There is something very poignant about the day a pastor cleans out the last file and takes the last book off the shelf, leaving an empty office behind. An office in which countless conversations took place, tears were shed, and people found their way to peace with God through Jesus Christ. An office where sermons were inspired and prayers were offered. When you close that door, you close a career, and a calling. No more churches to lead, or boards with whom to meet.
It happens to every pastor sooner or later, and so it would do well to ponder the implications of the inevitable. If there is one thing I settled long ago, that does me in good stead now, it is the question of identity versus calling. In identity, one defaults to the ageless promises of God as to who I am in Christ. Ephesians 1 comes to mind. I am chosen by God, a child of God, a possession owned by God, a saint, his inheritance etc… This identity is permanent and eternal. It is heaven centred.
Calling, on the other hand is what I do. It is a commissioning for active service and duty. Everyone receives a calling to serve God. God gives us gifts and talents to use, and he calls us into His sovereign plan. But this calling is temporary, it is earth centred and it can change in scope, as mine has recently.
Problems come when we don’t understand the differences between identity and calling. Some pastors get their identity in the call, they see themselves more as pastors, than as a child of God. They are pastors first, rather than a child of God first. Their answer to the question, who are you, is “I am a pastor” rather than I am a follower of Jesus Christ.
As a result, the loss of the temporary calling in retirement can become the loss of their identity. They don’t know who they are anymore. I continue to learn this important principle; to put identity before calling, to prioritize who I am by God’s grace over what I do, by God’s power. When we know ourselves as God’s children first, as God’s chosen first, as God’s inheritance first, we will have less anxiety when one leaves the calling of pastoring.
One of my favorite verses, you might call it my life verse, is found in Revelation 1:6. And He has made us TO BE (identity) a kingdom, and priests TO SERVE (calling) His God and Father. Notice the “being” is first and the “calling”, second.
So I have been very busy in retirement. Busy “being” who I am in Christ, over busy “doing” things for God. I am busy being somebody, more than busy doing something. This is the most important truth that forms the foundation of my joy in retirement. It is what I remind myself of, on those days I find myself, looking at the four walls and asking myself, what now?