Special Word to Older Ministers

Sometimes when I’m speaking in churches for what is variously called “senior adult Sunday” or such, I’ll say to the congregation as a whole….

It’s great being a senior adult! If you knew what fun we have, you’d be chomping at the bit wanting to be one.

One of the best things about it–I don’t know if this is common knowledge, so you might want to keep this to yourself–is that every month, the government sends you money! I’m not kidding.

It’s really kind of amazing. Toward the end of the month, you’ll call the bank to check on your balance and find that your account is almost bare. Then, the next day, boom! There’s more money in the account. The government did that just for you.

Is that nice or what?

And if that’s not enough, being a retired pastor (that’s what I am, ever since my 69th birthday two years ago) brings a special kind of reward most other people don’t have: We get to preach all over the place! Really. People call and invite us to their church for a revival or banquet or prayer conference, to speak to the deacons–boy, do I ever get a kick out of that!–or do a senior adult emphasis. All these churches we used to drive by and think, “Hey, wonder what it would be like to pastor there,” well, they invite us in and we get to preach there. It’s more fun than anything.

Honestly, if I’d known retirement would be this much fun, I think I’d have gone straight from ordination into retirement.

There is one downside to all this getting older business, however. And that’s what brought me to my soapbox this morning. Something I need to say to my brethren in the ministry who are moving into those senior years.

Your body is aging. And, it’s doing so at a fairly rapid pace. You might want to start paying attention and taking remedial action. No, I’m not suggesting botox or going under the knife. I’m not even suggesting dyeing your hair or buying a toupee. Nothing like that.

I’m talking about taking care of the only body God gave you for this life.

Let’s talk about the care and maintenance of the temple of the Lord, your body.

1. Make the decision: It’s way past time to start exercising my body.

When you were working full-time in the ministry, you might have found excuses to get out of walking a couple of miles every day or buying small weights and exercizing on your den floor. But you are all out of excuses these days.

Get with it, friend.

You have no excuse.

I can hear someone saying, “You don’t understand. I’m busier now than I was when I was working.” Maybe so, but in almost every case, it’s in ways you chose. And you can choose to start taking better care of your aging body.

I am not suggesting you take up kickboxing, the decathalon, or even jogging. Furthermore, at your age, even if you are a jogger, it’s probably time to dial it back to a swift walk. Jogging is hard on the knees and feet. Walking will do everything you have been trusting jogging to accomplish.

You have two goals for exercise: to strengthen the heart and to tone the muscles. Walking will accomplish both.

Now, we’re not talking about taking the dog out for his morning constitutional. That hardly counts as exercise. I see them on my street. They walk a few feet and stop while the dog sniffs at the roses or something he found on the sidewalk. Then, they walk a bit further, stop, and wait for the dog again.

Whatever that is, it’s not real exercise. Better than nothing, sure. But not much.

But first, decide to take charge of your health. That’s step one.

2. Get a checkup. Make sure you are healthy enough for an exercise program.

My physician told me once if I wanted a “real” physical, I’d have to say so. “Otherwise,” she said, “we’ll shake your hand and fill out some papers and send you on your way.”

Before starting an exercise program, you want your heart checked and you want a blood workup. Those two things will tell the doctor a hundred things about your general health.

When the doctor did this for me back in the 1990s–I was in my mid-50s–she studied all the results and prescribed a number of vitamins and minerals, including a baby aspirin (81 mg). Then she said, “Mr. McKeever, I think we may have prevented a heart attack in you.” I expect she’s right. I’m now working on my 72nd birthday and in as good shape physically as I’ve ever been. The last treadmill test I took, they finally gave up and said, “You’re good. Get out of here.”

3. Start slowly if you’ve not been active.

Walk around the block. Do some bending and stretching. Do it a couple of times a day, for a few weeks. Gradually increase the amount and the distance.

For a long time, I’ve been at 3 miles a day (we’re talking about every blessed day of the year, too, that I can do it, not just a couple of times a week!) and using 10 lb. weights in my morning and evening routine. As far as I can tell, that’s far enough and heavy enough. I have no plans to go for 4 miles and 12 pounds. The goal is not to look like Charles Atlas.

The goal is to be a good steward of this body. To keep it as healthy as possible for as long as possible. And the reason for that is so we can keep on serving the Lord for as long as He wills it.

I feel a little out-of-my-element giving such advice. Honestly, I’m not what is euphemistically called a “health professional.” I’m just a Baptist preacher. But this is my blog–I always think of Ronald Reagan saying, “I paid for this microphone!”–and I feel a strong urge to encourage you my brethren to take care of yourself.

The problem with starting slowly is that we preachers tend to be Type As who throw ourselves into everything we do. We start exercising and want to be up to ten miles a day by next month. We go on a diet and want to shed 20 pounds by next week. Not a good idea, not by any stretch of the imagination.

You are in this for the rest of your life. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Slow down. Pace yourself.

4. Enjoy the exercise and love the walk.

I have friends who walk in the mall and others who walk on a treadmill. Not me. I’d be bored on a treadmill or walking inside a store. I want to be outside in the air. Thankfully, we have a paved track on top of the Mississippi River levees near my house that runs for miles and miles. It’s there for joggers and walkers and bikers. One of the blessings is watching the river traffic, which changes all the time. Sometimes, I’ll hear a big noise behind and turn to see a small tow-boat chugging upriver pushing barges. At other times, I’ll hear no sound but suddenly realize a massive shadow has just moved into my peripheral vision. It’s a tanker or cargo ship, hardly making a sound, gliding past.

But the best thing about my walk is that I spend almost the entire time talking to the Father. Remember the old song, “I walked today where Jesus walked”? Well, I do that everyday. Another song says, “And He walks with me and He talks with me.”

If I’m preaching somewhere the next day or so, the Lord and I go over the sermon. I pray pretty much the same thing every time: “Father, give me a good grasp of this message. May it grasp my heart. Bring people to Jesus. Encourage the pastors. Build up your church. And help me to do nothing to embarrass my mama or daddy.”

Is there anything to enjoy about getting on the carpet and exercising? Absolutely. Once your have attuned your body to a constant diet of stretching and twisting, you notice quickly when you’ve been several days without it. The body loves to be used. And when it’s not being used, it subscribes to the theory that, “Well, if no one is going to be using me, I think I’ll quit and go home.”

You’re going to be needing this body. It’s the only one you were given for this earthly life. Take care of it.

5. Do your own program.

Now, if you want to buy an expensive exercise program to follow and equipment to use, that’s your business. But for most people, it would be a waste.

Let me suggest this: start a routine you yourself make up. If nothing else, watch an exercise program on TV and find a few twists and situps and such that you can do and will do. Stay with that for a while, adding to it such other activities as you decide on. Then, only when you have been on that program for several months and have shown yourself you will stay with it, should you go out and purchase equipment or video programs.

6. Pay attention to what you are eating.

Obesity is an epidemic in this country. It’s not just a problem; it’s like the black plague of the 14th century. It’s a killer.

Now, if I were a dietician, you might read here that your meals ought to be tiny and tasteless and without enough nourishment to sustain a normal person for an hour. Well, I’m no dietician. In fact, I’m not even the best role model for you.

This is not about me.

I’m suggesting you do what is best for yourself. Among other things, that means paying attention to your diet. Eat fewer sweets and more fruits and vegetables.

There! I said it. Eat more fruits and vegetables.

I’m a farm boy. Grew up eating large noon meals made up of sweet corn and black-eyed peas, okra, squash, tomatoes, canteloupe, and such. We went into the woods and picked wild blueberries and occasionally wild strawberries. We walked into the orchard and plucked off a few apples and pears and peaches.

These days, it takes an effort to eat such foods. Pizzas and burgers are everywhere. Fast food crowds out the “real” stuff. And, being human, we gradually acclimate ourselves to living on Little Debbies and french fries and potato chips and fried chicken. Our cholesterol goes through the roof and it takes a heart attack to get our attention. If we survive it.

Try this. Walk into the produce section of a great supermarket. Don’t overbuy, but pick out two or three kinds of fruits/vegs you’d like to eat. Don’t buy too many of them, but just enough to see if you would enjoy them. Experiment. Try different kinds.

And make up your mind that in order to keep fruits around the house, occasionally some of it will go bad, and that’s all right. Do not fall prey to the lame excuse that “it’ll just spoil, so let’s don’t waste money on it.” Even if some does, it’s worth having the apples and pears, the strawberries and blueberries, the bananas and the cherries, around the house for the times you will eat them.

And one more thing. A biggie with me….

7. Keep it to yourself.

Preachers are the worst in the world about working into sermons when they have fasted or started memorizing scripture or dieting. Let them start jogging and soon the world will know about it.

You’re not doing this for anyone except yourself. So, exercise some self-discipline and don’t tell anyone except your spouse. And maybe your immediate family, if you feel a need for that. Otherwise, resist the temptation to write on your Facebook page, “Just did my 3 miles on the levee.” I hate to tell you this, friend, but no one is interested in that but you. So, let it be your little secret.

It’s your time for yourself, a gift you give yourself every day.

In time you’ll discover that your body appreciates it so much, it may decide to keep working for years longer. You will feel younger and more energetic than you have felt in thirty years, I promise.

Those who hear you preach and receive your continued retirement ministry will be the beneficiaries.

Lord, teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

6 thoughts on “Special Word to Older Ministers

  1. Joe, I really appreciated this one. I know I am going against your advice in telling what I am doing. However, last fall I begin to have some issues such as high blood pressure and high heart rate. After a a visit with a cardiologist I was scheduled for a sleep test. I discovered I had severe sleep apnea, thus the main reason for the high blood pressure and high heart rate. A CPAP has become one of my best friends. However, too much weight gain was also a culprit. As a result Judy gave me a year’s contract with a personal trainer for my Christmas present. Was she trying to tell me something? I am convinced the trainer is used by terrorist organizations to train them in torture techniques. It is not right for a man’s body to be stretched in so many different ways. But the result is that I can now run up the stairs at the church, lost over 30 pounds, and feel much, much better. The best part is that Judy is now telling me I am starting to look like a “hunk” again. Well, maybe not that far yet. But you don’t have to say much to the church members, because they see the difference every Sunday morning in your looks, energy, and attitude. I just need encouragement to stay after it and your article did just that. Thanks!

  2. Great stuff, but just as important to us “lay ministers” as it is to “professional ministers”. It’s still hard at this point, but I’m making progress!!

  3. Bro. Joe,

    Please pray for my sister, a Ministry Asst. in West Mobile Baptist. Her daughter stayed home with a sick child Sunday while they rest of the family went to church. Sometime after 11:00 she smelled smoke, left the house with baby and cell phone in hand and called the fire dept. A candle was left burning in the master bedroom area and it sparked. Three bedrooms were destroyed – either by fire, smoke or water. They lost a lot, even one of their precious dogs. But Oh what blessings have flowed since then. during the afternoon 39 men and countless women gathered to help salvage what they could. Momma died in Oct. and a charised wall size crochet of the Lord’s Prayer was untouched, Daddy’s Flag from his casket was not damaged. A man from the church met her husband at the house Memorial Day morning – early to say he had a house for them to stay in free of charge til they can rebuild. There are so many more blessings I can’t even think. But God’s church stood up to be counted. Such sweet fellowship. The Red Cross put them up one night and tonight they are in an empty home on the church campus. Tomrrow they will buy furniture to go in the “new” place. Her daughter and family just recently moved there from Kansas and they have some furniture to use. Several people in the church, including the pastor, Charles Gibbs, believe it is a lesson sent from God for the church, not Dana and family. As Jerry Clower would say, ain’t God good!!!!


  4. I retired 18 months ago and now I have no idea how I ever had time to work. I thought it would be nice to tutor dyslexic students to read – so now I do. Saw the face of a friend in a billboard ad for Court Appointed Special Advocates – so I became one. My grandsons needed some help with some of their 4H projects – so now I give woodworking lessons. I decided our bathrooms needed some improvement – so now I remodel bathrooms. A year ago I got a new puppy so now I walk 2-3 miles a day to drain some of the energy out of him. One or two nights a week at church meetings, leading Bible study, giving sermons. Whew, have no idea how I worked for 56 years. Thanks for all you do. God bless.

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