire for us to finish well. Clinton’s name for it is the Ephesians 2:10 life: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
One of my favorite Scriptures on finishing well is Philippians 3:12-14: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect; but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Second only to Jesus, Clinton lifts up Daniel in the Old Testament and Paul in the New Testament (I would quickly add Joseph) as Bible heroes who finished well. Biblical leaders who finished poorly include Samson, David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Judas, and Demas.
In the Finishing Well stage, God moves leaders into roles that match their gift mix and experience in order to maximize their ministry. Many leaders do not experience this because they lack personal development or they work with a Christian organization that either keeps them from exercising their gifts or terminates them for reasons other than loss of ability.
In addition, there are six barriers to finishing well:
1. The misuse of money.
First Timothy 6:10 states, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” Especially among Christian leaders, being greedy or handling money carelessly (either in one’s personal life or in the church) has entrapped many. Ananias and Sapphira illustrate this principle well.
2. The abuse of power.
Effective leaders must be granted power to accomplish their ministry, but their practice of power can lead them to abuse people or position, usually without counterbalancing it with appropriate accountability. Power without grace can be quite cruel and destructive.
3. Inappropriate pride.
Leaders must have a healthy respect for themselves, but they must never become self-centered. Since it is God who has gifted us and enabled us to minister, we can only live up to the potential of His gift to us.
4. Illicit sexual relationships.
“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality,” wrote the apostle Paul (Ephesians 5:3). One has only to contrast Joseph’s response to Potiphar’s wife with how King David behaved toward Bathsheba and Uriah, to see the far-reaching consequences of sexual sin.
5. Unhealthy family life.
Problems between spouses, between parents and children, or between siblings can destroy a leader’s ministry. Again, David’s family is a prime example. Look at Amnon, Tamar, and Absalom.
Competent leaders tend to plateau. when they begin to trust in their own strength, cease depending on the Lord, and quit growing. Most of us plateau several times in the course of our ministry and must work at seeking avenues to stimulate personal growth.
With a failure ratio of two-to-one staring us in the face, what can a Christian leader do to finish well? Here are my guidelines:
1. Keep godly.
We may not be as brilliant or capable as other leaders, but we can all behave ourselves. Satan is out to get us, but God will protect us if we seek the fruit of the Spirit and not the works of the flesh.
2. Keep growing.
George Bernard Shaw once said, “Some men die at 30 and are buried at 60.” We ought to be better leaders the older we get, if we do not plateau and remain there. Being aware of this tendency and taking advantage of available resources will keep us from stagnating.
3. Keep gracious.
Our ailments and egos can rob us of a sweet spirit as we grow older if we do not guard our hearts. John 1:14 says that Jesus came to us “full of grace and truth.” Fred Craddock reminds us that the final work of grace in our lives is to make us gracious.
4. Keep glowing.
Christian leaders neglect their inner life at their peril. Ministry that has depth to it flows out of who we are as God’s servants more than what we are capable of doing. We will not be able to bring anyone closer to the Lord than we are ourselves; therefore, we need to practice spiritual disciplines all our lives.
5. Keep giving.
Even if our income decreases, we still need to give the minimum of a tithe, but we also should continue to invest ourselves in mentoring emerging leaders, working with a favorite mission project, doing volunteer service in the church and community, and keeping our family ties intact.
6. Keep going.
Our ministry may change and slow down drastically, but our work is not done until the Lord calls us home. Elton Trueblood defined retirement as “release for service.” God keeps us here for a reason and we need to make our lives count for Him every day, all our days. Ministry may change, but it never quits. He who “began a good work in [us] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
We can all finish well if we will. We must not undo the work of a lifetime with a poor finish. Our latter years can be ripe with opportunity for some of our best ministry. And remember, our finish here is really only God’s beginning.