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Pre-retirement years can be fulfilling, pastor tells peers in their 40s & 50s

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Gary Fenton is a man who loves to tell stories, regularly weaving life experiences and the latest news into his sermons.

The Birmingham, Ala., pastor’s book, “Your Ministry’s Next Chapter,” proves his writing is no different.

Focusing on ministers who often burn out after losing their vision, Fenton’s book is part of Bethany House Publishers’ “The Pastor’s Soul Series,” a collection that addresses issues in pastors’ lives.

“I hope pastors will not assume that the best is behind them,” said Fenton, pastor of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church.

“I am 52 [and] I enjoy my work more than I ever have in my life,” he said. “I want pastors to see that the last stage is not something you have to endure in order to get to retirement.”

Fenton addresses how the latter years of pastors’ lives can be the strongest of their ministries. He also tackles the issues that cause many of them to become discouraged.

Pointing out that the book covers but one facet relating to a pastor’s life, Fenton said Your Ministry’s Next Chapter is designed for “people about 40 to 50.”

Fenton is a contributor to Leadership Journal, an interdenominational magazine published by Christianity Today that focuses on spiritual and leadership issues for pastors, church leaders and staff members. He said the publications recognized a need for a series of books that address different issues in pastors’ lives, such as mid-life career concerns.

One of the stories he shares in the book tells about a friend who was searching for a new church because his pastor was retiring. Fenton pointed out the loss of a pastor was a poor reason to seek a new church, stressing the new pastor would need the congregation’s support. It was then that the friend clarified his comments, telling Fenton the pastor wasn’t leaving the church, but was “retiring” in his approach to ministry.

Fenton said many ministers lose their vision because they forget what they’re all about.

“Pride gets in the way of so much of their ministry — pride in themselves,” he said. “You have to stay humble.”

Fenton added that people in any profession are faced with the temptation of taking themselves too seriously and not placing enough importance on their work.

“There’s another temptation that speaks primarily to this book. It’s assuming that you’ve come to a stage of life where you could just put it in automatic and where you can disengage,” he said. “The days I do my ministry best, I’m engaged.”

Discussing his style of ministry and writing, Fenton expressed the belief that storytelling is biblical.

“I really think that when God communicated truth, he did it primarily by means of stories,” Fenton said. “There are very few essays in the Bible.

Almost all of it is narrative. “I think you’re going to see the return of more stories in preaching,” he said. “A story allows you to communicate the feeling, not just the information.”

Heyman is a staff writer with The Alabama Baptist newsjournal.

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  • Greg Heyman