The View from Retirement and the One Thing I Would Do Differently

As of this writing I’m four and half years into retirement from active pastoral ministry. I ponder what I might want to share with pastors from this vantage point of being years and miles away from where I did pastoral ministry. I try not to dwell too much on the regrets, because the past can’t be changed. Still, as I reflect on my nearly 40 years of ministry, is there something I’d do differently that might be helpful to share with others still in the trenches of pastoral ministry? Maybe, so here goes…

One regret comes to mind rather quickly: if I had to do my ministry over again I’d focus more on the present and less on the future! As I think back I was always anxious to get to the next stage in the church’s life: more small groups, greater giving to missions, increased discipleship, growth in attendance, a move to a new and larger facility on 20 acres of land we had purchased up the road (which never happened). I know, these all sound like admirable goals, and they were. In fact, I still believe they were good goals to have at the time. After all, as the old saying goes, “If you aim at nothing you’ll hit it.”

But I recall often lamenting about the lack of growth of one kind or another. It made me close to miserable on more occasions than I care to admit, and in the midst of it all I believe I missed the good in the moment. For instance, very telling was how I would enjoy my Sunday afternoon more when attendance that morning had been good and would easily slip into a dark mood if the attendance had been disappointing.

I know, a measure of divinely inspired dissatisfaction is good. God doesn’t want us to be complacent as pastors. But on the other hand, contentment can also be good. What’s needed is balance, and I believe I overdid the focusing on the what I wanted in the future at the expense of celebrating what I had in the present.

On an imaginary teeter-totter where the present is on the one seat and the future is on the other, I let the future kid grow really big and kept the present kid stunted and small. On this imaginary teeter-totter the future was weighty and well grounded with all kinds of plans and projections, but I was light on the present, leaving it up in the air. There often was little balance on the playground of my ministry.

Much has been written about the sacrament of the moment, that wherever you are, be all there! This, I believe in retrospect now more than ever, should be more of our focus when doing daily ministry. I fear that some of our dreaming about what God might want for our ministry is an escape from our dissatisfaction with what God has given us to do in our present ministry. Gratitude and celebration for what God can do with us and our church TODAY is as important as goal setting and vision for what God can do with us and our church TOMORROW.

Our present ecclesiastical circumstances may be far from perfect, and we do have a call from our Great Shepherd to move His flock on to better things. Still, there’s also the call to enjoy the scenery in the current meadow where our flock is now grazing, among the familiar hills, trees, and winding stream, walking slowly among them, shepherding them, and delighting in them. As we shepherd the flock one day to the next we may yearn for greener pastures, but as long as the Lord is our Shepherd we shall not want right where we are!

My “Spinning Wheels”

Mahatma Gandhi, a religious as well as political leader in India, was not a Christian, but there are lessons his life can teach those of us who are Christian leaders, those of us who are pastors. One such lesson is from Gandhi’s use of the spinning wheel.

Gandhi’s spinning wheel was a tangible way for him to communicate to the people of India the importance of freeing themselves from economic dependence on the British. If they would spin their own cotton they could make their own clothes and not depend on purchasing clothing from Britain.

But apparently Gandhi also came to see the emotional and spiritual benefits of his use of the spinning wheel.  He said that it helped with “the education of becoming and being.”

Eliza Drummond wrote in Spinners Quarterly, July 2004, of the value of using the spinning wheel in prayer and meditation. “In order to find out more about why we spin, I sent out 400 questionnaires to 80 spinning guilds across the United States and Canada. In these questionnaires I asked introductory questions such as ‘how long have you been spinning?’ and ‘how often do you spin?’ I also posed questions such as ‘have you ever thought that spinning is meditative?’ and ‘do you ever spin for the purpose of praying or meditating?’ Seventy-five percent of respondents answered that they consider spinning to be meditative, and 40% answered that they actively spin to meditate or pray. Of the latter group, all of them find it effective as a form of meditation and prayer.”

I don’t have a spinning wheel, but I do have other ways of spending my time that replenish my soul. Yes, of course, there’s the time I spend in my daily devotions of Bible reading, other spiritual reading, and prayer. This is top on my list. But I have other less “spiritual” activities and hobbies that help me keep my balance as I face the rigors of ministry.

Photography is a serious hobby for me. When I am about the business of lining up a good photograph the time seems to either stand still or fly by, I’m not sure which.  Writing is a big part of my time away from pastoral ministry.  I’ve written both non-fiction and fiction, including a couple of novels.  I also raise a small flock of chickens as a hobby, and have done so for over a quarter of a century. Then too I have a decorative pond with waterfall, fish, and floating pond plants that I maintain.

These are my “spinning wheels” that help keep me sane in ministry. Such interests keep me from putting all my emotional eggs in the basket of pastoral ministry (sorry, after all these years of raising chickens I can’t resist a poultry analogy).

The apostle Paul was a tent maker. This was probably out of economic necessity more than anything else, but I can’t help but wonder if he didn’t also appreciate the break from his usual apostolic duties. I’m sure Paul did a lot of talking, listening, praying, and even mentoring while working on tents, but there must still have been something therapeutic about using his hands.

If I could give some advice to those going into ministry I would strongly suggest that they hold on to or adopt some other interest or outlet other than pastoral ministry to which they could give their time and attention on a regular basis, a “spinning wheel” to which they could go regularly for a change of pace. My “spinning wheels” have be instrumental in my longevity as a pastor and as a pastor in one place. They have been used of the Lord in my life to keep me at the task of serving His people as their pastor.

How about you? What are the “spinning wheels” in your life? Please, share with the rest of us.