Retreats for Your Soul

LakeMistDuring my 39+ years of ministry at Mayfair-Plymouth Church I would take an annual study leave. They varied from writers’ conferences to church growth conferences. Several of my study leaves could be classified as retreats. I believe of all of my study leaves the retreats were the most valuable. Because a retreat is a great way for a pastor to restore his or her soul I’m providing a link to a list of retreats compiled by Ed Stetzer at the Christianity Today web site. You can find it here.

I know this is a very limited list, so if you have other suggestions please “comment” with your recommendation(s) for a good place to retreat. For instance, I did a retreat at a Catholic monastery near Dubuque, Iowa called New Melleray Abbey. It was a great retreat. An interesting note: the monks provide some of their own financial needs by making caskets! The link is here.

Then too, Diann and spend half of our time at Refuge Ranch here in Mexico.  For the price of a flight to Mexico (about $700) and $55 per day for room and board you can retreat on the mountainside in Mexico!  Time your visit while Diann and I are here and we can take walks together and pray together.  I’ll pick you up at the Mexico City airport.  The link for the ministry of our daughter and son-in-law is here.

Jesus invited His disciples to get away with Him for awhile. “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:31) I believe He still offers the invitation, we just have to listen.

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Applying God’s Grace to My Disappointments

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Having recently retired from the pastoral ministry I find it rather easy to compile pastoral lists; a list of funny stories, a list of ugly congregational meetings, a list of wedding snafus, and so on. Another such list is that of disappointments, plans that didn’t turn out the way I thought they would, the way I believed God wanted them to turn out.

There were people into whom I poured my life who left our church to pursue “God’s call” to go elsewhere. Their motives, it seemed in my humble opinion, were based more on running from their anger and the resulting conflict with fellow parishioners or with me rather than a running after the call of the Lord.

There were meetings that were planned, but as it turned out very few planned on attending the meetings. You try not to get caught up in the numbers game, but you do need at least a few people if anything’s going to happen at a meeting you’ve called.

I never expected to be the pastor of a mega church, but I’ll have to admit I thought we’d grow more than we did. In fact, the weekly attendance had slowly gone down the last few years of my ministry. This was in spite of the fact that, by my own estimation and that of church leaders, we were growing in Christ and had a clearer awareness of what the church should be.

Probably one of the biggest disappointments was spending over twelve years planning to build a new facility that never was built. We acquired a piece of ground, had countless meetings, carried out two major fund raising campaigns, went through several drafts of architectural plans, and had a ground breaking ceremony. The church is now in the process of selling the land (which, for the record, I believe is God’s will for the church to do). Over a quarter of my ministry involved this process of seeking to build a new facility better able to be the home for carrying out the Lord’s work, but it was not to be.

Life in general, but pastoral ministry in particular, has its disappointments. How are we to view these disappointments?

I’m reminded of the times Jesus was disappointed in people. He healed ten lepers but was disappointed when only one returned to give thanks. He was disappointed that His disciples were with Him a considerable length of time and still didn’t get some basic principles He had been teaching them. If it was OK for Jesus to be disappointed in people then we’re in good company when it happens to us! It’s part of the experience of ministering to and with people.

Then too, I have to remind myself that as much as I’m disappointed in others I also am sometimes a disappointment to others. Jesus’ teaching of the speck and the plank in the eye is a good one to remember at this point.

But that leaves those times when I’ve been disappointed, sometimes deeply so, that things did not work out as I thought they should. John Koessler wrote a book titled The Surprising Grace of Disappointment. I had never thought about applying God’s grace to my disappointment before reading John’s book.

When reflecting on some of my disappointments I wonder if I did all I could, or if I even took the right course of action. Was my timing off? Did I misread God’s will for me or for the church? Did I listen to bad advice from others or fail to take seriously the good advice of others? To such questions my honest answer is usually, “I don’t know.” Hindsight is not 20/20 in most of these cases.

There’s an incident in the ministry of Jesus and His disciples that comes to mind as I grapple with my disappointments. Jesus was sending His disciples out to do ministry, and He warned them that there would be times when they wouldn’t get the results they wanted, that people would not respond to the Good News they tried to share. “And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.” (Mark 6:11) I think what Jesus was trying to tell them is that they would be disappointed. His advice to them? Shake the dust from their feet and move on to the next village. In other words, let it go!

I believe Jesus’ words of advice to the original proclaimers of His Good News are there for those of us who proclaim His Word today too. We too are given the advice to shake the dust from our feet and move on. Yes, the grace of God is there for me to receive when I’m disappointed. I can hear Him whisper to me in His gracious way, “Let it go.”

 

A Heart of Humility

We’re living part of the time at Refuge Ranch in Mexico, the home of our daughter and her family. Recently a pastor’s conference was being held near Refuge Ranch so we were hosts for about a dozen pastors and their families for an afternoon and evening.

I’ve been reflecting recently on what role(s) the Lord would have for me in my new stage of life commonly called retirement. I’ve thought that, perhaps, one such role is as a mentor to other pastors. Perhaps this gathering of pastors would offer such an opportunity, I thought. True, most of them only spoke Spanish and I only speak English, but I knew one of the key pastors, an American, was fluent in both languages. I envisioned him saying something like this to the other pastors: “Dave has just finished spending nearly forty years of pastoral ministry in one church. I’ve invited him to share some of his thoughts with us and then he can answer any questions you have.” It didn’t turn out that way.

The pastors and their families enjoyed a meal of grilled beef, prepared by our son-in-law Victor. After the meal they all gathered in the house to hear our grandchildren share a worship song, with some of our grandchildren providing musical accompaniment with guitar, violin and tambourine and our daughter, their mother, accompanying on the piano.

The Zaragoza children singing with their mom, Julie

The Zaragoza children singing with their mom, Julie (our daughter)

Dirty plates and silverware had piled up. My wife Diann and I knew that our daughter, who was enjoying conversation and fellowship with the pastors’ wives, would, after the guest had left, end up doing dishes late into the evening. We did what any self-respecting set of parents would do; we started doing the dishes.

With the house filled with the pastors and their families, their attention focused on the Zaragoza children sharing their song, I found myself, with my back to the scene, washing dishes at the kitchen sink. It occurred to me that my role that evening had turned out quite different than I had envisioned. Instead of serving the Lord by sharing the wealth of my wisdom with the pastors I was washing their dirty dishes! Though I resisted the thought at first, I came to realize that this was the Lord’s calling for me that evening.

The experience brings to mind something Brother Lawrence (1611-1691) wrote, a monk who washed dishes in a monastery. “In my kitchen’s noise and clatter, while several people are all calling for different things, I possess God just as peacefully as if I were on my knees at the altar, ready to take communion.” Yes, I was serving God as much by washing dishes as I would have if sharing profound insights with those pastors. In fact, I was serving the Lord more effectively at the sink, because this was obviously His calling for me for the moment. I’m not saying I fully embraced the concept, for it was a humbling experience and being humbled is hardly ever a fun experience.

The pastors and their families

The pastors and their families

My dish washing ministry that night prompted my recollection of another experience I had in Florida a few months earlier. We had just retired from pastoral ministry and moved to Florida to live part-time near our son and his family, who had moved their from Indianapolis to help plant a church. My wife and I decided it was the Lord’s call for us to lend our support to the church plant. What role would I play in helping to plant a church after having spent a lifetime pastoring an established church?

After we had been part of this new church plant for about two months there came a Sunday when a number of ministry people were gone. I ended up filling one of the vacant ministry positions, being the parking lot greeter! Wearing an orange vest I waved at the folks as they drove in and gave them a hearty “Good morning!” as they walked from their cars to the school where the church was holding services. As I stood on the parking lot, wearing my orange vest and waiting for the next car to arrive, I thought to myself, “This is what it has come to.” A few weeks earlier I had enjoyed the attention, affection, and love of several hundred people as they struggled with saying good-by to their pastor of nearly forty years. They listened carefully to my every word, some of my last words for them, sometimes with tears in their eyes. What an experience! Now, here I was, just a few weeks later, a parking lot greeter!

Of all the new adventures the Lord could send me on as a newly retired pastor He has plotted out for me an inward journey, a journey into being humbled. I’ve titled this blog A PASTOR’S HEART and what I’m learning is that having a humble heart is a big part of having a true pastor’s heart. It’s easy, as a pastor, to take the position, the attention of the people, the responsibility, and (at least occasionally) the praise too seriously. Pride can keep us from being truly productive for Him. We can be so full of our self that we have little of Christ to share; I’m convinced it’s an occupational hazard of pastoral ministry. The truth is the Lord seems to be able to work best through those who have been humbled.

The problem is that any effort to be humble is a journey with a slippery slope, for the moment we think we’ve acquired a bit of humility, we’ve just slipped and lost it! My goal, I’ve determined, should not be humility but an acceptance of the humbling situations the Lord brings my way, including washing the dirty dishes of pastors and being a church parking lot greeter!