The retired pastor moves away and begins searching for a church

Question from a retired pastor–

I recently retired from full-time ministry, and my wife and I find ourselves in the position of having to find a new church for the first time in 43 years.  It’s not as easy as I thought it was going to be.  Part of the problem may be our location.  After spending the last 27 years of our ministry in a metro area of California, we retired to a small town in a nearby state.  We’re close enough that we can easily visit our children and grandchildren, who still live in California.  Problem: In our little town, there’s only one church of our denomination.  We attended twice, and then because of Covid watched at least two dozen services online.  Expository preaching is at the top of my list of what I’m looking for in a church, so we would not be happy going to this particular church.  Then, we considered the other churches in town:  one Methodist church, two Presbyterian churches, two Lutheran churches, two non-denominational churches, and one Catholic church.  We’ve looked into each of them and so far, we don’t seem to have found where we belong.  Some neighbors of our denomination drive nearly 50 miles to a larger city for church.  With a population of 100,000 there are a couple of fine churches of our denomination.  We may end up doing that too, but we’d prefer to belong to a church in our little town if possible.

What do we do? 

I don’t like being in a position of having to be “critical” of churches, yet now that we’re looking for the church that will be our home, it’s hard not to look at them with a somewhat critical eye.  So perhaps another way of framing my question would be, what should one look for in a church?  What things are important?  What things are not important?

An unsolicited note came this week.  The retired pastor and I do not know each other and have never met.  He asked if I had written anything on this subject.  I said I have not but invited him to give a fuller description of his situation.  The above is his response.  Below is mine.

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When I get old, how I do not want to be

Hey, I’m only 81.  But common sense and regular observation assures me my time is coming.  Anyway, here’s what happened…

The old man stood at the checker’s station in my grocery store. The line behind him stretched out for a half-dozen people.

He’d bought a few things, but the process of paying for it was taking forever.  He fumbled around in his pocket for his wallet, then struggled with it in search of his debit card.  Only with the checker’s help was he able to insert it into the machine and complete the transaction.  In the process, the old guy flirted with the lady behind him, the one just ahead of me, and made friendly comments to anyone else who might be overhearing this.

I was interested to see that both the checker and the woman customer were patient with him.

When he finished, the man seemed in no hurry to pick up his purchase and move out of the way for the next customer.  He looked at the line forming behind him and muttered something about being 82 years old, as though this were an achievement for which he was being honored.

You will not believe this since I’m writing about it, but I was not impatient with him, and said nothing to anyone.  I did not roll my eyes, did not even react, but sent up a quick prayer for the old gentleman.

But I was warned.

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Retiring pastor, it’s not your church, your pulpit, your office. Be faithful!

A pastor friend was serving a large church in a metro area.  Even though his staff had half a dozen ministers, he handled all the hospital visitation himself.  Every bit of it.  I said to him, “My brother, you are making life impossible for the pastor who will follow you.  Because no pastor is going to want to do all the hospitals, not when he’s got plenty of help. And the congregation is going to be unhappy with him.”

He smiled and said, “This is what I do.”

I know the rest of that sad story.  He retired, remained in the church, and the congregation called as pastor another friend of mine.  I watched from two states away as the congregation turned on the new pastor and criticized him mercilessly for not pastoring them the way they’d been used to.  The retired pastor friend wallowed in their misery, indicating, he was convinced, that he was so well loved no one could follow him.

He sabotaged a great preacher’s ministry.  (They’re both in Heaven now, so the Father will be sorting this out, but I’d hate to be in his shoes.)

Once when I announced my plan to write about retired pastors who stay on to make life miserable for their successors, people began sending me their horror stories.

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Grandparenting by faith

The just shall live by faith. —Habakkuk 2:4, and quoted in the New Testament in Romans 1:17;  Colossians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38.  That truth formed the basis of the Apostle Paul’s theology, and his Epistle to the Romans (on that subject) fueled the theology of Martin Luther and the Reformation, and two centuries later of John Wesley.  

I tell friends who are about to become grandparents for the first time, “You are about to be more in love than you have ever been in your life!”  I tell them, “Right now, you don’t even know that child.  But pretty soon, you will not want to live without them.”

It’s a marvelous thing the hold that the child of my child can have on my heart.  In many respects, my eight grands have given me more joy than my three did.  Perhaps it’s because we had our children when we were young–in our twenties–and our grands when we were in late middle-aged and were far different, even better, people.

We want to cherish these little ones and to do all we can to make a lasting difference in their lives, for now and for eternity.  So, let’s talk about that.  Let’s talk about grandparenting by faith.

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“Why are you so angry?” I asked. “I’m not angry!” he bellowed.

“And all in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things….” (Luke 4:28).

“These things they will do because they do not know the One who sent Me” (John 15:21).

My notes from that church business meeting a quarter-century ago are fascinating to read from this distance, but nothing about that event was enjoyable at the time.

Our church was trying to clarify its vision for the late 1990s and into the 21st century.  What did the Lord want us to be doing, where should we put the focus? Our consultant from the state denominational office, experienced in such things, was making regular visits to confer with our leadership.  For reasons never clear to me, the seniors in the church became defensive and then combative.  No assurance from any of us would convince them we were not trying to shove them out the door and turn over the church to the immature, untrained, illiterate, and badly dressed.  To their credit, the church’s leadership, both lay and ministerial, kept their cool and worked to answer each complaint and every question.

My journal records a late Sunday night gathering in my home with 30 young marrieds from a Sunday School class.  They were a delightful group.  They wanted my testimony and had questions about the operation of the church.  Then someone asked the question of the day.

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At age 81, still as young as ever! (He said hopefully)

“They will still bear fruit in old age. They will be full of sap and very green….” (Psalm 92:14). 

This is an updated version of a similar article written on my 78th birthday. March 28 will be my 81st birthday.  I’m so thankful to still be young and energetic and both loved and in love.   So, here are 21 things that are keeping me young! 

One. I laugh a lot.  I love Genesis 21:6, “God has made laughter for me.”  Laughter is a vote of confidence in the Lord, that He is in control and has it all in His hands.  This means some of what you’ll hear around this house is pure silliness.  And I’m good with that.  Many years ago, as six-year-old Abby and I played at the swing in her front yard, she said, “We’re being silly, aren’t we, Grandpa?” I said, “Yes, we are. Why do we like to be so silly?”  She said, “It’s a family tradition.”  (Abby marries Cody Erskine in two months. I may tell that story.  Cody needs to know what he’s getting into!)

Two. I take a full regimen of vitamins. In the mid-1990s, when I’d gone a decade without seeing a doctor, I accompanied my wife for her appointment and ended up becoming a patient too.  One day the doctor gave me a list of vitamins and minerals she wanted me to start taking.  As I left, she said, “Mr. McKeever, I think we have just prevented a heart attack in you.” Well, apparently so.  I have rarely missed a day taking them, although the precise list of what I take has varied a little over the years as successive doctors have tweaked it.

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No one emerges from life unscathed

We all carry scars.  Like old lions lying in the sun.  Like old warriors trying to get it together one last time.

No one emerges from this life unscathed.

At age 80-plus I lie in bed in the early morning hours all finished with sleep but knowing it’s still too early to rise, just thinking about things.  My mind travels back to errors I have made along the way, mistakes of all kinds, big and little, consequential and not.  I try not to beat myself up over them, but frequently I offer up a prayer for the one I may have hurt or disappointed or neglected.

I’ve told here how my father in the last few years of his lengthy life (over 95 orbits around the sun!) dredged up something from his 18th year that still bothered him.  His mother had ordered him to leave home and live on his own..  (Grandma had a houseful of children, they were a coal-mining family, the boys were constantly fighting, while Carl–my dad–had been earning his own living for years and she needed some peace.  I suspect I’d have done what she did.)  Nothing we said eased Dad’s mind.  It bothered him that his mother did something so unfair.  Eventually time became his friend and as he eased into the sunset of life (I’m smiling at such an apt but dumb depiction of death!), this ceased to bother him.

When I lie there thinking of the past, my mind does not fixate on failures of others or my mistreatment by them.  I’ve been the recipient of blessings and grace galore.  No complaints here.  (When my Bertha–we will celebrate four years of marriage on January 11–brings my favorite dinner in, I sometimes say, “I must be one of the most deserving people in the world.  Either that, or I am daily showered with grace!”  I know the answer to that one.)

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The last temptations of the aged

“They will still bear fruit in old age; they will be full of sap and very green….” (Psalm 92:14)

Here’s what happened.

As I was surfing through the program containing all the articles in this website from nearly twenty years of blogging, I came across an unfinished draft called “the last temptations of the aged.”  I breezed right past it, in search of something else I was looking for.

A moment later, I was back.  That was an intriguing title, I thought.  Must have started that article a year or more back. Wonder what it says.

After reading it, I deleted the entire thing.

It was indeed written a few years back, and then left in the program and forgotten.  But the strange part is that nothing it said applies to my life now.

Not a thing.

Here is a list that will stand the test of time, methinks, and may apply to a great segment of geriatrics as we move into life’s red zone.  Let’s think of these as the last temptations of the aged….

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I encourage you to write in your Bible

“This shall be written for the generation to come; and the people who shall be created shall praise the Lord” (Psalm 102:18).

Please go to the front of your Bible and write in it.

Start by putting your own name.

Often, when I pick up the Bibles of friends to see what they have written in them, I’m chagrined to see they don’t even have their names.

Write in your Bible, friend. Please.

At Christmas 1973, my aunt Eren gave to her mother, my wonderful grandmother Bessie Lowery McKeever, a Bible.  Grandma died in 1982, but not before marking up that Bible.

I now own it.  It is a treasure beyond price.

This morning, I read something I had never seen before, that made the tears flow.  (I was looking up the text above, and Grandma’s Bible was handy.)

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Help a child and change the world

There is a way to step into the future and change it forever.  Help a child.

Teach a child.  Feed a child.  Hug a child.

On this website, back in 2010, I referred to an old clipping from the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal of Tupelo in which a  medical doctor, Joe Bailey, is paying tribute to the man who influenced his life.

Dr. H. O. Leonard was the mentor of young Joe Bailey, who later became a medical doctor.  Here’s the story….

The Bailey family were farmers, Dr. Bailey says, but since his mother refused to live anywhere but in town, they lived in Coffeeville, Mississippi, population 600. They lived directly across the street from the town doctor, H. O. Leonard.

As far back as Joe Bailey remembers, he wanted to be a medical doctor. When he was 10, his father suggested that it was time for him to begin helping out on the farm. Young Joe took a deep breath and explained that if he was going to be a doctor, it would be better to take a job that would teach him about people.

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