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It’s strange. I used to think that godliness meant that one becomes more serious, cerebral, and accomplished. I’ve come to realize that some of the godliest people I know are exactly the opposite of what I’d pictured. They are the most joyful and engaging people I know.

I used to pastor a church that was connected to a residence for seniors. I was a young man back then, but the seniors showed me my future. Either I would become a bitter man, critical of the younger generation and free to speak my mind, or I would become someone more tender, more alive, and more encouraging. When we’re young, we set a trajectory for the kind of person we will become, and the destinations differ by miles. I knew which path I wanted to choose.

One old pastor moved in. He had been a stalwart in our denomination. He’d planted and led flagship churches. When he spoke, people listened. I braced myself for what it would be like to have such a man as part of my congregation. I’d seen former pastors shrivel when the phone stopped ringing and people started to forget who they are.

He couldn’t have been more gracious. He could have walked with a swagger, but he was okay walking with a limp. He encouraged everyone he encountered. He engaged well with people of all ages, even those that others overlooked. He outlived almost all his friends, but he continued to make new ones until the end. His ministry didn’t end when he stopped pastoring; it ended the day that he died.

I prize theological learning, but theology is not a marker of spiritual maturity. I respect those who do great things for God, but our accomplishments don’t matter as much as we think. Without love, they simply don’t matter (1 Corinthians 13).

I’ve come to appreciate people who embody the fruit of the Spirit. Their lives are marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). They’re the humblest people I know. They’re fun to be around. I’m encouraged when I hang around them.

I used to want to do great things for God. I still do, but my definition of greatness has changed. It’s no longer about planting big churches, writing bestselling books, or building a big platform, as great as those things might be. It’s more about becoming a certain kind of person: one who loves God and others well, and whose desires are more aligned with his. I want to become the kind of person who’s okay with serving, loving, and being forgotten.

I’ve lost my appetite for impressive leaders who big build ministries but who bully and intimidate. I’m not as impressed by big résumés as I am faithful character and quiet service. By all means, study theology and attempt great things for God. Just don’t think that any of it will matter without you becoming a certain kind of person: one who’s marked by the unmistakable fruit of the Spirit. These are the people I appreciate the most. By God’s grace, it’s the kind of person I want to become.