I retired in 2001. Back then, I had to decide how I would use my time and how I would be involved in the life of my local church, St Paul’s Carlingford. But I didn’t want to rush too quickly into new commitments, so I deliberately chose not to do anything new for six months until I had sorted things out. In hindsight, that period was most difficult. Since then, however, I’ve had a ball! Let me explain.
After six months of thinking, I agreed to devote some of my retirement to supporting Neil Fitzpatrick, who was my minister at the time, three days a week. When I began, neither of us knew what it would mean or how it would work: Neil had never had anyone as old as me working for him, and I’d never worked for someone as young as him. Who was going to manage whom?
Thankfully, we got on like a house on fire: I lit the matches and he put out the fires! Joking aside, it surprised me how easy it was to slip into the ministry team with little more to offer than the experiences and skills I had accumulated over time in the secular workforce.
So what did I end up doing? It would be easy to put together an extensive list to make it appear I’ve had an important role. But ministry is about serving others—and that usually means doing ordinary things. My responsibilities fell roughly into three areas. At 5:30 pm church, I ministered to ‘Prime timers’—people of a similar age who had recently retired or who were close to retirement—and that involved evangelism, pre-evangelism, one-to-one men’s ministry and leading a Bible study group. As part of broader church ministry, I organized a couple of retirement seminars, and helped chair a management committee responsible for ministry apprentices. I also became involved in the Club 50 taskforce, helping older Christians everywhere to think about how to use their time and abilities for advancing the gospel. In addition, for personal development, I completed a Diploma in Biblical Studies at Moore College—something that has subsequently proven invaluable.
After a while, however, my responsibilities changed. Neil was challenged to plant a new church in North Rocks, and he invited me to join his ministry team. My initial reaction? Wow! What a responsibility! And yet what a privilege! My involvement mostly involved doing whatever I could to free Neil up to preach, teach and set the vision, and protecting him from burn out. Along with men’s and seniors’ ministry, my role came to include project management, liaising with the local school whose hall we rent, chairing the taskforce overseeing the new church, resolving the shape of our services, and encouraging core members to share the numerous responsibilities (e.g. children’s ministry, music ministry, rosters, small groups, etc.). I’m doing nothing more than using the experience and skills I’ve picked up over the years. Since then, Neil has moved on and Adrian Russell has taken his place, and, by God’s grace, we’ve grown from 60 adults plus kids to a significantly larger membership.
From all of this, I’ve learned a couple of lessons. Firstly, like many, I used to think ministry required special skills for teaching, preaching and pastoral care. Now I know it does! But I’ve come to see that churches that are successful in spreading the gospel also require many other skills. It is not only possible, but eminently workable for a retiree with no paid ministry experience to work alongside a keen younger minister. It’s great to play second fiddle to someone else! It’s great to have a reason to get out of bed. And it’s immensely satisfying to be doing something I’m passionate about. Furthermore, working with folk a lot younger than me has been enlightening, encouraging and educational.
Secondly, ministry roles are never clear-cut. It’s important to resolve who does what, and get used to operating in ‘grey’ areas.
Thirdly, I have learned that ministry is never-ending: people contact you at any time. Consequently, you need to pace yourself—resolve what days you’ll work and what days you won’t, take time off, quit certain tasks when you take on others, and don’t burn yourself out. There’s too much important work still left to do! But it’s not all work and no play; twice a year, my wife and I go away to recharge our batteries so we can return fresh and enthusiastic to start again.
I began by saying that I’ve had a ball. And so I’d like to challenge each and every Christian, including those who have retired, to use your own experience and skills for the growth of the gospel. There are plenty of opportunities for all. So pray about it, talk to your church leader and, above all, set yourself the goal to finish strong in Christ.