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The following I wrote 8 years ago as I entered the "ranks of the retired"

"I am a Pastor. I recently retired". Or should that read, "I was a Pastor. I recently retired"? If I have retired, can I still call myself a Pastor? And what is 'retirement' for someone like me anyway? Can a Pastor really retire from what he or she has considered a divine call?  

 In fact, I find myself asking some questions that I had not anticipated when I made the decision to conclude my involvement in full time pastoral ministry. The immediate reason for that decision is related to the fact that I have Parkinson's Disease and I have had to face the reality that I no longer have the physical and emotional energy to give to the role which I loved and in which I had found great fulfillment over the last (almost) 40 years.  

Looking back over these 8 years since I retired (I prefer "refocused"), had there developed a kind of unhealthy co-dependency between my role as a Pastor and my life as a disciple? Had my role as a Pastor become enmeshed with my identity as a disciple in such a way that to lose one is to diminish the other?

I would like to argue the case for a "No" vote to that question but, to be honest, I couldn't put up much of a defense. And there is little point in excusing myself by appealing to the fact that many, many pastors who retire begin to unravel once the structural discipline of the Pastor's role is removed by the process of becoming a retired minister of the Word. Comparing myself with fellow pastors is a fruitless exercise because none of us seem to know which button to push or which lever to pull in order to be relieved of what can become in retirement a life of mediocrity.

There have been times in the last 8 years when I have experienced seasons of prayerlessness like I rarely, if ever, knew while I was in the pulpit every week or had Pastor Mike written on the door of my study. Then there have been times when I did not get the Bible down off the shelf because somehow my appetite was dulled.

Then, as one who had been in Church every Sunday for those many years and urged others to be regular in their attendance, I found it all too easy to convince myself that I had "served my time" and I ought to be free from that kind of "legalism".

Of course, when I retired I expected to have an abundance of time for prayer, study of God's Word and fellowship with God's people - and especially with my wife. Ah, yes, with my wife. The lady who stood with me over the years of ministry and yet she missed out on so much because she was the Minister's wife; possibly the most powerless and vulnerable person in the Church.

The truth is that I did have an abundance of time but I often found something else to do with it. Lots of things.

If there are any retired Ministers reading this page, my guess is that there will be essentially two responses from them to what I have written so far.

  1. "I can't believe that a true minister of the gospel could possibly deteriorate to the point where he ignores the spiritual disciplines of reading the Bible and praying. This guy must not have been a true Christian in the first place".

  2. "I thought I was the only one on this island called Icabod (the glory has departed). To know there is someone else (maybe many some-ones) who live  here in the memory of what used to be suggests that there is there hope for me yet?"

If I was looking for a Biblical example of what I feel from time to time, there are two that come to mind. One brings me hope while the other carries a warning label.

Let me deal first with the warning.

King Asa is the man in question (2 Chronicles 15).  I have written at greater length about this man elsewhere in this website. At my first reading of this story, it seemed to me that this King was one of the "good guys". He knew how to call out to God when things got tough. He has no delusions about his own ability in the face of the enemy. He called on the Lord and the Lord God delivered the enemy into his hand.

But then came some twenty years of silence. During that season of silence something happened to King Asa because his values and outlook on life had changed dramatically. I have no idea what that "something" might have been but whatever it was it impacted his life in such a way as to neutralize his relationship with God.

Perhaps one of his children was killed in a chariot race?  Maybe his wife died of a terrible disease despite his pleading with God for her healing? Another possibility could be that another one of his children became addicted to drugs.  In those kinds of scenarios we are faced with the fact that our God often does not live up to up to our expectations. I think King Asa could have been confronted with any experience like these. I would then understand why he has this new and negative attitude towards God.

I get some clearer sense of the attitude of King Asa as I read about his sickness and how he did not consult the Lord but simply went to his own doctors. Was Asa "thumbing his nose" at God? Was he giving God the silent treatment? If nothing else, it sure seems to me that there was a very awkward tension in their relationship.

During these last 8 years of retirement, I've spent some of those seasons in that kind of lonely place where God has withdrawn the sense of His presence. Sometimes that sense of being abandoned is the result of my own sin and self-centredness, my lack of discipline where I have just been satisfied with maintaining the status quo.

At other times it is a season that just comes...and eventually goes. My concern is that I don't want to be in that state of alienation when I meet the Lord.

Now for part 2 - a passage that gives me hope.

My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be: I walked among the crowds of worshipers, leading a great procession to the house of God, singing for joy and giving thanks — It was the sound of a great celebration!   Why am I discouraged? Why so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again — my Savior and my God!  (But) now I am deeply discouraged, (Ps 42:4-6 NLT)

The words of this Psalm express what many Church leaders have felt from time to time in their retirement years. After the business of pastoral ministry, retirement is almost an anti-climax.  "My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be, ah, yes, the "good old days". The sense of fulfilment , the leading of God's people in worship. What many of those leaders may not recognize is that what they are experiencing is the depression of grief....the loss of that which they had loved despite the tough times.

Unlike King Asa, the Psalmist knew that he would one day again praise the Lord as he put his hope in God. The Psalmist does not deny his discouragement and depression. What he does do is put them into the context of God's sovereignty.

The Psalmist has a choice - he can wallow around in self-pity or he can put his hope in God. Only by doing the latter is there any hope of breaking out of this debilitating circle of discouragement.

He chose to put his hope in God. Not in his own determination , not in God's people. Not in his own skills and abilities. His hope, first and foremost must be in God.

So with us, my retired brother and sister, we must resist the temptation to cruise along in retirement. We may be out of the pulpit (so to speak) but we are not out of the conflict. To think that some form of spiritual decree has been issued stating that we are out of the game now is to invite renewed counter attacks that can turn us into prisoners of war, despite our pleas of no longer playing the game.

 

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