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Where do pastors go to retire, if they should/could?

I am reaching my personal jubilee and have started thinking about things which I never did; such as retirement.

In the current ever-new world with a possible economic shift, where do pastors go to retire?

Actually, I don’t believe in retirement. The reason is simple: work is a gift and a mandate given by God. It is part of our imago Dei, it gives dignity to our humanity. But of course, as we grow older; we just may not be able to do the same work we have been doing – because of energy levels, failing health, changing circumstances {such as people preferring ‘online’ church?*}

What skills do pastors have to re-invent themselves in order to still be ’employable’? Professionals who have funds can set up private practices and become consultants and coaches. Those who are entrepreneurial may find it all about a fresh learning curve to move onto a new industry. Others may be able to move onto teaching in colleges or a more niche role in a parachurch organization or NGO.

The thing is, most pastors are generalists; and often many do not have extensive training or a wide berth of qualifications and training.

Rare is the instance where a pastor grows old with his congregation and have the immense privilege of passing the baton on to a younger minister or a son with a smooth and successful transition.

Let’s face it. The organizational, human resource perspective holds sway in many churches; and pastors are mostly ’employees’, hopefully, loved and respected ones.

Some church systems have retirement schemes, and they are busy redefining it to catch up with longer life spans and the lack of pastors. Many others have no such protocol in place. Yet some systems have a voting scheme where pastors have to step down if they are not re-elected.

Clearly pastors are not immune to employment threats.

But that’s not commonly thought about. In fact, the reverse is true. During the Asian financial crisis, my skeptical brother had said to me, “You are lucky as a pastor! People will always need spiritual services!” After the initial offense, I thought about what he said.

Are pastors always needed?

Will they always be paid for their ‘services’?

Not only does it betray how we are viewed; it is also important for us to be aware of what Pastor John Piper wrote about, “Brothers, we are not professionals” – the very real danger described by Paul as peddling the gospel {1 Cor 9v18-23} — where we change gears when it no longer pays us the due we feel we deserve.

Pastor, you have to work out your conviction about your work. If you subscribe to the commonplace view that work is drudgery and retirement is the end of the long trudge through the sludge of necessary toil; then retirement becomes a real allurement. Pastoral work, arguably one of the toughest jobs on earth, can be a real slog and it’s understandable that we sigh TGIM when Mondays roll around.

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About eight years ago I stepped away from a pastoral position I enjoyed immensely due to a set of circumstances I could not manage. The loss was very palpable. I remember sitting at my desk at home, staring at my computer screen, and asking God, ‘what now?”. I no longer had my salary. No one would call me ‘pastor’ I thought. I missed my church community and interceded with anguish at the valleys they would have to endure. I wondered about my calling and my identity.

In those days of prayer and thought, I received an insight I did not get from my training or my busy work-life. I received a fresh affirmation from God. He had called me to himself and to the work of a pastor. He alone affirms and qualifies me. Not only that, our vocation – our response to His Voce (Latin for voice) – is the obedience that opens the way for Him to work mysteriously in us to mould us into the being we truly are. In that sense, a pastor is not what I do, but who I am.

I recognized then that I would always be a pastor whether I had a title, office or a pay packet. I would be a pastor wherever I go. I checked my new insight with respected theologians and church leaders. They resonated with it. This gave me immense freedom to explore where God may be opening doors and the ways He joins the dots of my life for me.

So pastor friend, if God has called you to Himself and his work of feeding the flock; don’t stop doing it – even if you find yourself ‘unemployed’, ‘retired’, ‘not re-elected’. Be faithful. Be yourself, work hard and raise your family.

This reminds me of a friend who stepped down as a pastor several years back to do what he loves with more freedom. It turns out what he loves to do is encourage people; and he does it so well! He pastors total strangers, leaders and those in need with his amazing gift of encouragement; strengthening hearts and faith. He did not necessarily need to do it with the pulpit and all the attendant aspects of a pastor’s work.

As we grow in ministry experience; it is important to become comfortable with what we are good at and enjoy. What gives us life will spill life onto others. You may need to ‘re-invent’ or ‘retire’ – and that may be the best thing to happen to you.

*this is a whole different topic for another time: the online church.

Look up! Look up often!

Paul wrote to Timothy, his mentoree and spiritual son because the latter was facing some huge challenges, his health was weakening probably due to the stress; and both his personality and youth were liabilities it seemed at a time like this!

If I was Timothy; I would wish Paul returned back quickly to set things right. We all hope someone can appear to make things better. Churchlife! seeks to be an instrument toward that end – whether it is helping pastors and leaders navigate team dynamics, pressing issues, raising leaders or clarifying goals and setting strategies.

However, no matter how hard we try; the very real limits are found in two things: our hearts, and our vision.

If our hearts are worn down or filled with negativity or fear; no amount of planning and working would change much. Many great men and women will say honestly that they do not consider themselves the smartest or fastest; but they will readily admit to one thing: they have set their heart to the task and it means so much, they won’t back down.

How does one get such a heart?

It comes from the second: our vision.

All of us leaders know that it isn’t about hammering out some nice-sounding statement that a vision is birthed. Indeed, Oswald Chambers used to say,

“When God gives a man a vision, he takes him down to the valley; and hammers him into the shape of the vision” (adapted).

The vision that Paul cast before Timothy was that of his own life. Paul recounts for Timothy his own history and God’s unlikely call and amazing transformation of his life. He writes with such conviction that it crescendos with a doxology ~

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever, Amen. {1 Tim 1v17}

Then Paul pulls Timothy up from his spiritual slack, urging him to fight the good fight.

Faced with loud, contentious voices; issues that won’t resolve easily, maybe even personal attacks, all leaders can crumble within.  What gives us strength is recounting God’s call and gracious equipping – and trusting that even now, even this, God will be King, eternal, immortal ! Although he is invisible to our physical eye; God can become consuming in our spiritual sight and loom larger than all our present troubles.

And when we sit and wait, our trust growing deeper – God will assert His kingship and lead us down the path to take. This is the best shield and defense for the leader called by God.

 

Sticking to our convictions..what Paul can teach us.

Leaders make loads of decisions. People expect them to. They need to.

But leaders also make many personal decisions.

Paul made a decision to go to Jerusalem. At this point, he has made significant impact all through West Asia and Southern Europe. We read in Acts that his decision was called into question twice.

Fellow believers in Tyre “through the Spirit” urged him to abort his plan (Acts 21v4). Later in Caesarea, a prophet named Agabus shared that Paul would be captured and subjected to godless men. Again fellow believers tried to dissuade Paul but he refused to budge so that they had to admit, “The Lord’s will be done.” (Acts 21v14)

The rest of Acts is a record of Paul’s tumultuous trip to Jerusalem, the severe troubles he faced there which led to his arrest first in Jerusalem then to Caesarea; and finally to Rome after a two-week long storm. The episode ended on this note:

“For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Did Paul make a mistake by insisting on going to Jerusalem? He had consistent trouble with Jews who saw the gospel as an aberration and threat to the Jewish faith; but to walk into the headquarters of Jewish religiosity seems foolhardy. We can speculate about what greater good would come about if he continued with his missionary efforts rather than wait around for justice  – first under Felix’s, then Agrippa’s charge. More than four years of waiting for a proper trial.

But many scholars believe that it was this last period of house arrest that afforded Paul the time to compose his many epistles. In the letter to the Christians at Philippi, Paul refers to the many he talked with while under arrest; including members of Caesar’s household.

We do not know for sure what happened to Paul.

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William Barclay in his commentary:

And so the Book of Acts comes to an end with a shout of triumph….Now the tale is finished; the story that began in Jerusalem rather more than thirty years ago has finished in Rome. It is nothing less than a miracle of God. The church which at the beginning of Acts could be numbered in scores cannot now be numbered in tens of thousands. The story of the crucified man of Nazareth has swept across the world in its conquering course until now without interference it is being preached in Rome, the capital of the world. The gospel has reached the centre of the world and is being freely proclaimed…. (“The Acts of the Apostles,” 193)”.

The grand narrative of God’s Kingdom pushes on forward. Paul’s personal narrative is part of this. We may never know how things would turn if Paul listened and changed his mind. But God’s grand narrative will march triumphant on.

As leaders, we sometimes follow our convictions and find ourselves in hot soup. We may even struggle with shadows of ‘what-if’ and wonder if we have listened to all counsel etc.

Our hope lies not in our ability to decide with full accuracy, for it is not possible. However, we can learn from Paul that choices require conviction, and sometimes others may not support our convictions. We also learn that our choices and decisions – when it is to obey God – can take us to surprising and hard places. But our heart’s desire must remain unmixed, and we must not waver: we must continue to proclaim the Kingdom.

This means it is good that we do not fixate on our decisions and choices as much as we watch our hearts to stay committed to the core of our calling. If we are faithful, we shall be fruitful.