Thomas Jefferson Bowen was the first Southern Baptist missionary to both Nigeria and Brazil. His largely forgotten, but captivating story is told in the new book Unthinkable: The Triumph and Tragedy of Forgotten American Hero T. J. Bowen by my friend Jim Hardwicke. The Nigerian and Brazilian Baptist Convention each have millions of members, thousands of churches, as well as schools, camps, and other ministry entities. Bowen’s story is a powerful example of the results which come from planting the gospel in a new place and then letting a century or more go by!
Another more current example is a missionary who has recently led the first people to faith in Jesus in a people group in Southeast Asia. It took them almost a decade of intensive work to reach the first convert. Now dozens are coming to faith. In a generation or two, this nascent movement will likely be a source for missionary outreach to surrounding people. The gospel is compelling for all who hear it and produces missionaries from and in every context.
A wise man once told me, “We overestimate what we can do in one year and underestimate what we can do in ten.” He encouraged me to take the long view of my work. While some tasks require attention today, the most consequential actions sometimes produce little or no immediate results. However, they do put processes into motion that make a significant impact over time.
My church planting experience is a good example. We started a church more than 30 years ago. The results it is achieving today are a humbling demonstration of God’s ability to accomplish more than we could have imagined when we were setting up equipment hauled from storage in a third-hand truck every week to a public school gymnatorium (yes, that’s a thing). Another example is training students at Gateway. We seldom see a new graduate make a major ministry impact right out of seminary. But every year, we marvel at what those who graduated 20 years ago are now doing. Their impact is profound—and gives meaning to the daily grind of the work we do.
What are you doing right now that will bear fruit in the future? Yes, the demands of today are urgent. But leaders allocate time and invest in activities with an eye on the horizon. We are building now, but also planting shade trees for a future generation.
Take the long view on your work, your family, and the impact you can make by strategically investing time, energy, and money in projects and people that will pay dividends—over time—in God’s kingdom. Your legacy is more than the combined impact of your daily activities. It includes what you do that has generational impact in the future. Make sure that is part of your leadership and life plan.
Dr. Chris Chun hosted a digital symposium with Dr. Michael Haykin and Dr. Robert Caldwell to discuss Edwards’ spirituality, devotional life and theological impact in American Christianity.