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!

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