I remember reading somewhere that your most productive years as a pastor come during your seventh through fourteenth years with a congregation. I’m coming up on my fifteenth anniversary at this congregation this year, and my twenty-fifth in pastoral ministry. Hence my question: now what?
Lately I’ve been asking questions like, “Do I have anything left to say?” or “Is there anything they haven’t heard?” Other questions include, “Is anyone actually listening?” and “Are my messages becoming predictable?” How about, “At what age do you begin to lose the ability to communicate with younger generations?” and “Can they tell how much I don’t want to be at this extremely boring meeting?”
In the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, you don’t leave a congregation until you receive a call to another congregation, retire, die, or get kicked out for doing something immoral. I haven’t had a call for over 12 years, am a bit too young to retire, and am trying to avoid the last two. So it looks like I’m going to be here for a while longer, hence the question, “Now what?”
One obvious answer might be, “Just keep doing what you’re doing.” Sundays and seasons of the church year will continue to come on a regular basis, and so will planning and preparation for worship and preaching. There will be meetings to attend, visits to make, classes to teach, and special occasions like weddings and funerals. Much is predictable.
But another answer could be, “Do a little less.” By that, I mean be sure to get others in the church involved in teaching, visiting, meeting, planning and preparation. Step back so that the church is more about participating than spectating.
Yet another response might be, “Try something new.” Last year I got to accompany a medical team to Haiti. I stopped writing out my whole sermon and began using a storyboard method to compose my messages. I also began uploading the audio files of my sermons to the Internet. I know there will be some new opportunities this year. I just don’t know what they are yet, so it makes sense to leave a little room in my schedule for them.
I guess the religious sounding answer would be, “What God wants me to do.” Which on any given day could be any combination of the above. In some ways, you don’t know what that is until you get there, so “What’s next?” might be a question I need to ask each day.