What I miss most about the pastorate


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!)




3 thoughts on “What I miss most about the pastorate

  1. “Funny you should mention that…” remind me to tell you that joke some time. It‘s about two Rabbis’ talking about there sons’ coming back from a Christian camp and they wanted a “Christian to be”…the punch line goes like this as one says to the other; “what did you do? Well, I talked to the Father. What did He say? FUNNY YOU SHOULD MENTION THAT!”

    But it is funny (if not partially inspired) you should mention that verse from Numbers 8. I have been studying, pondering, ruminating and marinating on that particular passage of scripture for almost 6 years. In regards to that verse and if you are doing the math, yes that would make me 56, do you feel old now?

    As you know my story in regard to reasons why I am not currently in fulltime student ministry…it never the less stings as why God has yet to restore me to that. However, I still serve him at my church in many a different capacity and at whatever opportunity He gives me to whatever demographic of the church (my heart still grieves for and loves students best and most). The hurt part of me claims the reason I have not been called back to student ministry is churches don’t call 56 year old men to serve God through their students because they claim we are not relevant to the students or to their culture. The joy-filled, committed servant heart part of me knows better!

    When the Tabernacle leaders and priest became a certain age (50 as scripture cites) there were NOT retiring as some might conclude. Consider for a moment the monumental task and physical demands of setting up, tearing down and transporting the entire Tabernacle and its contents. It is akin to the same type of mental and physical strains that is required day after day on those in fulltime ministry. And the effects can leave one feeling like what you well described in your Sunday morning blog!

    For those that are serving faithfully and not seeking a personal gain, our relevance to God’s church never dies and neither does our ministry to which we are called by His church. The Rabbi has put many faithful years of laborious effort and hardship into his task and his mind/body/spirit has become weary over time, but He is still called and is no less relevant to the ministry (shame on some of our churches for making some of us feel otherwise!).

    Your friend was partly right; the Bible does not speak of retirement. But it does speak of transitioning to a new role in ministry as you have discovered. The elder Rabbi was not retired but transitioned into a new role from fulltime laborer to mentor and discipler of the younger but no less qualified Rabbis (I Tim. 1:12) called by God as described in OT scripture. I guess you could say this new role is almost akin to being a seminary professor! Although some seminary presidents feel as though…wait, no, not going there!

    Many a new talent and “tools” of knowledge and wisdom that the scores of years of faithful service has provided the Rabbi or in our case us, and prepared him for the new tasks and ministry of the Tabernacle for the rest of his life.
    Youth search committees take note: It is not an individual’s youthful age or cultural relevance that makes for an ideal candidate to lead your young people full-time, it is in my, his and our reverence and devotion to the one, true supreme God and in my relationship with Him I (the old guy) find relevance with your students that are seeking an authentic and vibrant faith in God. Just ask any of the young people and younger student ministers I have voluntarily served in the past 6 years! (‘nuff soapbox)

    And that is what makes the Rabbi leader’s role all the more critical to the leadership of Tabernacle priest. His experience, his insight to God heart through study, prayer and service is what the younger men will need to be refreshed and to encouraged to continue on in service to God when heartaches come along… and they will. He will be their encourager, accountability partner, mentor and friend offering the counsel of wisdom and a welcoming, loving heart with words of care and stern but loving reprove. For this end is to what we are to strive and toil…

    And for me? That is what you have been for me for almost 40 years and for countless others (now your feeling old !). God has truly blessed you and us all for knowing you. I don’t want to ‘be’ Joe McKeever, but I want to have his heart for God, for His church and His service and if you don’t mind Lord, a double portion of it!

    I am a transition in progress and called to do so…

  2. Joe, we are thankful for your ministry after retirement. You’re blessing so many now just as you did at my church. As I draw closer to retirement, your words speak to my heart.

  3. I was recommended this blog by way of my cousin. I am not sure whether or not this put up is written via him as no one else know such designated approximately my problem. You’re wonderful! Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.