Retirement: Time to serve again

A constructive, suggestive view of the ministry that may be done after retirement

Perry Smith is a retired Uniting Church minister in Australia.

Caleb's story has always been a challenge and an inspiration to me. Three times Moses refers to Caleb serving the Lord "whole heartedly." This was when he was a prime 40-year-old (Num. 14:24; 32:12; Deut.l:36).* When Caleb was 85, that affirmation was reaffirmed and Joshua "gave him Hebron because he" followed the Lord "wholeheartedly" (Josh. 14:6-9, 13, 14).

Retired and in my mid-70s, I choose to identify with the wholehearted Caleb. Like him I want to "give heart and soul and mind and strength to serve the King of kings." 1

Aging is inevitable. Ministers, however, should learn to grow old graciously not grudgingly, winsomely not woefully. Some people are old at 40, others are young at 80. The difference is in having a grateful and praising heart. We cannot afford to endure aging; we must enjoy it. We are not to be fearful, but faithful, positive, and creative.

Such a desirable attitude in our older years as Christian pastors, can lead to fruitful activity as we draw on the assurance of our Lord who has said: "Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you." So we say with confidence: "The Lord is my helper!" (Heb. 13:5, 6).

I know of one minister who at retirement said he would never preach again or accept church responsibilities. I could not adopt that attitude. I have always had a passion for the gospel of Christ and for the Christ of the gospel. My activity must continue and be modified, and of necessity toned down as time passes.

Converted at 15, God led me into children's ministry, and into lay preaching at 17. Then followed National Service in the Navy, insurance work, Laymen's Bible College, Theological College, and ordination in 1956 in England. I have actually preached for 58 years. My highest joy is to serve my Lord. I echo Charles Wesley's hymn: "Happy if with my latest breath I might but gasp His Name; preach Him to all."2

In 1965 God led us to Australia. Here He opened many and varied doors of ministry in significant pastorates plus wider calls to serve around Australia. Since retirement, my sense of call, joy, and fulfillment in ministry has not diminished.

Two psalms declare the fact, faith, and fruit of older years. I long to "bear fruit in old age . . . proclaiming 'the Lord is my Rock'" (Ps. 92:14). Youth and age are linked in Psalm 71:5-8 and 17, 18. We must not suddenly seize up and "shut up" at the moment of retirement. We have walked with God many years, and we can go on growing in grace, accumulate knowledge and wisdom, and continue developing our developed gifts of ministry.

In retirement, energies may not be as dynamic and our pace may need to be slower, but fruitfulness can continue. "Even to your old age and gray hairs ... I am He who will sustain you" (Isaiah 46:4). Indeed, we must still proclaim the faith by lip and life.

Ministry after retirement

A positive attitude in the transition from a full-time, fully-demanding ministry to the years of retirement is vitally important. Some speak of retirement as being "re-treaded." My own retirement activity has worked out well and fruitfully as God has led and blessed.

In Australia we have what is called "Supply" ministry—standing in for a resident minister's "Long Service Leave," usually for three months at a time. Eight such calls have come my way.

My priorities all through the years have always been preaching and pastoring. The preaching of God's Word has been scriptural and evangelical. One is aware of the privilege of the call experienced by us, the proclamation of the gospel entrusted to us, the perfecting of the instrument expected of us (see 2 Tim. 2:15), and the power of the Spirit available to us. What a high calling!

The other focus has been pastoral visitation, being a shepherd "of God's flock that is under your care" (1 Peter 5:2), which we promise in our ordination services. There is a rather tragic quip about ministers with foot-and-mouth disease; those who cannot visit and cannot preach! And yet visiting and preaching are so basic to ministry.

After my calls to Supply Ministry, I requested a Members and Adherents Roll and a local street map. The roll helped me to anticipate the families to be met and lift them to God in prayer. The map gave an insight into the area and streets where the people lived. These documents laid prayerful and practical foundations for the new ministry.

When supplying, there are often fewer administrative demands, allowing more time for vital pastoral care. That has proved a special joy, and was gratefully remembered after I left. However, the membership rolls have often needed updating, adjusting transfers in and out, and receiving new members.

Caring does count. I began visitation almost immediately with priority calls to those in sickness and special need, but also to encourage the fit-and-wells. It is good to read the Word and pray in each home if at all possible and convenient. We cannot possibly know people in depth with a handshake at the door. However, when they know you really care and relate warmly, they will naturally turn to you when in need. After such visitation, each family usually feels stronger spiritually, and the congregation as a whole benefits.

As a member in your own local church

In full-time ministry we are at the helm, taking the lead and launching initiatives. After retirement it's different. We still have the opportunity to serve and support the minister or ministerial team. However, there must be no competition, no rivalry.

For this reason, most ministers, after retiring, move away to live in another area. Some members can retain too strong a bond with the retiree rather than relate to the new pastor. Wherever we are, as retired ministers, we should prayerfully and practically support and encourage the church leadership.

Some churches allow for a "minister- in-association" status when it comes to pastoral retirees. This role involves some preaching, pastoral care, and other ways of serving by mutual agreement.

If not, an associate can, of course, still serve. With the pastor's approval there are still various ways to support the ministry and the lay leadership. Opportunities for preaching, pastoral care, and witnessing are always abundant. Churches in rural areas and of other denominations constantly look for speakers. My wife and I continue to lead a group of mainly senior citizens who meet in loving, prayerful fellowship and share a Bible-study segment. This has met a real need, and our attendance has grown from 17 to more than 40. We share fun and humor too—important factors when growing older.

Opportunities for ministry and service are almost infinite.

Being a good neighbor

Besides church-related activities, retirees can get involved in various community activities. We live in a small village that has no church. We know our neighbors well—older and younger, married and single—and we try to relate to and support them well.

At one time, two people in our village died at about the same time. There was no pastor to conduct a funeral. I offered my services. Not only the two families but the entire village appreciated our service and the opportunity it provided for bringing comfort to the grieving and a feeling of togetherness to the entire village. It was a bridge-building experience, and from then on witnessing in the village and sometimes preaching to them became easy.

We share in the togetherness of our home area by attending meetings of Neighborhood Watch, our community association, and the Environment Protection Society. It is good to show interest and support in this way, mixing not as a professional minister, but showing interest and friendly support for the benefit of our community.

We now have open doors to minister in retirement—in our village, our nearby small town, and the wider district.

With John Henry Newman and Charles Wesley, I can say: "So long Thy power has blessed me, sure it still will lead me on"3 and "We'll praise Him from all that is past, and trust Him for all that's to come."4

* All Scripture references are from the New International Version.

1 Australian Methodist Hymn Book (W. P. Merrill), 535,

2 Australian Hymn Book, 150.

3 Ibid., 494.

4 Ibid., 153

 

 


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Perry Smith is a retired Uniting Church minister in Australia.

May 2003

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