To the older pastor

By Mark Clifton

“I really need to preach.”

When I hear someone say that, I think I know what he is saying. I hope he is saying “I know God has called me to preach and, for his glory, I find great satisfaction in obediently fulfilling His call upon my life.” And certainly, most of the time, I think that’s what men mean when they say, “I really need to preach” or “I love to preach.”

However, my 40 years in ministry have revealed to me that a number of men really do need to preach. They need it because it fills a void in their own lives. To be blunt, it makes them feel valued and important. It gives them a platform (literally!) on which to stand. The world so often ignores and overlooks us; sometimes even our own family can marginalize us. If that is our experience, if we have the slightest bit of insecurity, the preaching moment can become addictive. When we preach, we command attention. Even the poorest sermon will often bring a remark from a dear saint: “Oh thank you for that wonderful sermon. It was such a blessing to me!”

Our scheming Adversary often finds his way into many pastors’ hearts so that they exchange a love of the gospel for a love of being made much of. Unfortunately, I have seen this too often: Men find their identity not in Christ, not in the cross, not in the gospel. Rather they find their identity in their role as a preacher. Desiring to be made much of is the root sin of pride. It is the reason Satan rebelled in heaven. He wanted to be made much of. He wanted glory for himself.

True joy, true satisfaction, true peace and purpose in life is not found when we are made much of, but rather when we make much of our Savior and our glorious God.

Someone who has a need to preach is someone who needs attention. Pastors, we are to feed the flock, not feed off them. Unfortunately, the Adversary has deceived far too many of us in defining our value, purpose, and identity, not in who we are in Jesus, but in our role as a pastor and the praise of men.

This becomes very evident when men find themselves in a bit of a panic over what will happen in their later years. We should embrace these later years. We should work hard to find young a man we can, train, disciple, and bring along to a place of leadership. We should be willing and eager to see the next generation become all God desires them to become. We should be willing to take a less-prominent role and place them in the lead, while encouraging and supporting them to others.

Hear me clearly, I don’t believe any of us who are called into ministry ever retire from ministry. But there is a time when we may retire as full-time or part-time vocational pastors. Think with me about the possibilities for just a moment. If we have served as pastors for 40 years and now retire, we have a great opportunity to go into the secular workplace, embracing it as our new ministry field. For instance, taking a job as a greeter at a retail store could allow us to become the pastor to the employees and regular customers. Imagine the conversations you could engage in at the break room. As a pastor who’s had 40 years of counseling marital issues, caring for people in every imaginable crisis, you would have an incredible impact. The opportunities to do ministry in a setting like that are endless. Even though you’re not preaching every Sunday, you could experience some of the most meaningful ministry of your life.

If your identity is wrapped up in anything other than your position in Christ, you are at risk. Be certain you are willing to lay everything down — even vocational ministry — if that is what God calls you to do. And know that you can find joy, purpose, and meaning in life, not in what you do for Jesus, but in what Jesus has done and is doing every second of every day for you.

Published April 17, 2018

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Mark Clifton

Mark Clifton is the senior director of replanting at the North American Mission Board. Mark has served as a pastor, church planter, church revitalizer, mission strategist, coach and mentor to young leaders. He has planted and replanted numerous churches and has also served as a national and regional leader for church planting and missions. His experience includes serving as the lead mission strategist for the Kansas/Nebraska Southern Baptist Convention, leading church planting efforts in the regions of north metro Atlanta, Georgia, serving as a church planter in Montreal, Quebec, as a Southern Baptist National Church Planting Missionary for eastern Canada, and has lead Southern Baptist church planting projects west of the Mississippi. Mark has been planting, replanting and providing strategic mission leadership since 1978. Mark and his wife, Jill, live in Kansas City, Missouri and have two sons, two daughters-in-law and three grandsons.