Life after parish ministry

On 2 August this year I retired from parish ministry, but I continue serving as Moderator of the Alpine Presbytery. Since retirement I have officiated at one wedding, one funeral and am booked to lead three services of worship over the next few months.

Retirement does not mean cutting all ties, it just means that there are other opportunities to serve when I choose to, rather than having to. It also provides greater opportunity to provide support for colleagues still in ministry.

My brother, Ray, is the only member of our graduating class of 1976 left in parish ministry. The others have all retired, died, or found employment outside of the Presbyterian Church. (Please do not view employment outside of the Church as not being ministry. Sometimes relationships established outside of the Church can offer more effective ministry opportunities, than when one is serving in a full-time capacity as parish minister.)

When I was ordained and inducted into the Awatere-Flaxbourne Parish in 1977, our Church had a ministry committee and ministry officers. They may have been a significant cost on the national budget, but they were a wonderful support and resource for young ministers and their families.

The ministry committee staff also organised ministry schools that we had to attend – once every two or three years from memory. At one of the ministry schools held in Christchurch, we were advised that we may have to consider retraining as statistical analysis showed that with the current rate of decline in membership, meant the Presbyterian Church probably would not exist in twenty years.

Having a very young family, this sort of advice concerned me and I asked a more experienced minister what he thought I should do. “Ignore them,” he said. “People have been saying such things for years and it hasn’t come true.” Thirty-five years later, I know he was right.

At the same ministry school, we were introduced to the computers and how they would alter the way we did ministry, providing greater freedom of time. Remember, in those days all research was done through books and the typing of sermons was done on a portable typewriter. Have computers aided ministry? Yes, they have, but ministry is about people and about faith – it is about sharing life and faith in the God we know in Jesus Christ with other people. It is about sharing hopes and dreams, sadness and disappointments. It is not about sitting in front of a computer screen.

Email and mobile phones have made us all more available. The downside is that we have become a society where people expect an immediate response. Is this a good thing, a bad thing, or is it neither and simply just the way it is?

What has sustained me through my years of ministry?

  • the love of my wife and family;
  • daily morning devotions (for years now, using Disciplines as my guide)
  • knowing who and whose I am as a disciple of Jesus
  • the support and encouragement of colleagues and office bearers.

Prof Ian Dixon said to our pastoral theology class: “It is hard to be prophetic to those who pay you”. But trust the office bearers, they usually have the best interests of the church at heart.

Too often we can believe that the family of the Church is about us. It is what I call “me-ology” rather than theology. With all of its faults and failings, the Church is still the family of Christ. Be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Be cautious of the gate keepers, the modern day Pharisees and those who try to impose their will on the Church family. Remember the Church will change – just be cautious that the change is in accord with the mind of Christ, for it is his body, not ours.

David Coster

As well as many years of parish ministry, David has served the Church on a variety of local, regional and national church committees.

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