As pastors enter retirement, we most often want to see how many commitments we can get out of or away from. We want less stressful retirement years.
But we still have work to do with the Barnabas Club.
No, I am not suggesting another formal organization for you to join. By “The Barnabas Club,” I am really referring to the joy and fulfillment of being available to encourage younger ministers.
When I retired from my last pastorate, I promised both the church and the new pastor that my presence would be minimal. It is unfair to the new pastor and the church for a former pastor to continue to be a presence. It’s like a young man courting a young lady whose father insists on remaining in the room.
I have found it very informative to visit other churches. I can look at how they worship, and sometimes wonder why they didn’t think of doing it this way or that way. I can also compare what I see with what I remember, and learn from the comparison. I have enjoyed the potpourri of worship styles from other traditions. It has been spiritually nourishing and intellectually stimulating.
But what else can retired pastors do with that time? Let’s learn from Barnabas.
An “unsung hero” mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, Barnabas’s name means “encourager.” He strengthened weak congregations and developed younger ministers. He first appears in Acts 4:36-37 having sold personal property on the Island of Cypress to provide for needy believers in Jerusalem. He next appears (9:26-27) as a sponsor for the renegade Saul (Paul) after his conversion to Christ. Next, the Church in Jerusalem sends him and Paul to check out what some considered unrestricted preaching to the Gentiles in Antioch.
Barnabas really comes alive in chapters 13 and 14 as he defended the immature youthfulness of John Mark. On the second missionary trip (15:36-41) Barnabas and Paul separated over Paul’s impatience with John Mark. This caused Barnabas to return to Cypress with John Mark who continued to grow under Barnabas’s coaching.
The outcome of Barnabas’s ministry is revealed later when Mark is mentioned as a fellow worker in Paul’s letter to Philemon and when Paul advised the Colossian church to receive Mark as a colleague (Colossians 4:10). But the finest compliment appears in Paul’s letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:11) when he requested Mark’s presence during his imprisonment.
Coaching, mentoring and developing ministers and believers, or encouraging weary pastors, is one of the finest ministries retired pastors can perform. Giving your time to a new pastor in your community, just dropping by to visit with a pastor who needs a friend, or assisting a nearby Bible school, college or seminary with counseling for student ministers can tremendously bless your time.
While they need the academics, they also especially need the testimonies and stories of those who have been in the “heat of the battle.” Even your nearby denominational leader would welcome your willingness to counsel pastoral staffs and churches in crises.
Before retiring I had a relationship with the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University. After the pastorate, I continued as an adjunct faculty member and have found that outside of the class is where the most meaningful conversations occur. I still hear from graduates seeking counsel on church and career challenges.
Some church visits, while spontaneous to me, were really the work of the Holy Spirit. I do not announce my plan to visit. I just show up, find an inconspicuous place to sit and worship. On several occasions, the pastors have noted my presence and been encouraged. There have even been invitations for lunch for continued conversation.
Being part of the “Barnabas Club” is a most meaningful contribution to Kingdom ministry. It isn’t over because one has “retired” after one’s name.
I am reminded of a song our children’s choir sometimes sings: “Please be patient with me, God is not through with me yet.”
Emmanuel McCall is retired pastor of the Fellowship Group in East Point, Ga., a former national moderator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and an adjunct faculty member at McAfee School of Theology of Mercer University in Atlanta, Ga.