I came out of retirement this year. Jonathan Stone helped to remind me of that, although I would argue that ‘retirement’ is a bit of a misnomer in that I did have intentions of returning to ‘work’. That work, in the words of Frederick Buechner, is to “tell the truth of the Gospel, as tragedy, comedy and fairy tale.”
Telling that truth as a professional requires (or should require) degrees of pathos, ethos and logos and in our tradition, a piece of paper. When the Gospel unfolded in my life as tragedy more than comedy or fairy tale, I surrendered that piece of paper and various pieces of myself in the process.
That was over two and a half years ago now. My battles with cynicism volleyed my thoughts between returning to ministry as a professional and remaining hidden in the bulwarks of history. Shame can do that to a man. At the behest of wise counsel I stuck my big toe in the waters of ministry and rapidly found myself again swimming in the deep end.
Enter Jonathan #3. Good grief, this literal giant of a man saw fit to make his church a home for my redemption as a man and a minister. Renovatus, a church for people under renovation, is aptly titled via Latin, meaning “renovation, renewal, change“. Jonathan Martin, of anyone I know, believes that the Gospel is told best through the tapestry of our lives be it tragic, comedic or ridiculous.
That being said, I must provide the caveat that returning to ministry (or any vocation) depends greatly upon the context of where one lands. I publicly confess that Renovatus has largely restored my faith in an organized, evangelical, pentecostal community. Thus, my learned lessons/confessions have a bent that are different from Jonathan’s Stone’s confessions or anyone else who might be reading this.
Alright Stone, so what have I learned since “coming out of retirement”? I’ll pick three things than can be summarized in a blog post:
- My ministry, the summary power, manifestation and credibility thereof is directly correlated to how I treat and relate to my wife. While I believe this to be true to all married ministers, in my case it’s especially important. My betrayal of her trust was the capstone of my dis-integration. If I am to be a whole, integrated “teller of the truth” then my soul is to be naked before her. This has affected the time I spend at the office, the time I spend answering e-mails and making phone calls. It’s affected how I spend my time off. It’s also affected the integration of my ministry. We don’t just meet with parents, we meet with couples. Our volunteers are no longer commodities, a means to an end. They are the end themselves.
- I’ve started listening to the flock. I had a mentor, Herschell Baker, who helped me understand that the voice of God can be discerned by the laity as much as the clergy. Stone, you alluded to this when you said “I have come to realize that the things that build me up and feed me in church have very little to do with church service programming and sermon content.” I used to drive to mega-churches and meet with their staff, go to their conferences and soak up their methods. I’ve since learned that those churches (for better or for worse) are largely a mix of big personalities, large coffers and right-place/right-time. I’m not as interested as I once was in forcing “big-church” programming on people, especially those in exodus from “Egypt”. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an ideological discourse against the big churches of Charlotte. I love their excellence. I’ve simply become more interested in the voices right here vs. over there. Bonus: It’s made me a tad more bearable to be around too.
- If I can plant any seed in a child, I want it to be a love for scripture. Children learn best in play and they also learn best from a narrative. The bible provides a context for children to read their own story into and from. While “retired”, I spent my time working for Target, a corporation very good at what it does. They are helping to define the next generation of children as mini-consumers. Disney does a great job with this too. If I see my job as anything now, it’s not to compete with the YMCA or Disney. It’s to help families value liturgy, sacraments, worship and the beauty of scripture. I want to affect a generation of children in a “new way to be human”. If I can somehow hide any attempt at my legacy behind the story of reconciliation, then I’ve done well.
I completely resonate with Jonathan Stone’s confessions pre-, mid-, and post-retirement. Going into and out of retirement under my terms, however, has me reflecting more introspectively than his questions originally warranted. I know he’ll indulge me though.
Finally, Beuchner also said that if the truth is worth telling, it is worth making a fool of yourself to tell. It is with the same hand that God uses to chastise his beloved sons and daughters, that he uses to usher them sweetly into his lap and embrace. As you read these words, know that this fool is currently resting with bruised hips in the lap of his Lord.