I am currently serving as part time pastor of two different collections of congregations. On a good Sunday the smaller group will have a dozen or so in worship. The larger one will have 25 or so. On a bad Sunday, the numbers can drop seriously. I have passed official retirement age recently but am still working and have no real plans for actually retiring.
I am not continuing because the work I do is so deeply satisfying to me that I can’t imagine life without it. In fact, when I let myself fantasize a bit, I can see all sorts of things that I could be doing to occupy my time–there are lots of woodworking projects begging to be built, trips that look interesting, topics that just need to be researched, leisurely coffee times with friends that don’t have to be rushed or postponed because of a funeral. Ministry in a variety of forms has occupied my working life–but I can think of lots of other things that I would rather be doing so I can’t say that I am still doing it because of an intrinsic love of ministry.
And while ministry, at least ministry in small congregations isn’t a path to wealth, it isn’t finances that keeps me involved in ministry. Pastoral salaries might not make one rich, but our denomination as least has a well managed pension plan that will enable me to be financially comfortable in retirement.
I was talking to a friend recently who had retired. He told me that part of his reason was that when he took the job he had, he saw certain things that needed to be accomplished. With those accomplished, he was ready to retire. I appreciated what he was saying–and having seen some of that he had done, I knew what he was talking about.
But I can’t really say I am postponing retirement until I accomplish the things I see that I need to accomplish. Unlike many people who write about ministry these days, I don’t have a grand, over-arching vision of what the churches I pastor should be doing and accomplishing. I believe in vision and direction and all that–but I think the real vision of a congregation needs to come from the congregation. And while I see a major part of my ministry as helping people see and achieve their vision, I generally have no real sense of where things are going until we are almost there. My vision for the congregations isn’t what keeps me going. Mostly, I spend my time trying to keep up with the congregation and trying to put into words what we are doing and where we are going.
Nor is it the pastoral needs of the congregations. As a pastor, I am intimately involved in the lives of the people I serve. I am their pastor, which means I am committed to being there for them. I am called to help them in times of difficulty, to visit when they are sick, the teach them about their faith, to encourage their ministry, to perform their weddings and funerals, to provide counselling, to do whatever I and they believe is within my mandate as their pastor.
But I do not think that I can’t retire because these people can’t survive without me. Most of them did pretty well before I arrived–and the few who didn’t do well before I arrived, well, I am pretty sure that my presence or absence isn’t making all that much difference. Certainly, I believe that I am called to help and I do help and I know it makes a difference. But I have been in ministry long enough to know that when I leave the congregation, God will provide them with another way to have their needs met. I am their pastor but in the end, I am not indispensible–they would all survive if I retired.
So far, I have looked at a lot of reasons why other people don’t retire–but none of them really work for me. But I am still working, still in ministry, and still committed for the foreseeable future. Fortunately, I know the reason why I am doing what I am doing–it is the same reason I have been doing what I have been doing for my whole ministry. That is the topic for the next post.
May the peace of God be with you.