In This Issue: Beware the Florida of the Mind
Beware the Florida of the Mind
“Your Story Is Still Being Written”
By Shane Bennett
Mel Sumrall grew up in a large Depression-era family in the Texas panhandle. At 17 he joined the Marines and spent the next three years in the South Pacific. Upon returning to the US, he went to the University of Colorado where he picked up a degree in mechanical engineering—and a wife. He and Patty moved to Pueblo, Colorado, and Mel quickly moved up to production supervisor at a large steel mill.
They were living the dream: great job, financial security, four beautiful little kids, and fine standing in the community. Then disaster struck and fundamentally altered the course of the Sumralls’ lives. Patty took their baby, Pamela, to the doctor because she wasn’t feeling well. By that afternoon Pamela was dead.
In the midst of the deep depression that followed, God began to speak to Mel through a wise and caring friend who prayed with him and shared the Bible with him. Even though Mel had prayed to accept Jesus when he was eight years old, this was the first time he’d been intentionally discipled. Slowly he shifted from living for himself to living for Jesus.
Mel’s discipler had continually challenged him to shift his skills and kingdom investment from running a steel mill to running a church. So at 48, the Sumralls traded the security of their Colorado situation for seminary in Texas. As four years of seminary drew to a close and no church seemed eager to turn Mel loose with his emphasis on discipleship and the equipping of the saints, the Sumralls decided to start their own. Denton Bible Church was formed.
As the church grew, Mel wisely brought it a partner, Tommy Nelson. Nine years after Tommy stepped into DBC’s pulpit, Mel stepped out of it.
At 62, Mel was near retirement age, but Mel wasn’t big on retiring. Mel and Patty began a third career: training pastors internationally. Together, they ministered in over 40 countries, developed training courses, discipled pastors, and left a mark that is visible today in thousands of churches world-wide.
Last week I got to hear this man speak. He’s now nearing 90. I felt as if I was in the presence of one of Jesus’ buddies. I thought, “I want to be like Mel.” I wondered how many “maybe-Mels” are out there wondering if God is done with them.
What does Mel’s life tell us? Your whole story has not yet been written. Yes, you may have more days behind you on this earth than ahead. Yes, your culture may be intimating (or outright shouting) “Move over, Buddy, you’ve had your chance. Make way for new blood.” Yes, you may be tired and discouraged.
But Mel Sumrall and our Father in Heaven would say you are not done. “No matter how old you are, your story still matters,” says Mel. “You have something to offer us. Your story is still being written. Your contribution is not locked up in the past in years gone by.”
Can you imagine starting something at 50 or 60 years old that is so big it eclipses whatever you’ve done up to that point? What if working on problems and overcoming challenges is how God brings renewal to our lives? What if you are just getting started and the past decades have been preparation for what’s next?
It’s okay to celebrate what has happened. It’s okay to be tired. But it’s not okay to be cynical. There is a real-life Florida, a paradise for retirement. But (with apologies to hard-working Floridians) there is also a “Florida of the mind,” and you shouldn’t go there. Don’t give up. Remember Saint Paul wrestling with this in 2 Corinthians 4:16: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”
What is your next mountain? That step that will require the best you have to give and then some?
Thanks to Lawana Robinson for her great bio on the life of Mel Sumrall and Denton Bible Church and to my Indiana pastor, Matt Carder, for much of the verbiage at the end of this article. Please listen to Matt’s whole encouraging sermon. Thanks to MissionNext for helping cut trails for significant work among the nations, especially for those later in life. And thanks to Mel and Patty Sumrall for a wonderful example.