Sunday, September 23, 2012

Retired from the Ministry

I recently read something by a retired, Lutheran pastor.  It was a how-to regarding sharpening tools.  According to his comments,  he had been in the ministry for 40 years and apparently had determined that it was time to leave all of that behind and move on to something else.

And it got me thinking.

What exactly is retirement, and how does it fit - in its classical definition - to a member of the body of Christ?

In terms of occupation, there are a couple definitions that bring into focus exactly what we mean when speaking of retirement:

  • to remove from active service or the usual field of activity, as an army officer or business executive.
  • to withdraw (a machine, ship, etc.) permanently from its normal service, usually for scrapping; take out of use. (dictionary.reference.com)
Therefore, a pastor or teacher who has retired considers themselves to no longer be a pastor or teacher.  They would say, "I used to be a pastor, but I'm retired now."  Which begs the question: "what are you now?"  And the answer?  "Not a pastor or a teacher."  Out of work, out of service, and possibly, no longer useful.

The Holy Spirit teaches us a many things about being a member of the Body of Christ, and using the example set forth, He says that "He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers ... " (Ephesians 4:11).  I've talked a lot about the Body of Christ and it's responsibilities throughout this blog, so I won't go back through those issues again.  But lets add one thing to the thought of being a member of the Body of Christ: "the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable" (Romans 11:29).  And lest the connection between gifts and being a pastor/teacher is missed, I'll remind us that the Holy Spirit also says that  "there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord.  There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.  But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).

The Holy Spirit draws many parallels between a living, breathing and functioning human body, and the Body of Christ, which God equips for ministry.  He even goes as far to suggest that one part of the body cannot say to itself or to another,  'you are of no use, I shall cut you off'  (1 Corinthians 12).

In other words, you're not allowed to suggest that you (or anyone else for that matter) are no longer useful.  This isn't to say, however, that there are not differing periods and shades of ministry throughout our lives.  But the fact of the matter is this: we is who we are, and we ain't gonna change that.   Just because one does not stand before multitudes does not make them any less of a preacher or a teacher than one who shares their story to a friend or acquaintance.

Which brings us back to retirement.  Is there really retirement for the pastor or teacher, for the evangelist or the healer?  Can one who spent his entire life guiding and shepherding or teaching actually say, "that's no longer who I am, I do not do that any more?"

I believe the answer is no.

How would you like it if your kidneys decided one day that they were just going to stop working?  That actually happens, you know.  People without medical treatment die pretty quickly, and even those who do get treatment sometimes do not survive.  Of course, God is bigger than all of that and His will shall be done.  So we don't have to worry that the Body of Christ is going to wither up and die, though it certainly does look quiet ill these days, at least in some parts of the world that I'm familiar with.

So where does the notion of retirement come from, as applied to a member of the Body of Christ?  No where else other than the world system of secular, God denying, thought.  Which Christians have embraced with gusto and applied liberally to their organizations, called churches.  We may even go as far call the Pastor the head, or Chief Executive Officer of the church.  In other words, chop off the head, and the church will crumble, or at least the members find another head to follow.

But the problem with that philosophy, and those who set themselves up as an authority to be obeyed in the local church (locally autonomous or not), is that such a system doesn't come from the Holy Spirit.  Rather, He says that Jesus is the head of the Church, not some guy in a robe with gold cords and a bad accent.  But be as that may, God is certainly aware that we're going to put these organizations together, for He also says, "submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority,  or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right" (James 2:13-14).  So being a member of the local Religious Institution on the corner isn't wrong, until we forget who is the real Head of the Church.

But I digress.

The point I'm trying to make is this:  when does a Christian get to retire?  Possibly when The Ministry is a vocation and not a calling?

Retirement from functioning in ones gifts isn't something that should naturally occur to a member of the Body of Christ.  While God does  provide periods of rest and seasons of change in ministry to His children, we will never cease to be who we are, as gifted by God, in Christ.  And it makes me wonder regarding those of use who would retire from ministry: were we ever one with Christ in the first place, or did we just have a vocation?






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