Posted tagged ‘ministry retirement’

The Strange Place Called “Retired Pastor”

September 5, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       September 5, 2016

 

My life has been filled with transitions, as has yours! Transitioning from diapers to diaper-less, going from crawling to walking, from pre-school to kindergarten, elementary to junior high. There was transitioning from not shaving to imagined shaving (Thinking I saw a hair on my chin and needed to shave!) to shaving; and going from dating Carol to being seriously in love with Carol to marrying Carol.

You get the idea! Life is transitory in nature! We have to continually adjust to changes around us and in us.

Eight months ago I retired as a church pastor after thirty-six and a half years in the ministry. I was ready! I had lost my edge! I was tired of the drama, the weekly tasks, and even the distance that the position was creating between my Creator and myself. So I announced almost three months in advance that I was retiring at the end of December.

Retirement has come with its benefits. Carol says that I am a more relaxed now, perhaps easier to live with. I’m home evenings. We are able to share more dinners together than apart. I’ve had more time to read and write. The lawn looks better! There has been more nights when I’ve been able to sit on the couch with the grandkids watching TV like a kid. (Carol was more amused at me the other night as I sat there watching Shrek 2 with them. I laughed like a kid, because in those moments I was!)

But retirement has also come with its challenges. Being a retired pastor is a strange place to be in. For sixty percent of my life I had been an actively employed pastor. It had become as natural to me as throwing right-handed. Transitioning from that has been one of the hardest changes in my life.

Why is that? Because a pastor is relationally wired. Pastoring is not like a faucet that you can turn on and off at a turn of the wrist. Right now two people who are dear to me are dealing with illnesses that are most likely terminal. Not being their pastor any longer puts me in that strange place of trying to be redefined. Who am I now? A friend? I’m okay with that, but who am I to them? They still refer to be as Pastor Bill.

As pastors we have a Code of Ethics that we commit to follow. Much of it is written with the understanding that it is difficult for people to see someone who has been their pastor as now being their former pastor. Therefore the former pastor needs to keep that distance from those he/she has been the pastor to. It has wisdom in it. If the former pastor still keeps popping up those he pastored will keep reinserting him into his former role. If a church was like a car transmission it would be a car with transmission trouble, having trouble shifting from one gear to another. For the congregation there would be great difficulty in being able to shift from one pastor to the next.

My son-in-law has encountered some similar dynamics in his dental practice. He and my daughter bought the practice from a retiring dentist last fall. Several times he has encountered those words: “Dr. So-and-So didn’t do it that way!”

It is hard for people to transition from one trusted professional to the next. Dentists, doctors, barbers, and especially pastors. The pastor has been there for the crises, the deaths and the births. He has been the confidant and the encourager.

And now he is retired!

This strange new place I’m in has been populated with new adventures, but also deeply-rooted problems that I’ve stubbed my toe on. As time has gone on, and as my former church has gotten closer to calling the next person to come and be the pastor, I’ve become more distant from those I used to pastor. That isn’t a good thing, but a necessary thing.

The small church, a forty-five minute drive away from town, has become my unofficial “pastoring outlet.” I get to preach, pray for, and offer encouragement like I had been doing. I’m like an old dog who gets taken out to the woods and allowed to run around a bit to keep me moving.

As I figure out this new place I’m in there will be moments of celebration and times of depression. I look behind me at the years of footprints and look ahead at a different terrain that requires a change in footwear.

 

Finding My Place: When a Pastor Retires To…”

April 9, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        April 9, 2016

                         

Today marks the one hundredth day of retirement for me after thirty-six and a half years of church pastoral ministry. One hundred days! In my later years of ministry I was feeling the loss of energy and finding it hard to get recharged on Monday for another week of ministry and activity. I’ll be honest! I looked forward to retirement. When I announced my retirement date about one hundred days beforehand I began the countdown.

In many ways beginning this new phase of my life has been enjoyable. I enjoy the freedom of deciding whether I will or will not do a certain task. For example, in recent weeks I’ve started substitute teaching and if I don’t feel like taking a position on a certain day I don’t. The freedom is a breath of fresh air.

But the greener grass on the other side of the pasture has some challenges hidden in it! In my backyard there is a certain soft spot in the grass that I frequently step in when I’m mowing the lawn. It is well hidden and not deep enough to cause me to turn an ankle, but enough of a depth to sometimes make me lose my balance.

That’s a picture of how it is for a pastor who retires. There is the expected steps as he/she walks through the challenges of ministry, the fulfilling of the roles of being a pastor…and then there is the slipping step of retiring. Who am I in that moment of surprising imbalance and uncertainty?

Ministerial ethics has made me keep some distance from the church I pastored for sixteen years. It’s the right thing to do as the congregation searches for the next pastor, and has some time to figure out who it is. Interim periods are great times for churches to regroup, evaluate, talk, and move ahead. Having the former pastor hovering inhibits that process, kind of like having the dad of a teenager sitting in at a gathering of adolescents! It affects the conversation and is not cool!

So where does that leave me? Truthfully…wandering! A retired pastor enters the woods, but has a hard time finding the path. It is one of those journeys that Google Maps can’t give directions for.

Who is my church? What do I do on Sunday morning? For that matter, what do I do on Saturday night? How do people from my former congregation greet me now…Bill?…Pastor Bill?… Mr. Bill? Is my purpose still the same? What congregation do I become a part of?

Retirement is a time of questions and confusion, and, like a first semester college freshman trying to find his classroom location, I’m trying to find my way.

Scripture doesn’t help that much in this part of the journey. Aaron got taken up to Mount Hor and everybody said “See ya!”, and he died there. I really don’t want to be taken to the top of Pike’s Peak and left for dead!

So I wander to something that is not yet clear and comfortable. It is a redefining travel. It is the soft spot in the lawn that I sink into before finding solid ground again. And it may end up being the most important part of my life journey, because through it I’ll discover who I really am and who I’m not!