Dr. Don Sisk just spent two days with me and our church family. For many years, my office was about six feet from his office, so we talked and visited often. I have missed him. Few people have had as profound an impact on my life as this godly man.
These past two days, he preached to our church family and did a marvelous job. He greatly encouraged me in the ministry. As always, we laughed a lot together. Nobody has more funny one-liners than Don Sisk. We spent several hours working on his biography and reflecting on his 62 years of marriage and ministry, which afforded some rich conversations with real depth. Here are a few take-aways that God taught me in my time with Don Sisk.
1. Worry Less—after reviewing tens of thousands of words that tell the story of his 80+ years of life, I asked Dr. Sisk, “When you look back on all of that, do you just wonder why you ever worried about anything?” He laughed and said, “Yes, if I was doing it all over again I probably wouldn’t worry at all.” Then he paused and retracted his statement, “On second thought, maybe worrying did some good, because nearly everything I ever worried about DIDN’T happen!” We both belly laughed. I think we will all look back on our lives and regret what we worried about.
2. More Family Time—when talking about how grateful he is that his children served the Lord and how they continue to faithfully honor Jesus, and then reflecting upon early family life and ministry, he said, “If I was doing it all over again I would spend a lot more time with my children.” Good advice from a faithful man! At 45 with my last child at home, from my limited vantage point, I would loudly concur!
3. Laugh a Lot—this man exudes the joy of the Lord, in spite of the trials of life. He laughs more than any other human being I know. Hanging out with him for a while reminds me of being around teenagers in youth ministry—laughter abounds! I love being around someone who takes ministry seriously but themselves not so seriously!
4. Keep Working on Marriage—he shared with our couples class on Sunday morning that marriage is something you work on for your whole life together. You never arrive at a utopian plateau. After 62 years of marriage, he speaks with authority. He said to us, “Just keep working on it. Don’t give up.” Good advice!
5. Age with Joy—being around Don Sisk gives you a sense of hope that aging doesn’t have to be depressing! It’s a choice. It’s intentional. It’s contagious. This man has embraced every season of life with delight. I used to teach young adults that discontentment may be defined (at least in part) as BEING in one season of life, but WISHING you were in another. Don Sisk is a living example of accepting every season without looking back or looking ahead for too long. He lives in this moment, grateful for it, and refuses to get melancholy about past or future seasons.
6. Keep Learning—Don Sisk asked me for our wifi password. He is proficient with his smart phone, computer, and iPad. He has a large Kindle library. He told me what he’s reading right now and what he’s learning. He is pursuing God and growing in grace like he’s just getting started. He refuses to stagnate or grow lethargic. He has aged, but he’s definitely not old!
7. Avoid the Ego Traps—I’ve never met a man who knew so many great people and leaders in Christendom over the last 80 years. He not only knew them, he knew them well! Tom Malone, Lee Roberson, Bob Jones, Warren Weirsbe, Jerry Falwell, Adrian Rogers, John Rice, and literally hundreds of other servants of God. When I asked him, “Dr. Sisk, why all the politics and problems over the decades between believers who believe nearly exactly the same thing?” His simple answer, “Ego.” He’s right.
8. Avoid the Nonsense—He sat next to me on the front row of our church as we worshipped on Sunday morning. We sang hymns and we sang new songs, and he worshipped with joy and sincerity. He didn’t critique me for using a screen or teaching our church a new song. He didn’t evaluate and judge what new Christians were wearing to church. He didn’t despise me or our church over some preference. He rejoiced to minister to our church. He preached the gospel, and two souls responded for salvation. I love his focus on what truly matters!
9. Be Humble—This man has more honors and ministry achievements than he can remember, and yet he laughs it all off with a grateful but humble heart. As we talked through the biographical information, I discovered he had spoken at many major Bible training institutions and had been given eight honorary doctorates over the years. I sat back, looked at him, and said, “Dr. Sisk, you’re just an honorary doctorate hog!” He laughed, I continued, “I mean, when is enough enough? Ok… we get it… you’re great!” We both shared a good laugh over that.
10. Love Everybody—In all of my time with Dr. Sisk over the years, I have never heard him speak ill of people. He harbors no bitterness or ill-will. He’s not angry at anyone. He doesn’t despise other believers. He’s not fighting other Christians. He just loves and encourages people. That sure makes the gospel contagious!
11. Finish Strong—This man keeps going. He keeps preaching the same gospel he began preaching sixty years ago. He has never lost interest in seeing people come to Jesus Christ, and in personally telling others about the grace of God.
12. Listen to Preaching to Grow as a Preacher—Even casual conversation with Don Sisk makes you want to take notes. This morning at 4:30 a.m. as we drove to the airport he said two things that stuck with me. The first was, “The best way a man can grow as a preacher is to listen a lot to good preaching.” Great advice.
13. No Generation Gap—The second, and deeply meaningful thing he said to me was this, “Cary, one thing I appreciate about our time together is that, any time I’ve ever spent time with you, there’s no generation gap between us.” He continued, “A lot of younger men have no interest in having a relationship with older men in ministry. They see your age and just sort of want nothing to do with you.” He is right on both counts—we don’t have a generation gap, and younger men need to think differently towards gracious older leaders. My thought is this. Don Sisk makes it easy to have no generation gap. He’s not proud or judgmental. He’s genuinely loving, encouraging, and joyful. I can’t imagine a younger man being around him and not finding him incredibly enjoyable and wise.
My heart is full after spending two days with this man, and I just couldn’t help but share it! Perhaps we can learn from his 60 years of faithful, joyful, gracious ministry! And perhaps we can all work to close the generation gap a bit and tap into the hearts of men like this. Not every older man is this joyfully wise and gracious, but for those who are—they have MUCH to contribute to our lives as we press on for Jesus!