From time to time someone will ask me about my retirement. It’s been about a year since I took that step, but it’s still a little bit difficult for me to answer.
Q: How do you like being retired?
A: I love it.
Q: What do you do all day?
A: Depends on the day. I didn’t retire in the sense that I do nothing, I just don’t do what I used to do.
Q: Are you looking for a job?
A: I have lots of jobs. I’m just not getting paid for any of them.
Maybe it’s just my own insecurity, but I always get the sense that underneath these questions is another, unasked question: Why?
The “Why?” question is difficult to answer in a casual conversation, so I thought I’d take this space and try to articulate some of my motivation for taking this big step. I use the word “some” intentionally because there many factors that entered into the decision. Many are practical, but many are very subjective, having more to do with feelings, intuition and “gut.” I suppose, if I’m completely honest, when it comes to decision making, I have always depended more on these things anyway.
In order to explain my thinking, I need to start with some background.
It seems that my career in ministry has been characterized by leading change. I didn’t necessarily plan it that way, it just seemed I was in the time and place where change was necessary. What I have learned is that leading change is what ministry is all about, and that if you’re not leading your people to change, you’re not really doing your job.
I believe this is true on an individual level through evangelism, discipleship, education and growing in service to others. It’s also true on an organizational level. The systems, methods and styles used to accomplish change in an individual need to, themselves, change and adapt to the environment in which you serve.
My first church staff position was youth ministry. I had no idea what I was doing, really, but I quickly discovered that I didn’t have the personality or skills to simply plug into the methods and systems used by my predecessor. During my time there I led the change from a ministry built around a large and energizing weekly gathering to a small group approach. It was difficult. Some of those in leadership never quite bought into it. There were a couple of times when I thought my job might be on the line. However, in looking back, I think the changes were effective. But not only that, this approach was more suited to my gifts and abilities.
My second church staff position was a “music ministry.” You remember those? It was before the title “worship leader” came about. My job there involved administering graded children’s choirs, handbell choirs, a “chancel” (read: adult) choir, an orchestra (occasionally), other small musical groups and soloists, planning and leading weekly worship services, and staging seasonal musicals including their traditional “Living Christmas Tree.” I served this church from 1986-1992. During that time we began to make incremental changes in our Sunday services to include some of the newer worship music. We also killed off the Living Christmas Tree so we could implement more variety and dramatics in our seasonal productions. I believe these changes were needed in order to remain effective. But, again, they also fell into my sweet spot in terms of personality and gifts.
At the same church, but on another front, I was also asked to lead the implementation of a new approach to the use of volunteers in the church which we termed the “Ministry System.” I won’t go into detail about this because variations are fairly common today, but this was a big change for us at the time. I also felt that I was the right person to lead it.
My most recent ministry staff position lasted almost 24 years. There have been so many changes during that time that you would barely recognize it as the same church.
When hired, I was tasked with moving the worship services from a very traditional (hymns, piano, organ, choir robes) to a more contemporary (think Don Moen Integrity Music in the 1990s) type service. This involved establishing our first worship band. I still remember the first Sunday we used a drum kit in worship. I also remember the after church meetings with groups of people who were extremely unhappy.
But the changes were necessary, and they fit me well.
We began doing some very large scale dramatic/musical productions in order to reach our community. The idea was that our people would invite their unchurched friends and neighbors to an entertaining, yet thought provoking and inspiring evening that would introduce them to our church.
We stopped doing the very large scale dramatic/musical productions because we realized they weren’t really being effective. Turned out our people were inviting primarily friends and family from other churches.
These were hard changes, but they were the right ones, and they fit me well.
We added a Saturday evening service.
A few years later, we killed the Saturday evening service.
There were some who thought I wasn’t moving in the “contemporary” direction quickly enough, so, against my better judgment, we began doing two different styles of services on Sunday morning.
We became a multi-site church by establishing a second campus.
We added a third campus.
My team and I became convinced that our services across all three campuses needed to have more alignment. Certainly, each campus should be able to connect in unique ways with their community, but we felt that all campuses should reflect the same DNA. In other words, we thought a person should be able to attend any of our three campuses and identify it as White Oak Christian Church.
At the same time, I was becoming more convinced that offering two different styles of worship services at our Colerain campus was a bad idea. I mentioned that I had reservations about this, but after doing it this way for a number of years I (and my team) were convinced that we needed to bring people together instead of dividing them. Also, this change would be important on a practical level because we could plan similar services across all three campuses.
I believe strongly that this was the right move, and I was instrumental in making the transition. But there was something that felt different about this change.
I became convinced that, in order for this transition to be complete, I was not the right person to lead these services. We needed to move forward. It was time for a new generation to take the lead.
I see my role now as one of support. I don’t plan to be one of those stereotypical oldsters who complain that it’s not like the “good old days.”
In fact, I’m glad it’s not. Because it’s better.
I’m not making a comparison of the quality. It’s better because it’s more appropriate for the time and place.
The church does not exist to take people back in time to a previous generation. The church is where the living Jesus works to change the lives of this present generation.
Change is not only inevitable, it’s required. Change is the life-blood of the Church. If there is no change, there is no life.
As I said before: leading change is what ministry is all about, and if you’re not leading your people to change, you’re not really doing your job.
Further, if you’ve done your job well, there will come a time when the change that is necessary is you.
That’s at least one of the reasons why I retired.