January 14th was my last day.
I walked out of the church office for the final time. The office was empty. I had given away many of the books, the others were packed-up and placed in storage. My pictures were also stowed away in boxes and headed to the home office. I walked to my car with my last box and the three remaining dirty coffee mugs that had been stranded on my desk.
It felt pretty anti-climactic.
For the last 40 years I served the local church as a pastor on staff. Before my work in the church, I served in various Christian institutions for a total of 45 years in Christian service. I spent the last week on the job reviewing pictures and posting the highlights of these years on Facebook. If felt great to remember God’s faithfulness and relive the amazing experiences I have had over my entire career. Not many people have been as blessed to see what I have seen over these four decades in ministry. I have served in smaller rural churches, larger mega-churches as both the senior leader and as staff pastor – and I enjoyed every season!
I have said lots of ‘thank-you’s’ over the last few months, because I am acutely aware of the fact that anything good that I experienced in this work was a product of God’s amazing grace and the partnership of teammates who were unbelievably talented and enthusiastically committed to the cause of reaching people in compelling and creative ways.
So, now what?
Many of my friends have been asking what will occupy my time from here on out, and though I have not settled on all the details, there are a few things that are pretty clear to me.
This whole conversation about retirement started when my medical team reminded me that cancer is accelerated by three basic catalysts smoke, sweets, and stress. Over the last 2 years, I have cut out the cigars and dropped most of the sweets from my diet, however, I had not done as well in dealing with the stress piece. Pastoral ministry in a larger church during a pandemic has been a stressful experience and after 5 cancer surgeries in the last 2.5 years, the message became clear. It was time to alter the schedule significantly – and the fact that I am coming up on age 65 in a few momnths, retirement is a reasonable and understandable transition.
Alongside the change in schedule, I have also been experimenting with some non-traditional treatments of my cancer. This has included intermittent fasting, acupuncture, and a variety of eastern herbs. I also attend a weekly prayer meeting at the “Prayer Barn” in south Austin, where the people regularly and graciously lift me every week in their prayers. I am continuing to believe God for a full and complete healing, and I’m thankful for the outpouring of care that has been shown me in these last few weeks. I am on the mend – by God’s grace!
Deeper with Fewer
As best I understand it, a pastoral calling is a life call. I don’t believe ‘retirement’ exists for pastors. I think schedules can change and physical rest and replenishment can take a higher priority, but that doesn’t remove the call to pastoral ministry. In fact, a case can be made that as pastors become older (and hopefully wiser) we actually have more to contribute ministerially. But the question then is how and where. In praying that through for myself, the persistent sense I have had from the Holy Spirit is that my pastoral investments need to go deeper with fewer. In addition, it will be less about the platform and more about serving from behind the scenes.
So, over the last few months I have launched various initiatives. I started by creating a morning prayer list, where I send out short (3-4 sentence) devotionals called pocket prayers to about 200 people who God has laid on my heart. On the weekends, I send out a slightly longer reflection piece and match it with one of my photos called Word for the Weekend. I’m also providing pastoral counseling to those who ask for it, and I am continuing to write a weekly blog and do weekly interviews with leaders in my studio (these can be found on my website and/or on Facebook and YouTube).
It’s all still evolving, but I have this deep sense that this transition will give me both the margin to live a manageable life and some impact to live a meaningful life – and I can’t think of anything more satisfying than that!
The Grand Experiment
One of the final parts of my processing is that I would like to do all this with little or no obligation to the end user. Outside of my book sales and training events, I want to be able to make all these resources available at no cost. Call me a hopeless idealist! But part of what has been bothersome to me about so many coaching/pastoring type services is that they are often cost-prohibitive to those who need them most. So, I have felt led to try and make resources available at the lowest cost possible.
In order to do that, I have spent the last month, developing a non-profit foundation that will provide a tax-break to those who feel led to support this cause. I have already received provisional approval to operate as a non-profit, and I should receive final approval within the next 4-6 months. This Foundation will provide the funding for all the technological expenses associated with the creation of resources alongside the expansion of platforms by which resources might be made available.
I’m not sure this approach will work long-term, but it feels like the right way to start. If you would like to be a part of this initiative, there are two ways to participate. You can set up a reoccurring gift through my Patreon account: https://www.patreon.com/pietvanwaarde or for a one time contribution you can send it though PayPal, https://www.paypal.me/pietvanwaarde (sidewalkllc). For every $50 contribution made, you will receive a complimentary #findyourflock T-shirt as my thanks for being a part of my support team.
That is the latest on this new adventure the Lord has put before me. Thank-you for your interest and partnership AND if I can be of help to you personally, please do not hesitate to ask!