Thursday, January 9, 2020

A Different Kind of Ministry

Over three years ago I retired from fulltime professional Christian ministry. I remember when my father-in-law, Reverend John Hasel, retired from pastoral ministry in 1987 at the age of sixty-five. He never preached another sermon and never missed it. He served as a deacon in his local church in Florida (where people were expected to retire in the 20th century). His wife Arlena (a seminary graduate herself), my mother-in-law, taught adult Sunday School for the rest of her life, but their ministry was always through their local church.

When I retired I wondered if I would follow in their footsteps. But shortly after retirement I was doing some supply preaching and teaching. But I was concerned that I would not know when it was time to stop. As the saying goes, “Old preachers never die; they just sound that way.”

In any case I figured my pastoral influence would be significantly less during retirement than when I pulled a church salary. I was wrong. Book writing, blogging, and podcasting has provided me with a virtual congregation larger than any I had served as a pastor.

I am no celebrity author, but I receive royalties from Amazon from the sale of approximately 800 books per month, which helps my retirement income. The book publishing industry has completely changed in the last decade or so, making it possible for anyone to be a published author at no cost. My new podcast still gets about 300 downloads each week, even though I haven’t uploaded a new episode in weeks. My blog gets over 2000 views a month.

These are not big numbers. In fact they are miniscule compared to those of bestselling authors and popular bloggers or podcasters. I will never be a social media “influencer” or have people pay me to advertise on my sites. But I reach more people now than I ever did when I was preaching to a congregation of a hundred (or less) souls each week. Furthermore I do it tapping on my laptop, while sitting comfortably in front of my woodstove in my flannel shirt and jeans.

I could extend my influence more if I desired, but I don’t. For example I am not on Twitter or Instagram. I barely check my Facebook account. I do no advertising or self-promotion. I am not a social media expert. But even a technologically naive guy like me reaches a worldwide audience.

Hardly a week goes by when I do not receive email from someone in the world who has read one of my books or heard my podcast, asking for spiritual advice. I try to reply to them all. I have become acquainted with people from countless countries on every continent except Antarctica. (If you are reading this from a polar research center, please write.)

Most of my readers and listeners have been wounded by the church and are struggling with traditional Christianity. They thank me for opening new doors of understanding and spirituality for them. I appreciate the feedback. This new ministry has opened doors of understanding and empathy for me.

One last thing. I encourage other pastors or retired pastors – or anyone else - to do something similar, if they feel so inclined. It is relatively easy to get started. No longer are pastors limited to their geographical parish. Even a retired pastor living in a tiny village in rural New Hampshire can reach across the world. As I now say, “Old preachers never retire; they just start a blog.”

No comments: