In the last week or so I’ve been thinking about the implications of retirement from the perspective of one who has been in pastoral ministry. This has been prompted by reflection on the lives of others who at one time were prominent in Christian ministry and on the reality that I myself am entering the more senior years of my active pastoral career. Though currently not serving in a senior pastoral capacity I am involved in various pastoral ministries including an ongoing pastoral transition role for a particular church and in formal pastoral counselling.
There is an important sense in which those who serve in pastoral ministry never feel like their work is finished. That is because serving in the preaching of the Gospel and the teaching of the Bible in the context of church life and ministry is such a specific and unique calling. And it seems this sense of call is something separate from the remuerative benefit that comes from actually serving in a church. Like Paul, those with a sense of call to pastoral ministry would rather die than feel that they are doing it for financial reasons. As he says, Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16). And that is so because of the deep personal conviction of the truth and universal application of the Gospel — the best news in the entire world!
It is true that retirement offers the opportunity to experience many new diversions in life — spending time with family and friends, travel, enjoying the freedom of one’s own schedule, reading, building, perhaps even business, and enjoying various aspects of nature and recreation. But in the life of one who has been a pastor, none of these can take the unique place of helping people discover the Good News there is in Jesus Christ. And though there are undoubtedly many opportunities to do this informally, for the one with a pastoral calling, there is something about doing this in the context of church ministry that is very, very special. Perhaps it is because of the unique nature of the local church as a place and a body of communion, of learning, of witness, and of service.
Recently again, I have reflected on the rare privilege that has been mine to serve Christ in formal pastoral ministry for more than 37 years. There have been many challenges and difficulties, but they seem small compared to the priceless privilege of proclaiming God’s eternal truth in all kinds of church-related contexts. I don’t know how retirement will actually look for me, but however it comes, by God’s grace (and health permitting), I hope I can continue to serve in various capacities of church pastoral ministry for a good while to come.