Friday, January 23, 2015

Being retired

I am somewhere in the midst of year two of my new "retirement life".  I could say it's been harder than I expected. But what did I know having never retired before. That's the problem. I had been prepared for the pastoral ministry but who thinks to prepare ministers for retirement. I think someone should. From my limited empirical evidence I think pastors have a hard time retiring. We are "called" to ministry but it is harder to hear that "re-call" out of it. We are one with our position. Our first name is Pastor. We are available 24/7 and we get praised for it. We are at the center of church life. While we may complain that we have no power, what we say and do carries as much or more weight than anyone else. I know about conflicts between pastors and laypeople who are used to calling the shots. Some times they end up in church divisions or the pastor leaving but that is because the pastor is expected to have a big voice in church decisions. That causes stress also, since the pastor is where the buck stops. In worship, the pastor is center stage, too. He preaches so he is the main or only voice heard on Sundays. She gets to say what she thinks and then people get to "have the pastor for dinner," as they say. Then the pastor goes  home and wonders how he did because the only feedback he gets is a friendly "enjoyed the message" at the door or nothing. Until he hears that someone is leaving the church because they are not "getting fed" or not "hearing the gospel" or not, etc, etc, etc. After 30 or 40 years of this life of ministry you get used to it. You like to hear the affirmations - you look for them. You may think you don't like living in a fishbowl but you become comfortable with the attention. You need to be needed. You like helping and when others are so grateful you could almost believe they wouldn't make it without you.

Of course they would and do and that is retirement. Your phone never rings unless it's a robo call letting you know you have a doctor's appointment. All those people who called and needed you - well they have a new pastor who is doing just fine. In fact, the church in which you played such a central role is doing just fine. Which is as it should be but you wonder if I was called there, what am I called to do now? Did God put me on the shelf or out to pasture? Does he need me anymore? Or is my usefulness over? What is God thinking?

Of course, the answer is right there staring me in the face and I knew it all the time. God does not need me and never has needed me. He never asked me to do stuff for him. That's just part of our evangelical lingo. "Give all you've got to God and He will give you much more" (parable of the talents, modern interpretation). "You can change the world" (no you can't). "You can make a difference" (yeah  and that can be good or not so good).

Jesus can change lives and He can make a difference but I (the pastor) am not him. I am his disciple/follower. That's what I have always been. I had been following him working as a Pastor and I am following him now not working as a pastor.

I have been reading a good book by Scott Bessenecker who works for Inter Varsity as a missions specialist. The book is called Overturning Tables: Freeing Missions from the Christian - Industrial Complex. In a section he calls, God's Unproductive Design, Scott wonders why, if productivity is such a big deal to us, did God wire us to be dormant one third of our lives.  And that's just the sleep part. Then, there is the day of Sabbath rest and in the Old Testament  there was another rule for an entire Sabbath year!  According to Scott, almost one half of our lives are given a free pass - to rest! Don't do anything. Then, when you add up all the hours we need for routine maintenance and working on relationships and being put on hold and waiting in traffic and in lines, we are lucky if we can be productive for God 10 percent of the time we have! If our chief aim in life is to get stuff done for God, we are pretty inefficient producers and He made us that way!

What if God did not make us to get stuff done for him. What if our value as Christ Followers is not what we do for Christ but what He has done for us. What if God made us for the sheer pleasure of it. We possess an infinite worth to God and to all creation even in our stillness, our sleep, our quiet, our dormancy, Scott writes. "Simply living on earth has value. There is value in simply being in God's presence without the burden of searching for a message or praying." When we are dormant and we realize God is pleased with us even in our state of total inactivity, then we are free to serve Christ for Christ's sake and not our own.

 As a good Protestant pastor I often measured my worth to God and sought his pleasure in what I was doing for Him (so I could hear that "well done thy good and faithful servant" some day). In retirement, I am learning to practice "simply being in God's presence." I can still do stuff I enjoy and God enjoys but it's good to know He enjoys having me live in his presence whether I am sitting or sleeping, or walking or praying or reading or eating or washing the dishes or worshipping. It's all good.