Tomorrow is my last Sunday at my church. It will be a wonderful service with my last sermon, a potluck dinner afterward and a celebration of my ministry. I’ve been thinking about this a lot for months now, and I have been praying and wondering about my life after retirement. Who am I if I am not a pastor? How much of my identity is bound up in my being a pastor? Notice how many times I used the word “my” in the first sentence. What does that mean?
For 30 years I have lived and breathed as a pastor. In the years before becoming a pastor, I was preparing to be a pastor. I love being a pastor – being intimately involved in the lives of people, telling them about the good things God is always doing, helping them see Jesus in their lives, encouraging them to grow into Christ. It is not a 9 to 5 job. Most days are 10 to 12 hours of work. One day off a week (sometimes). In 30 years, I have seldom worked less than 60 hours a week. But even though there are days I am bone weary, the work has been a mission from God, and the few times I have tried to turn my back on it, God has turned me around again and renewed that claim he made on my life when I was a teenager. Practicing my faith means being a pastor.
Now I am choosing to put that aside for a time. I do not believe God is calling me into retirement as much as he is allowing me a time of rest and renewal so that I can hear a fresh call from him. Tom and I will be doing mission work and volunteering. We will have more time together to work and play. We will be going to church every week somewhere and I will be writing about all of it. I have books in my head and in my heart that I want to write but put on hold because of the demands of parish ministry.
Who am I if I am not a pastor?
At the heart of it, I am the same person I have always been: a disciple of Jesus Christ willing to follow wherever he leads and do what he desires. I will have the opportunity to be part of different kinds of congregations – congregations that rebuild houses, congregations that help visitors to the national parks, congregations that are just as faithful in their ways as the congregations I have served as a pastor. I am excited about these new opportunities and will face the challenges ahead the same way I always have – following the direction of the Lord that I love.