5 THINGS I’VE LEARNED IN 9 MONTHS OF SEMI-RETIREMENT

Pausing to Look Back for Takeaways about How to Move Forward

I wracked my brain wondering what to post this week.

Thanks to friend and writing mentor Chad Allen, I knew exactly where to head.

His timely post about his new season of self-employment inspired me to reflect similarly on my transition.

Your new life

Last August 15 I walked out the door for the last time as lead pastor at Orlando Grace Church.

Here are five significant takeaways from the journey thus far.

One, God is faithful to provide (Phil. 4:19).

When I put a succession process into motion at OGC, it took some risk-taking faith. Like many pastors in their later years, I’m not positioned financially to retire. While I desire to keep working at my calling, the fact is I must do so to provide for my household. I marvel how not once since the OGC paycheck ended have I needed to raid the buffer fund!

Takeaway: keep on trusting that He is a rewarder of those who seek him (Heb. 11:6).

Two, conflict is everywhere to steward (Matt. 5:9).

This reality hasn’t surprised me at all. I expected to find strained relationships and broken friendships in rural Idaho just as they exist in metro Orlando. But the extent of these challenges in our valley has at times taken my breath away. There is a need here for peacemaking help.

Takeaway: stay on mission helping churches and their people do their best at preserving unity (Eph. 4:1-3).

Three, help is essential to succeed (Gen. 2:18).

Nobody thrives or survives in the pastorate full-time or part-time by flying solo. We need a ton of help. Jan excels in her role as this shepherd’s wife! I don’t even want to imagine trying to serve Trinity Church without her persevering prayer, relentless encouragement, and relational skills.

I’ve also found help from my fellow elders at Trinity as well as other area pastors by joining the local ministerial association. I know next to nothing about pastoring in a rural context. These servants have much to teach me and I’m eager to learn.

Takeaway: do a lot of listening to wise counselors (Jas. 1:19).

Four, relationships are costly to build (1 Pet. 4:8).

One local pastor reminded me recently of the adage “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Stepping into a new culture and church brings the challenge of investing in relationships to build trust and connection. That takes time, energy, even money because few things build relational intimacy like sharing a meal together.

Takeaway: take initiative regularly to practice hospitality with joy (1 Pet. 4:9).

Five, time is precious to redeem (Eph. 5:15-16).

According to my employment agreement with Trinity, I’ve got 20 hours each week to spend on pastoral ministry. Our elders insist that I stay around that target, though we all know some weeks will require more time.

They want me to enjoy this new season by not overworking. How sweet is that!? They’ve got me keeping a daily log of how I use my time. At the 90 day mark of service we will review the results to take stock of my stewardship.

Takeaway: prayerfully choose each day’s activities to make the most of every opportunity (Psalm 90:12).

Whatever your vocation–full-time, part-time, semi-retired or retired–I trust these reflections apply to your realm and might help as you move forward into your future!

Question: What in this article has been most helpful to you?

PASTOR AND WIFE BEGIN NEW SEASON

Minister Emphasizes Need To Live to the Fullest, Maintain Peace

Anniversary Trip 036

Curt & Jan on vacation in Laguna Beach, California

 

This article by Ben Jorgensen appeared recently in “The Clearwater Progress.” It is reprinted with permission.

After living most of his life in big cities, Curtis Heffelfinger is relishing his new pastorate responsibilities at Stites.

Heffelfinger, 66, isn’t a newbie to the area having previously bought a Wall Creek property in 1999 and moving there with his first wife Nancy. However, they returned to the Orlando area soon after for what they anticipated would be a year to help their children’s families before returning to paradise. 

After becoming involved with Orlando Grace Church, Heffelfinger ended up becoming their pastor when the church leadership imploded in conflict. “All the pastors resigned. They turned to me being an interim pastor.” The concept of interim turned into 15 years while Idaho’s verdant valleys and backyard visits of elk were put on hold for a bit.

During his time in Florida, Heffelfinger learned well the value of peace and the preciousness of opportunity. In 2005, Heffelfinger developed a cancerous lesion on his tongue, eventually resulting in removal of about a third of the tongue. His treatment of chemo and radiation would surface health ramifications years later. “My oncologist said your odds are 50-50 for survival, at best,” he said.

Based on the prognosis, the couple felt he would likely be gone first. “Here I am Sunday in and Sunday out preaching the gospel and proclaiming eternal life and that dying is gain.” He said if God is not done with him then he wants to live the message of 1 Cor. 15:50-58, “always abounding in the work of the Lord.”

Then out of the blue, Nancy developed ovarian cancer and after an 18-month battle, died in 2016 after 41+ years of marriage. Losses seemed to come in waves. Their first born son died in 2014 at age 35 followed in 2015 with the disintegration of Curtis’ jaw caused by his earlier cancer treatments.  

His mandible fractured as a result of the radiation and he lost all his teeth on that side of his jaw. The fix involved a titanium implant the length of the side of his face, a bone graft from his hip used for a new jaw, and implants for  teeth. The treatment left that part of his face numb.

Coupled with the reduction of his tongue, it requires a dedicated effort to articulate speech.

The losses have not gotten him down, though, because he is encouraged by the goodness God has provided. He said he has been blessed with a second dynamo wife, Jan, who although she always lived in the Orlando area, was willing to move to Stites—population 228—to see what awaited them. “It’s such an answer to prayer that she is so happy here,” he said.

Their arrival at Stites was also an answer to the prayers of a group of about 30 core church goers. The two-and-a-half-year-old Trinity Reformed Baptist Church had been earnestly praying for a pastor.  “They were kinda holding on by their fingernails,” said Heffelfinger, noting “if the Lord wasn’t going to send somebody they were going to close the doors.”

He noted that the church’s confession of faith is the same as Orlando Grace where he pastored. “What are the odds?  Fifteen minutes from my property is a church with similar convictions, commitments, desires, in other words, it’s a match made in heaven.”

After a period of six months Heffelfinger was installed on Palm Sunday as a paid part-time pastor. His first full service occurred this past Sunday. “We’re so happy to be here,” he said. “This is a new season for us. We’re happy to have a church that has embraced us. I’m thankful I can preach the gospel.”

The part-time status gives Heffelfinger the chance to pursue his interest in religious writing. Based on his more than 30 years in the pastoral ministry, he penned the book, The Peace Making Church: 8 Biblical Keys to Resolve Conflict and Preserve Unity, describing the need for people to strive for peaceful interactions. The book may be found on Amazon.com.

“I write all the time on how you can guard the peace of your church, how you can support your pastors and elders and leaders and keep your people from melting down in conflict. It’s such a terrible witness when we turn on each other,” he said. He also writes a regular blog. He strives to encourage people to own the message of Matt. 5:9 about the blessedness of peacemakers.

His passion for God’s message is fueled to some degree by his brush with death. “Cancer changes your life significantly,” he said. “You see the brevity of life and the gift that it is, that no day is guaranteed. You want to make the most of the opportunities the Lord gives you day in and day out. I think the first way it changed me, I really believe, is what I preach.”

Heffelfinger intends to use whatever remaining time he has “to live to the fullest for the Lord and for His people and for the region now that I am in.”  He wants Trinity to be mission minded in the Clearwater Valley, noting that it tends to be a natural inclination for people, regardless of where they live, to turn inward.

Citing the message of Matthew 5 to let one’s light shine with good works, Heffelfinger says he is contemplating how local churches can together serve people and make a difference in their lives.

“What needs are there? How are we to be on mission in good works and wise words of encouragement, counsel, sharing our stories and God’s love in Jesus Christ? It’s not just about proselyting. It’s about genuinely loving, caring, and serving, and loving your neighbor as yourself.”

Trinity Reformed Baptist Church holds service every Sunday at 10 a.m. followed by a fellowship meal. It is located in a community center at 4313 Highway 13. Heffelfinger may be reached at (321) 947-8171.

PURSUING PEACE FROM THE PACIFIC NW

A Personal Update after a Relocation Marathon

Idaho View

This post marks my first blogging effort from the famous potato state. While Jan and I miss our families, church, neighbors, and friends back home, we thank God for bringing us to this gorgeous place on our latest adventure.

I last posted on August 15. You can read about peacemaking lessons gleaned from my fifteen years at Orlando Grace Church here.

The challenges of moving from the tropics of Central Florida to the wilds of North Central Idaho put any writing assignments on hold longer than anticipated. Time to blow the dust off the blog again.

“Move” is a four-letter word.

The image above shows the view to the west from our new street address. Just to the right, a 1/4 mile gravel road leads down to our doublewide home.

Talk about a whirlwind change!

In forty-five days, Jan and I left OGC, visited my Pennsylvania roots, held an estate sale, closed on our home, flew to Boise, bought a vehicle, and turned a vacation house into a permanent residence.

Where do we go from here? Three things:

One, rest. We plan to make no decisions about the next season of ministry until the end of the year. The succession push took its toll. We welcome some quality downtime.

Two, wait on the Lord. He knows what the future holds in terms of my employment. Proverbs 3:5-6 defines our agenda on a daily basis.

A small church plant in the area has expressed interest in me as a part-time pastor. I will preach there for the first time this Sunday. The need there played a significant role in influencing Jan and me in the decision to move to Idaho.

Three, strengthen the platform for my book.

FBheader

Baker Publishing Group has confirmed that TPC will hit the shelves on November 20. They produced this Facebook header for me along with a similar version for Twitter.

All that to say, the emphasis for now involves resuming my online presence and other means for getting the word out about the book. Prayers are appreciated.

Jan and I don’t know how the Lord might work to guide our future through the book’s release, but we are asking Him to use it to help believers to eagerly preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace in their churches (Eph. 4:1-3).

His will be done!

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

Transition – Time for Pondering Anew

Any time the Lord gifts me with the privilege of attending a pastor’s conference, especially the Desiring God one in Minneapolis each February, I always pray the same thing. Lord, speak. Let me hear your voice. Show me what you require.

Once again He has not failed me as I reach the end of day two of this particular event entitled, Brothers, We Are Still Not Professionals.

This morning Pastor John Piper introduced his replacement at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Pastor Jason Meyer. Ever since I heard about this young man having to step into such humongous ministerial shoes I have asked myself, who in the world would want to follow John Piper? I learned this morning as no surprise at all that this man has felt much the same thing. In fact, when first queried about the possibility of taking over Bethlehem’s reins by Piper himself, Meyer responded quite vulnerably, “Nothing scares me more than that.” To which the retiring mentor replied, “Well, that’s not a no.” The rest, as they say, is history.

In his talk entitled Pastoral Transition After a 32-Year Ministry: Strategy and the Supernatural, Meyer went on to do two things. He told the story of how the whole surprising and, in some ways, unlikely appointment to such an imposing post came about. And then he offered four lessons from the process for our edification. You can listen to the entire message here. Consider it a worthy use of your valuable time. You won’t be disappointed.

Bethlehem’s “Joshua” transitioning into her treasured “Moses” role as shepherd of this congregation, fashioned his talk around phrases from two great hymns of the faith – Praise to the Lord the Almighty and To God Be  the Glory. The phrase from the first was this: Ponder anew what the Almighty can do. There is where the Lord spoke to me in the way the man linked that timeless exhortation of the hymn writer to the challenge of change in any ministry. Transitions are not to be feared; they are opportunities  from God to ponder anew what He can do.

Truth be told I can get scared when I think of losing Greg & Christina this summer to his church planting apprenticeship. How will our rich music ministry continue? Where will help for pastoral demands come from? Who will take care of the seemingly endless number of administrative details Greg handles in a given week? These questions and more can keep any pastor awake at night.

God knows. I say it again. God knows.

So ponder anew with  me what the Almighty will do as we wait on Him for His provision. Pray with me and the elders that we will plan and execute a God-centered strategy that profits Orlando Grace nearly as much as the one these dear folks in Minnesota employed to arrive at a replacement for someone of Piper’s stature.

Let us not fear transitions, but God who unfailingly leads His people through one change after another.

Then we will sing once again, “To God be the glory, great things He has done.”

The Latest on the Property Transition Plan

I have good news and bad news.

The good news is that Romans 8:28 is still in the Bible. God works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

The bad news is that the opening of our facility is still four weeks away. I have it from reliable sources that there is no way everything that needs to get done on the building before we can apply to the city for a certificate of occupancy will occur before then. Go figure.

Frankly, the thing that troubles me most in this? Jared and Jillian don’t get to have their wedding in our new facility. May I ask you all a favor? Would you join me in rallying around these “kids” in offering to do whatever it takes to make their rehearsal/wedding/reception on the weekend of April 13-14 a smash-bang-over-the-top-out-of-this-world success? Thankfully, a contingency plan exists. More to come on that. If you feel led to ease the sting of losing their distinction as the first wedding in the OGC facility, contact Jared and/or Jillian as soon as you can and offer to help. I am counting on the people of Orlando Grace to smother these dear ones in love. Thank you!

Beyond that, a bunch of dominoes fall. First, we are likely to hang around the SDA facility a bit longer. Hopefully the good folks at 455 Maitland Ave will delight to take our money into the month of April. We will keep you posted on that. Second, our annual meeting on April 1 needs a new home. Hopefully we can reserve the SDA for the eve of April 1 for that purpose. We will keep you posted on that. Third, the Good Friday service gets problematic. We’re working on a plan. More to come on that. Fourth, the Kristian Stanfill concert is cancelled for April 15. Hopefully we can reschedule. Somebody please put me out of my pastoral misery!

Isn’t this fun? Nobody said the Christian life and church dynamics would leave you bored! Thanks for being patient with the process as we navigate this once-in-a-lifetime season in the life of our church.

Seriously, let me remind us. Let’s keep the main thing the main thing. Let us live moment-by-moment in the assurance that God has everything under control and that what we need to do more than anything else is love one another as Christ has loved us so that the world may know that we are His disciples.

Tentative Transition Plan for Our Move

Let me stress the word TENTATIVE. Everything in the way of timing hinges ultimately on the city issuing us a certificate of occupancy. No CO, no move.

However, barring any unforeseen complications, we hope to have that all-important document in hand by March 15. Without going into any detail, I want to outline the likely dates and events that, Lord willing, will shape our transition from the SDA facility to our own building.

  • March 18 – last Sunday at SDA followed by open house on the property (BYO picnic lunch)
  • March 25 – first Sunday in the building (soft opening – our own people only – focus on working out the kinks as a family)
  • April 1 AM (Palm Sunday) – second Sunday in the building (soft opening per March 25)
  • April 1 PM (Palm Sunday) – official dedication of the facility (our people and invited guests)
  • April 6 PM (Good Friday) – communion service (our people)
  • April 8 (Resurrection Sunday) – grand opening of the facility (public invited)
  • April 15 PM – praise and worship celebration of thanksgiving for God’s gracious gift with guest artist Kristian Stanfill and his worship band

I would encourage you to mark your calendars accordingly but remember as you do that crucial word TENTATIVE. We will update you as things progress. Hopefully we can get more definitive the closer we get to completion of the project.

Please continue to pray for a strong finish, for favor with the city in every way, and for the Lord’s glory on display as we make this transition into our brand new home!