There’s No Such Thing as “Retiring” From Ministry
Last month marked one year since I stepped away from the pastorate. I’ve shunned the term “retirement” like the plague, vowing to remain active in ministry and seeking to use the rest of my life to serve the Lord.
Over these past twelve months, the clamps of life have tightened considerably for us all. Personally, I’ve reflected more on both the starting and finish lines of my ministry. A number biblical passages come to mind as I’ve reflected on finishing well, but three texts from Paul’s ministry stand out.
1) “Fulfill your ministry” (Colossians 4:17).
Forty-two years ago as a Bible college student, I was drawn to Colossians 4:17. Paul’s words presented themselves as a challenge to my young and eager heart: “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.”
At the time, I didn’t know what that “ministry” would look like, but I was committed to serving the Lord without an expiration date. So I applied those words to my heart the best I could. I prayed, “Whatever you have for me to do, Father, I will be committed to it . . . to its conclusion.”
I confess I haven’t always kept that charge as faithfully or as well as I would have liked. But God has been abundantly merciful to forgive me and gracious to pick me up and brush me off time and again—setting me back on my feet with fresh resolve to continue the journey with him.
2) “Finish the ministry” (Acts 20:24).
Acts 20:24 records Paul’s farewell words to the Ephesians. He tells them, “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” These words struck a chord with me in the final days of my pastorate, and they continue to.
Both Colossians 4:17 and Acts 20:24 teach that “ministry” is something “received” from the Lord and the recipients have the responsibility to “fulfill” it. My prayer has now become, “Keep me faithfully pressing on, Father, in obedience to your heavenly calling in these latter years so that I will remain useful in my service to your church until you see fit to bring me across the finish line and into my eternal home.”
3) “Keep the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
In 2 Timothy 4:7, Paul assesses the course of his life and ministry with full awareness that he’s about to die: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Once again, notice the emphasis on finishing or “fulfilling” the task which God has assigned. Faithful pastor, persevering missionaries, and ordinary followers of Christ surely have great joy as they near the end of life’s journey assured that they have fulfilled the ministry Christ has given them.
As I near the setting sun of this life, as I anticipate at last seeing the face of the eternal Son in whose presence I shall live forever, that’s become my prayer.
Time and circumstances may require that our venues and our tasks are altered. But as long as we’ve been granted the ability to serve, we must strive to fulfill the ministry to which God has called us, equipped us, and employed us for his glory.
Years ago, as I was beginning my first full-time pastorate, two dear brothers took me to lunch and encouraged me with these words of Jesus: “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4). This verse charted the course of a ministry that’s now in its 45th year. It’s reminded me that in the work of the Lord, there is no such thing as retirement.
While at a doctor’s appointment some months ago, the nurse taking my vital signs asked what type of work I did. I told her that, until recently, I was a pastor. She smiled and responded, “What do you mean you were a pastor? Once you’re a pastor, you’re always a pastor.” Touché.
Dear brothers, whether you’re just starting out, well into, or preparing to step aside from your present ministry, recognize that your call is of divine origin and that you are not alone in fulfilling it. With Paul, let us together say, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Phil. 3:12).
Soli Deo Gloria!