As much as I loved pastoring, I do not miss it.
That might need a tiny bit of explaining.
I’ve not pastored since 2004, when I became the area-wide “director of missions” for the SBC churches in metro New Orleans, a Southern Baptist position similar to the Methodist District Superintendent or some minor bishop (but, as we tell our Catholic friends, “bishop without the authority or funny hat”). After 5 years, I retired to a ministry of itinerant preaching, writing, cartooning/sketching, and honey-doing.
I do not miss pastoring, even though I put in 42 years serving six churches and by all reports, did a fair job of it.
I do not miss the stress.
I do not miss the constant demands placed on a pastor and the sleepless nights that result.
I do not miss the relentless return of the Sabbath with its requirement for several new sermons and fresh presentations at every level.
I do not miss deacons meetings and monthly church business sessions.
I don’t miss hospital visitation, even though I still do that occasionally.
I don’t miss weddings or funerals, even though I still get asked once in a while.
I don’t miss the administrative details, the long staff meetings, the occasional interstaff bickering and competition, or the endless impossible-to-meet expectations placed on me by a few high octane members (but mostly by myself).
But I did love pastoring. As a new seminary grad in the summer of 1967, I had to get straight with the Lord whether I was to pastor churches or teach history in college (this was the original plan) and be a bi-vo pastor of small churches. While on my knees in a hotel room in San Antonio, my wife asleep nearby, I heard from the Lord in no uncertain terms: I was to pastor churches.
I did love a thousand things about pastoring–the people with no agenda but to live for Christ, the newcomers who fell in love with our churches, the children with no hypocrisy but tons of love, the old people who radiated the love of God, the teens whose excitement for the Lord was caught by all the rest of us, evangelism and seeing people come to Jesus, revivals that made a lasting difference (we might have had three of those), stewardship campaigns that turned our church around (that happened twice), paying off debts, constructing new facilities, and yes, preaching the gospel. I would still do those things today if a church would not ask me to do all those other things. (Not going to happen; just saying.)
Some will consider faulting me for admitting that I do not miss pastoring and even question my call to the ministry. That’s their privilege. My answer is that I was indeed called to the the Christian ministry–I’m the only one who has to be certain about that!–but that term covers a lot of territory. The call of God encompassed 42 years in the pastorate (including three years on the staff of a church when I was rarely preaching), five years as the DOM, and all the years since I officially “hung it up.” That’s more than simply shepherding a congregation.
Make no mistake, I’m still in the ministry.
One reason I don’t miss pastoring is that invitations to go places and preach and minister to churches still arrive at a regular pace.
In the past month, I’ve met with several pastors seeking counsel on matters they were dealing with. I love doing this.
So far this year, I’ve preached a half-dozen revivals, filled in for pastors in several states, done a number of deacon retreats and leadership training sessions, been the guest speaker for six or eight senior adult emphases, and done my drawing/speaking program in at least a half-dozen high schools. Meanwhile, I’ve written a hundred articles or more for this website, written pieces for several magazines, and turned out a pile of cartoons for Baptist Press. In addition to all this, have donated many hours to sketching people for various events such as block parties and fundraisers.
Maybe that’s why I don’t miss the pastorate: I’m staying busy and still pastoring, just in different ways and on a vaster scale.
When a director of missions in another state messaged recently to ask for suggestions about his upcoming retirement, my single counsel was to turn the matter over to the Lord and see what He has in store.
I’ll tell you one thing: God is not going to let you sit home and do nothing, or go fishing or golfing and little else. He didn’t give you all that training and a lifetime of experiences and friends in every direction for you to sit on it and let it get all moldy.
Anytime we mention retirement on Facebook, some friend or other will be quick to jump on that. “The Bible doesn’t know anything about retirement.” Mostly, I let that go. But sometimes, if I’m feeling a little fiesty, I’ll say: “Of course it does. The Old Testament priests were required to retire from active duty at the age of fifty.” (That’s Numbers 8:25).
Man, just think about that. I could have retired 23 years ago.
All those priests were bi-vocational anyway, we assume, and when retired, just stayed home to plow their fields or run their stores. There is no retirement from life and the assignments the Lord God puts on us. That assignment, however, is a living thing, not static and not rigid.
A pastor messaged this week asking if the call of God ever changes. Now that he is divorced and has had health problems, does the original call upon his life still hold? Others answered him better than I could have, but my word would have been something like: “The Lord knows what you’re going through. He hasn’t gone off and abandoned you to something He asked of you years ago. So, ask Him. And don’t be surprised if His plans today are different from what you were to do yesterday.”
It is Sunday morning. I’m not preaching anywhere today. I will be in church worshiping in my usual spot, hearing Pastor Mike today, and praying at the altar for a number of people who are on my heart.
And, yes, I’ll be rejoicing that Mike is pastoring this church and I’m not. (Huge smiley-face goes here!)