It is a typical Texas winter day—a little chilly but not extremely cold—a little cloudy. It is the AM. As always, very few drivers are out on the road early on Sabbath morning. But more than that, it’s a COVID-19 Sabbath, when there is little or less routine for church service, which makes my Sabbath slow. I make my customary slow drive to the post office and gather the mail. Leisurely taking in good Texas air, I proceed back to the vehicle.
Slowly pulling into empty church parking, the music plays low, and I kill the engine. I look at the church, and the tears just flow . . . and flow . . . and flow. Someone said, “When tears flow, don’t stop them; the wellsprings will dry, and the tears will cease when the soul gets good and ready.” So, I grieve and cry.
Cloudy weather is perfect for what I am experiencing. What’s going on? It’s Sabbath, yes. It’s my birthday, yes. But it’s also my final day in pastoral ministry. I am transitioning into retirement.
It’s been a good 40 years—a very long time to spend in small churches—by choice. And I moved only three times, twenty years in one district alone. That’s pretty good for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. A testimony to my calling to ministry.
To be sure, I have had attractive ministry calls. There was always the temptation to accept pastoral calls to larger congregations on both east and west coasts. But my consistent prayer has been, “God, send me where I will be happiest and most useful.”
In ministry, for years my leadership style has principally been characterized as Christocentric, where I attempted to lead by example. In the early quiet hours of the morning before sunrise, you would find me secluded in my home study having my hour’s devotion, reading my Bible supplemented with the writings of Ellen G. White, a habit I maintain to this day. Second, I maintained a healthy vegetarian lifestyle with exercise, swimming one mile two days a week and walking 45 minutes three days a week. Third, Ingrid and I would vacation the entire month of July, during her summer break, in a different part of the world, embracing various cultures.
Why would I jeopardize our happiness? We deemed ourselves as a team quietly working in one corner of God’s vineyard in Texas. While I may here emphasize the contentment I experienced in multi-church districts, I recognize that contentment may also be found in large church settings, complete with added responsibilities. Simply find your happiness in ministry and “do you!”
I exit the car, enter the building, and slow-walk the facility in prayerful thought. Entering the sanctuary, I stand by the pulpit where I have left my preacher’s mark then walk back to the newly constructed pastor’s office. As I stand glancing around, I notice bits and pieces of workers’ sediment left on the floor and proceed to get the broom and sweep it into a pile, later to trash it. A thought grips me. I pause, smile, and chuckle in humility, all by my lonesome, thinking, This is my local church calling in retirement: to be the local church/school janitor/deacon!
So, in a lifetime, I’ve journeyed from pulpit preacher to church janitor/deacon. At Southwestern Adventist University, as a college student, I requested of God a sign of ministerial calling. Now, in retirement, I request of God the same—this time a sign of ministry approval. In response, in a very telling and marked way, God answers.
Sure, I will do other things in retirement: hospice chaplain part-time, more writing, golfing, Scuba diving (I am a saltwater enthusiast), world travel, gardening, having fun driving my roadster, and more, but to work in a cleaning capacity for God is indeed an honor for His faithfulness to me over 40 years of ministry.
So, as I leave, I reflect on the transition my career has taken—from pulpit pastor to church janitor. And, like David, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked” (Ps. 84:10, NIV).