January 2023: My Pastoral Life in Review: That Was Then, This Is Now
At the end of every calendar year, it’s not uncommon to review the ups and downs and the ins and outs of the previous twelve months. TV shows will recall the year’s top stores; radio stations will review the year’s biggest hits; pop-culture magazines will highlight the celebrities died; and Spotify users will be told which songs in their library they listened to the most. All of this falls under the category of “the year in review.”
Though it’s still many years away, as I move closer to retirement age I find myself doing something similar related to my career, a kind of my pastoral life in review. I’ve been looking back and reviewing what my ministry has looked like. I’m assessing what I’ve accomplished, what differences I’ve made in the world, and so on. Because this self-assessment has been unplanned, so to speak, I can only assume that it’s a natural part of the life-cycle, and that many others in this same point in their lives and careers have found themselves undergoing a similar review of their own lives
As I look back over the past nearly 30 years (my first appointment started in July 1993), my most significant observation is that for the majority of that time, the vocational goals I’ve consciously or unconsciously set for myself have tended to reflect the worldly aspirations of “moving up the ladder.” Most often this means “getting a bigger church” which, typically, comes with a bigger compensation package. In my case, I can say that this goal has been met. For the most part, every appointment since 1993 has amounted to moving upwards regarding the proverbial professional ladder.
In growing in my awareness about the type of goal which has apparently concerned me most—professional upward mobility—I’m also recognizing that “achieving” it is not all that satisfying. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m asking myself, “Is that all there is to this?” Of course, the answer is no! There’s so much—so much—more to pastoral ministry than being appointed to a bigger church. As I look back over the previous thirty years, and also consider my remaining years of active pastoral ministry, I want to be more intentional about setting Kingdom-building goals for myself as a pastor. And while there is some amount of regret on my part that I’m only now setting these more Kingdom-affirming goals for myself as a pastor and church leader, I’m grateful that this isn’t occurring to me in my final year of pastoral ministry!
To the best of my recollection, I think I can count on one hand the number of adults I’ve baptized in the past thirty years. I think I’ve consciously (on my part) led maybe two people to profess faith in Christ. In any of my appointments, I can’t say for sure that the congregational “spiritual water table” was higher when I left than when I arrived. All of this is not to suggest that I think I’ve been ineffective as a pastor. On the contrary; I know that God has used me as a pastor to accomplish many good, Kingdom-building things. Nevertheless, in the years I have remaining, I’m hoping to focus my energies on leading for true transformation—of individual persons and of our congregation as a whole. This is going to be my driving goal in the years ahead.