After high school I attended Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri and began training for a life in vocational ministry. At that time my major required me to take a class on church growth. It was an interesting class that featured many guest lecturers who told fantastic and frightening stories about their experience in ministry. The class, however, was taught by Dr. Mike Randall.

Dr. Randall was a distinguished and humble gentleman who served, at that time, as the vice president of the college. He had years of church ministry experience under his belt and guided us through the class with expertise and skill. But one thing he required of every student in the class frustrated me beyond belief.  At the beginning of the semester he made us memorize the poem If-, by Rudyard Kipling. Then, to make matters worse, he made us quote the poem at the beginning of every class. In my arrogant, self-righteous youth, I thought he should have directed us to memorize and quote something more worthwhile, like Isaiah 53, or Romans 8, or any other passage of Scripture. So, at the beginning of every class I would roll my eyes and begrudgingly join the chorus of young men reciting these words:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Decades have passed since I sat in that second-floor classroom, groaning out the familiar refrain with my classmates. I have since come to realize that I could not have known then just how applicable Kipling’s words were to life and to pastoral ministry. I can’t tell you how many times I have quoted parts of this poem to myself at various moments throughout my journey. Today, I am grateful that Dr. Randall introduced me to Kipling and required me to commit those words to memory. I am even more thankful that God has sovereignly directed my life to intersect with people who have invested in me, challenged me, encouraged me, and even forced me to learn things I never believed would be useful. In other words, I’m glad Dr. Randall was smarter and wiser than me, and that he chose to invest his life in mine.

If you are teaching or mentoring someone, don’t give up when discouragement and doubt overwhelm you. Keep pouring your life into others.  Keep sharing the wisdom you’ve gained from experience. Keep working to equip them, even if they resist. Most importantly, keep pointing them to Jesus.

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