Friday, June 19, 2020

Pandemic Ministry

It has been nearly four years since I retired from fulltime pastoral ministry. At the time I wondered how the transition was going to change my ministry, which I have always considered to be a lifelong calling and never dependent on a church paycheck – although the salary certainly helped pay the bills.

For the most part I have declined opportunities to do traditional ministry. I have declined all requests to be an interim pastor at churches in surrounding towns. I declined most invitations to be the guest preacher in other pulpits. I needed time away from the pulpit to recover my land legs. Like sailors needing time to adjust to land life after an extended time at sea, I needed time to see what it was like to walk the Christian life without leaning on a pulpit.

Strangely enough, in recent months the coronavirus pandemic has aided my ministry.  Enjoying the slower pace that the pandemic brought, I used the time to start a podcast and a video YouTube Channel. I don’t preach online. I talk about spiritual matters in an informal manner.

What I say has changed as much as how I say it. When I was a church pastor I had the responsibility referred to as “care of souls.” I ministered to people at all different stages of the spiritual journey. Whenever I crafted a sermon, I was very aware that it would be heard by a wide variety of people at different stages in their physical and spiritual lives. That determined what I said.

Now without the responsibility for other’s souls, I find myself looking more carefully at my own soul. I write and speak to clarify my thoughts about what I am experiencing spiritually. I speak from where I am, out of where I am – not to where other people are. I “speak forth” rather than “speak to.” If people happen to be where I am spiritually, then they will tune in. If not, they will tune out. Either way is fine. It turns out that I reach more people now than I ever did when I was a pulpit jockey.

This new ministry has deepened my spiritual life. One of the reasons I chose Christian ministry as a profession was so I could spend time developing my own spiritual life. I admit, it was selfish. But it worked … to a degree. Pastoral ministry was more time-consuming than I ever imagined, but I also focused on what I love the most – spiritual matters. Now that I am retired I have even more time to devote to the spiritual adventure.

In classical Indian philosophy of life, there are four stages of life known as ashramas. The first is the Student. The second is the Householder. The third is Retirement. In ancient times, people withdrew from society and retired into the forest to devote themselves fulltime to spiritual practice. In reality most people did not do this, but it remained the Hindu ideal. (The fourth stage is renunciation, a life of monastic-style vows, taking on voluntary poverty. Something I am not yet ready for - although I am striving for simplicity.)

Most Americans today, who can afford to retire, use retirement to catch up on all the things they wanted to do earlier in life, but did not have the time or the money. “Eat, drink, and be merry” as the retired preacher of Ecclesiastes advises.  Those who cannot afford to retire must continue in the householder phase. Many people, who can afford to retire, choose not to. Instead they continue in the second stage of life until the end. Very few use retirement as a time to devote themselves to spiritual pursuits. I have embraced this stage in my life gladly and wholeheartedly!

When I look inward at who I am and who God is, it puts outward matters in perspective. My inner vision is sharper, even while my physical vision and hearing is dimmer. What I see astounds me, and I share it with others. I have no choice. This is who I am. Through the responses I receive regularly from listeners around the world, I have discovered there are a lot of people who see what I see. They are where I am. We are one.

In my ministry I share what I see, which is what Jesus saw. He called it the Kingdom of God. My teaching is more like the message of Jesus and less like the church’s message about Jesus. It is more focused and unequivocal. I am less concerned about offending those who are afraid of the light and more concerned about bearing witness to the Light.

A pastor friend of mine who is still in the pulpit is worried that his bold and prophetic preaching will get him fired by his congregation, with the attendant financial hardship that would involve. I empathize with him, but I have no such fears myself.

I still get the occasional sniper taking shots at me from the dark corners of the Church. Those attacks still wound me, but I am learning how to let them move through me with less resistance. As Jesus wisely practiced and taught us, “Resist not evil.” My ministry is still the joy it has always been, but now the joy is fuller and deeper, and it shows no signs of diminishing. I am eternally grateful for this blessing of the ministry of retirement.

1 comment:

Owen said...

I am also grateful for the blessing of your ministry of retirement. :-) There is so much I’d like to discuss with you as I read your books, listen to your podcast and videos, and now read your blog. I hope one day we might have a chance at friendly, like-minded discussion. For now, please know that your work ha sheen deeply meaningful and reassuring for me and I am most grateful you have chosen to do spend this season of your life how you have. Peace be unto you.