People continue to ask me how it feels. “You were a pastor non-stop for 33 years. Now you’re not. How does it feel?”
I have been tongue-tied too many times. So I have tried to come up with the shortest possible sound-bite answer. And the second shortest. The shortest is “Leap and Weep.” The second shortest is “Burden Lifted, Blessings Lost.” They refer to the same paradox. When a burden is lifted, you leap. When blessings are lost, you weep.
Paul said to the elders of Ephesus, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). I have lost a lot of steady-state giving. Weekly preaching is weekly giving. Weekly staff-meetings are weekly giving. Regular elder meetings are regular giving. Frequent funerals and hospital visits are frequent giving. Praying daily as a shepherd for the sheep is daily giving.
All of that pastoral giving is gone. And with it massive blessing. Weep.
And giving is not the only blessing. Shepherds get as well as give. It may be “more” blessed to give than to receive. But there are kinds of receiving that are also blessed. Being in heart-felt partnership with much-loved staff and elders is precious receiving. Looking out on familiar, hungry, eager, thoughtful, thankful, affirming sheep during sermons is powerful receiving. Reports of answered post-service prayers is sweet receiving. Seeing the regular ministry of the word lead people to salvation is unparalleled receiving.
All of that pastoral receiving is gone. Weep.
But paradoxically, there are moments of leaping. Burdens lifted make a light heart. And light hearts leap. Leadership is a sacred burden. It is worth all the costs. But it is heavy. It is meant to be. Jesus’s leadership cost him his life. Senior leadership means that, in one sense, all the bucks stop here. Imagine Jesus coming to Bethlehem and seeing some things he disapproves of. He would knock on my door first. That is what it means to be a leader.
Don’t misunderstand. God gives special grace for senior leaders. I was never left alone. So even in the burdens, there was the closeness of Jesus making it all worth it.
For me the heaviest burden was the ever-increasing challenge to develop, biblically faithful, pastorally fruitful, culturally appropriate, financially wise, Christ-honoring, consensus-building organizational plans and practices and structures that sustained and mobilized 5,000 people for vital Christian impact in all of life. I did not feel very effective at this organizational challenge in my latter years, and that made the burden all the heavier.
That burden is gone. Leap.
Now the challenge is: Lord, show me the new configuration of giving and getting and burden-bearing. I do not assume that in this life there is ever a season when these are gone — not if we trust God and love people. They just change. There is too much lostness and pain and ignorance in the world for coasting. I would value your prayers, during this next year especially, as I seek the Lord for the new pattern of joyful giving, receiving, and burden bearing.