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’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.