Retirement – a personal conversation in expanding beyond “ministry”

A keen church member asked me recently, “What are you doing now that you have retired and finished your ministry?” Really? Finished ministry! How have we managed as Christians, and I suspect particularly in our mainline churches, to either teach or model “ministry” as something a minister does? Have we devalued ministry to the minority of Christians who have been ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament?

Since retiring from stipendiary ministry, mission and ministry are blurred concepts. I am now a volunteer. There is no longer a weekly routine of preparing for each Sunday with three different services, attending or leading meetings, being on call for a multitude of pastoral needs, pushing through each day to try and make strategic visits to people. Nowadays I can say “yes” or “no” to requests. Does that mean ministry has shrivelled? No. For me, a multitude of opportunities now become choices. I am not tied to ministerial expectations. I can choose to be more mission focused.

Our conversation so far raises interpretations of what we often understand as the differences between ministry and mission. Traditional parish ministry has an internal focus of keeping a congregation warm, loving, accepting, taught and led in worship. As a result of such ministry, the congregation is lively and resourced to reach out in mission. So often the demands of ministry and the commitment to keep the church going, both for the paid minister and for the congregation, leave little energy, or daring faith, to launch into a mission focus. Looking back on my years in ministry the battle to merge ministry into mission often beat me.

I no longer think of my days as ministry or mission. On Sunday mornings, as part of the leadership team for our “Manna (free) breakfast” I may speak or slice bread for toast. On Sunday afternoon I might be preparing a Powerpoint presentation for Wednesday’s Wilding Pine workshop. Both of those activities are a personal choice. In terms of my journey with the Lord, both activities are equal.

In this post-retirement-from-ministry stage of life there is no difference between mission and ministry. Any ministry gifts God trusts me with are the backbone of my mission in the community and in organisations I am involved with.

For the last six years, as the founding chair of the Wakatipu Wilding Pine Group, I am simply myself. On the way to meetings I quietly pray to be a Jesus sort of person by being open, accepting and well organised. After thirty years of church meetings it can still seem strange to begin an executive meeting with a welcome but no prayer or devotions! Does it matter? Is Christ present? I work with fabulous people who will probably say they are secular, but who are passionate, open, incredibly friendly, and who can disagree strongly about agenda decisions but without being disagreeable (would that Christians could always be like that!).

The privilege is mine to meet with community leaders, business people, politicians of all flavours, national and local DOC staff, helicopter pilots and landowners. Sometimes I am asked “What did you do before you retired?”. My reply: “I am a Presbyterian minister”. “How come you are involved in trying to control wilding pines?” is the next question, and I am usually quite open saying: “For me creation and the iconic landscapes around Queenstown are a gift from our maker. Caring for this creation is part of who I am”. Some great conversations have emerged.

In a dignified manner, and not without theological understandings, we ordain and lay hands on our ministers and elders. We often lay hands on or pray for youth pastors and children’s workers. A considerable portion of their time is ministry within their church. What about the chair of a Board of Directors, the Principal of the school, the young couple starting a new business? As Christians can they lift their heads high and say, ministry and mission for me is being Christ in my work-day week? In their daily interface with their community they walk a journey very similar to Jesus’ journey through Palestine. Is their mission and ministry more or less important than the ordained? Should we recognise their mission and ministry by laying hands on key leaders?

My time and opportunities in the community reinforce again to me how being with people is not a ministry, but simply being there in the name of Christ. Speaking recently at a national conference on our annual million dollar investment in Wilding pine control in Wakatipu I made reference to the importance of communicating with landowners. In the question time I was asked, “How do you approach landowners in asking them the sensitive request to cut down their shelter belts or small blocks of pines that are sending windblown seed up onto the mountains?”. Before I could answer a scientist called out: “Peter and I worked together on that wilding tree survey. I suggested that he write to the landowners. Most of you won’t know that he is a retired pastor; he said to me, ‘No, I’ll go and visit them’. He is establishing significant advances in removing problem trees”. All of which raises the question of whether we encourage Christians to grasp each day and not worry about whether they are in mission or ministry mode?

Peter Willsman
Peter’s ministry spanned 31 years. He retired from a 24-year ministry at East Taieri in 2001. Much of his ministry focused on developing teams of people using God’s gifts in mission. Now in Queenstown, he has been involved in the local community. He is the founding chair of the Wakatipu Wilding Pine Group which is seeking to control rampant wildings from taking over the God-given landscapes. A recently awarded QSM recognised his work in the church, community and leading wilding pine control.

8 thoughts on “Retirement – a personal conversation in expanding beyond “ministry”

  1. I want to agrre with Peter. Since I retired in 2003 I have had a multitude of opportunities arise in ministry and mission. Also there is the freedom to say yes or no. I have done things and been to places I never ever dreamt of before. It is 50 years since I commenced theological studies at Knox and the call to mnistry is as strong now as then.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Peter. I heartily agree.
      I no longer have a parish of “my own”, but not because I don’t want to. If my last position had not been in a CV, I may still be in parish ministry – who knows – except God?
      At 68 I refuse to call myself “retired”. I also refused to be called “emeritus”!
      I now have a varied lifestyle, much of which is working for GoBus, driving special needs children to and from school, mornings and afternoons. I also drive the big buses outside those times. I have had quite a number of occasions to share my faith or to have significant conversations with people about things going in their lives – opportunities I rarely got in parish ministry. Some say I am working in a secular job – may be a secular environment, but I work “as for the Lord”.
      In addition to the bus work I still continue to lead worship when asked, still get asked to conduct funerals from time to time, and have two part-time chaplaincy roles.
      While God gives me life, health, strength and energy I want to continue to be used for the Kingdom in whatever way I can.


  2. For me being retired is an opportunity to be retreaded…recycled…. and free to explore new or different facets of ministry as opportunities present themselves…..It is not a matter of ‘still working” as some people call it…. but of continuing in mission and pastoral care in the communities in which we live as part and parcel of the priesthood of all believers sharing the love of Christ. What a privilege and gift it is- to still be fit and able to do so!


  3. We discovered recently that only 36% of those paid to work in the church are ordained to Word and Sacrament. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could quantify the contribution everyone was making to the now and not yet.


    • Yes, Wouldn’t it be lovely!
      Those 36 percent make a valuable and precious contribution to the Kingdom of God in this country,… but so do the 64 percent, and I having a sneaking feeling the latter figure is on the rise.

      I suspect that recognition will come to be appreciated over time, but it will be a slow process as hearts and heads and assumptions change, and we start asking different questions about what we do, and how we do it.

      As a person who has worked in the service of the church (mostly the PCANZ) for the guts of 20 years I have seen changes- maybe not enough, and wrought incredibly slowly, but there have been changes, nevertheless. As a non – ordained person I still spend a great deal of time explaining why I am not, rather than focussing on the positive contribution I could offer, but that goes for a number of folk in my position,

      I think that in time we will come to understand that vocation is wider than those who have been ordained to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament. We will not be asking ” can we find a capital M Minister for this?, but “In order to be the presence of Christ in this community, these are the things we need to be doing. Who can we send?” Our harvest workers – ordained and non-ordained will be trained, supported, nourished, informed, included, and respected for what they can offer to the ministry of God. There will no longer be boxes on registration forms saying “Minister” or “Other”.
      Yes, wouldn’t it be lovely!

      Lee Kearon


  4. For over 40 years I have been engaged in ministry and mission at the very edge of the sacred and the profane . A mission/ministry focused within the Western Souhland districts and in particular Otautau , Nightcaps and Ohai . I arrived in the Waiono Parish in 1973 and after 5 years the parish ran short of money and I applied for a job at the Wairaki Underground Coal Mine where I worked as a supervising engineer . A work place where not one employee would acknowledge himself to be in any way Christian ; and where I learned their language ; swear words and all . During those 25 years I was the Ohai/Nightcaps Miners’ Union Secretary ( at one stage with 300 members) , the Miners’ union advocate in dispure resolutions and the national delegate travelling to Huntly. From 1973 to the present ( 42 years and counting) I have , without financial re-imbursement , ministered and minister still at Sunday services , Anzac services , Wedding and funerals to miners , farmers and beneficiaries here and in their retirement , all over Southland , and , to the poeple at Glenorchy among whom I was born . So I say “Yes” to your statement : “Ministry and mission…. is being Christ in the work-a-day world”. In your confession that the battle to merge ministry and mission often beat you , presumably because of Church obligations ,. In my experience I found that in my early stipendiary ministry my colleagues were unhelpful , choosing not to allocate funds to meet stipend and forcing me into the work-place . (maybe that was ordained !) I found also that when Otautau ( a parish financed and controlled by 2nd generation farmers ) joined the Waiono Parish my teaching , preaching and sacramental presence as a ‘Miner’ offended them and I was calld to a meeting to hear the chairman say : “There is no need for your ministry to be officially acknowledged because anyone can do what you’re doing”. A ministry of Word and sacrament that Presbytery , at the bidding of the Otautau section of the Waiono parish , petitioned me to relinquish because by that time I had walked away from a dysfunctional marriage and taken up , and later married , a Catholic widow 6 years my senior. Yet despite that beheading I continued and continue still to engage in the ministry of Word and Sacrament ; even in First Church Invercargill . So I say “Yes” to your statement that : “Any ministry God entrust me with is the back-bone of my mission in the community and in the organisations I’m engaged with .” Unfortunately , for me , despite the fact that I have conscientiously worked in this community in Jesus’s name for over 40 years I have not been able to recruit one new member to the task of doing what we can to manifest the Kingdom of Heaven and from this perspective my ministry has been a failure . You make mention of meetings where devotions and prayer are absent and ask :”Does it matter.” Well , in the work-a-day world it doesn’t matter at all and the very suggestion would be met with derision , but maybe, it’s a different kettle of fish with regard to Parliament . An institution that represents most if not all New Zealanders , the majority of whom expect parliamentarians to make legislation with a Christian perspective . So , is Christ present in meetings not tethered to Chirst by way of prayer and devotions . This question will arouse positive and negative responses , i.e. as regards the visible and invisible church and as against perspectives sacred and secular .I would want to say that unless Christ is invited to be present the mind of those at a meeting is not encouraged to be christ-centred , seeking the wisdom of Christ’s spirit , and displaying good-will and accommodating perspectives other than one’s own ; graciously . Now I know , and you know also , that meetings where christ is encouraged to be present by way of devotions and prayer are quite often disruptive , offensive and lacking grace of the smallest measure . We all know this , but at St Peter warns :”The devil is constantly on the prowel etc….. and I say :”No-where more so than in the Church.” A paradox peculiar to most if not all religious gatherings and one we have to manage as best we can .You ask : “Have we devalued ministry by confining it to the ministry of word and sacrament and I take it that you mean ministry has been devalued by not calling and blessing congregants sacramentally to carry out their ministry as recognized and official participants for the Church in the world . Yes I think your right although I think the problem is much more serious in that Church and its commission to make disciples in Jesus’s name has been undermined by congregants’ historical and increasing hostility toward clergy. The determined drive by congregants to be Church on their own terms and by their determination to usurp from the Clergy the Clergy’s apostolic right to be ministers of Word and Sacrament. I think this is a tragic development that has reduced so many congregations to “club” status and the institutional church is in danger of being cast adrift from its reformation and apostolic connections . Indeed , as a result of the hostility toward educated clergy congregants have , unwittingly , maybe , encouraged so many people to claim Jesus individually . In consequence , the Church as the body of Christ has become irrelevant . This is a disaster and we will be hard pressed to reclaim Jesus and His message as belonging to the “body of Christ and grounded in our communion with the the apostles and their passion to establish the Kingdom of Heaven ,. By our reformation theology we have allowed Jesus to step outside the Church and He is running away . Now He is here , in the air , for all and sundry to claim as saviour , redeemer and friend. Where , I ask , is the Church , the body and blood of Christ Jesus . Where , I ask , are the congregants doing and dying for neighbour and stranger , promoting conciliatory justice and being compassionate for people of whatever status , colour or creed in our politics , our communities and in our homes . Yes I know about Luther and Calvins teaching about the “Priesthood of all believers ” but look where that teaching has led us . . Thank you Peteer for the opportunity to respond . Yours cheerfully . Ivan .


Comments are closed.