Finishing Well --- A Summary --- Kim L. Richardson
In early 2010, I was privileged to interview nineteen retired Nazarene pastors on the topic of finishing a life of Christian ministry well. They were all men, ranging in age from 65 to 87. The interviews were conducted as follows:
Below is a summary of my findings on characteristics important to “finishing well.” I have narrowed them down to seven. Direct quotes from the interviewees have been italicized. I hope these words of reflection inspire clergy—who are now where many of these men were decades ago—to finish their ministry well.
I – Foster a strong relationship with Jesus
It is no surprise to hear pastors telling us we need to stay close to Jesus. No formulas were offered, but testimonials flowed freely. Here are some of the things they mentioned.
II – Ground Yourself in Biblical Identity
There is a huge difference between an identity rooted in “being a pastor” vs. “being a child of God.” Ministry is what I do, not who I am. Nearly every man had a story of moving beyond expectations centered in “bodies, bucks and buildings” toward greater freedom in Christ. This freedom did not diminish their love for their denominational heritage, but it did bring great release and confidence. These men were serving the Lord first, and the church second. Several mentioned that the most difficult transition into retirement was that the phone never rings. Moving from being “the man” to receiving few if any emotional strokes can be incredibly difficult without a proper identity in Christ.
III – Live Well and You Will Finish Well
Nobody said, “To finish well you must live well,” but with each additional interview this truth became more and more obvious to me.
A pastor’s attitude proved vital. One said, Life is 10% what you make it and 90% how you take it. The extreme answer was I don’t have a discouraging bone in my body. All of them saw the glass as “half full.”
God’s call engendered passion and was essential to holding steady in the difficult times. Several of the men acknowledged the importance of viewing ministry as a call vs. ministry as a job, and said losing that belief risked “coasting” or even becoming bitter.
While all of these men had a vision for a positive future, they lived in the present and enjoyed it. I’m having a great time in retirement; then again I had a great time before retiring.
The question for me remained: Is it possible to finish well when we have not lived well? All things are possible with God, but it’s clear that now is the time to begin living well.
IV – Pace Yourself
All the pastors told me it was important to pace myself. Some gave the advice out of positive experience; others didn’t pace themselves and wished they had. My observation was that few, if any, of them paced themselves early in ministry, and a couple never learned. Advice from the pastors included…
Several of the men experienced sabbatical by taking extended time away from the ministry (sadly at their own expense) or by changing pastoral positions to “get their bearings.”
V – Place High Value on Family
Every pastor bragged on their wife and kids. The only regrets expressed were that a few of the children were not yet believers. Some couldn’t quit talking about how great their wives were and some couldn’t quit bragging on their adult children. It was great to hear positive stories when negative “pastor kid” stories seem to circulate through pastoral circles. Maybe it goes without saying, but nobody will feel good about the latter days of ministry if the children are estranged and blame the church or God for the rift.
VI – Love People
If you don’t love people you’re in the wrong business. I was incredibly impressed with how much these men loved their people and still desired to minister to others. Love seemed to flow from every pore of one man’s being. Others were less expressive, but made comments in which you could hear the passion for loving and being with people.
A cynic might say these men never cared for contrary, carnal people, but the cynic would be wrong. Three of these men were voted out of a church and nearly all of them recalled tough situations with unkind people. Still, they exuded love that I believe came from the heart of God.
VII – Be a Life Long Learner Who Understands Life Has Many Chapters
All nineteen of these men are still active in ministry, some paid, some unpaid. One man took college courses in his mid-sixties to prepare for interim pastoral work after retirement. One 78 year-old is successfully growing a youth group from scratch while another man nursed his wife to heaven then began a brand new ministry at age 80.
Retirement is an outdated term. Plan to work into my nineties. I observed that those who finished well kept adding important chapters to their life. These chapters may not include being paid, but they will be highly meaningful.
Some of the pastors planned well fiscally for retirement and some did not. All encouraged me to plan fiscally, but they also acknowledged that there are no guarantees and ultimately we need to depend on God. It was fascinating to hear nineteen different stories of God’s provision. God used many avenues to care for each pastor and family in retirement. I concluded that planning for a positive future in the areas of attitude and character is even more vital than in the financial realm.
The love and wisdom of these men moved me immensely, and I owe them more than I can express. My vocabulary is simply inadequate. May God’s grace and the graciousness of these men help me, and those reading this, to finish well.