Ministers Transitioning to Retirement

April 5, 2016
Darrell L. Bock, Harold Habecker, and Kenneth Horton

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Topic Time Codes

00:14
Moving towards the transition from the position of senior pastor to retirement
13:25
Going through the transition from the position of senior pastor to retirement
16:19
How to approach uncertainty in life and ministry
22:39
How to go through difficult transitions
28:29
Transition and identity for pastors entering the season of retirement
35:42
Transition and the effects on a pastor’s wife
38:36
How to view life during the season of retirement
41:21
Advice to pastors on transitioning to the season of retirement

Transcript

Darrell Bock
Welcome to The Table, where we discuss issues of God and culture. I am Darrell Bock, executive director of cultural engagement for the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. And our topic today are ministers in transition. And you can look at the color of the hair of the three people around the table, and you can know immediately what kind of transition we’re talking about.

We’re going to talk about the discussion of moving out of a senior pastor’s role into other forms of ministry as ministry changes as a minister moves towards the end of their career.

And I have two wonderful guests to discuss this with. Ken Horton, who has ministered in Fort Worth for a long time. How long were you in Fort Worth?
Ken Horton
27 years at the church.
Darrell Bock
27 years at the church.

And Dr. Hal Halbecker – I keep wanting to put that L in there – Habecker, who has been – you ministered in the Dallas area, right?
Hal Habecker
Yes, sir.
Darrell Bock
For a long time. And so they each lead their own ministries. And I’m going to let them tell you their story. So, Ken, we’ll lead off with you. Tell us first the ministry that you had, and then – and I’m going to ask you both this – when did you graduate from seminary so people can sort of put a date on the length of your career, and then what are you doing these days.
Ken Horton
I graduated in 1981. I met my wife in a ministry in North Carolina. Came back to Texas in 1984 and was at McKinney Memorial Bible Church for 27 years. Part of that time as the associate pastor, and then for 23 years as the senior pastor. And we had an intentional transition, worked with elders for about eight years on that transition. And finished that ministry in 2011. And my brother and I began a ministry called Ministry Catalysts. And we focus on launching multipliers personally, in church contexts, and with strategic partners all around the world.

Darrell Bock: That sounds great. I’ve got all kinds of personal questions I want to ask you, but I will refrain from doing it now. Hal, what about your experience? When did you graduate from seminary?

Hal Habecker: I finished here in 1978. Met and married my wife here in the middle of my third year. Spent five years on staff at First Baptist.
Darrell Bock
You had time to pursue a relationship while you were in seminary?
Hal Habecker
I did, I did.
Darrell Bock
What was wrong with us?
Hal Habecker
I got married in the middle of Hebrew.
Darrell Bock
[Laughter] You got married in the middle of Hebrew?
Hal Habecker
Yes.
Darrell Bock
Okay, very good.
Hal Habecker
I taught a group of physicians and dentists at First Baptist Church for a long time. And then joined up with an organization called The Christian Medical Society when Haddon Robinson was the head of it here.
Darrell Bock
Okay. Were you there when Ed Bloom was –?
Hal Habecker
I was.
Darrell Bock
All right, good.
Hal Habecker
I worked under Ed. I was a field director, a national staff director, and then I became general director. And for the last 22 years almost, 21-and-a-half, I was the pastor at Dallas Bible Church out in North Dallas.

And then I just left a year ago this week actually. And we’ve launched a ministry called Finishing Well Ministries. It’s focused on older people, an older generation. Number one, staying on the cutting edge of their spiritual life. We don’t check out as disciples, growing in grace, and staying on the cutting edge of the local church. The local church is focused intensely on younger generations, and older people seem to have been forgotten in many ways. So I am just focused on older people, what’s God’s purpose for you, what’s his mission for you, and step up and let’s do it.
Darrell Bock
Oh wow, that’s great.

Well, let’s dive in here. Let’s talk about moving towards transition, which would kind of be phase one. So you’re in ministry, you’ve been there in many cases for several years, more than a decade in one place, that kind of thing. And it begins to dawn on you that maybe you’re not here forever. Explain that thought process. Because I have in mind here for this podcast not just the people who have already made that decision, but people who may be wrestling with making that kind of a decision.

Ken, what did you go through in thinking through the transition? You said it took eight years, so obviously you spent some time thinking about it.
Ken Horton
I would say that if you stay in a church 20, 30 years, you will have gone through two or three major transitions before you leave the church. So that ever eight to ten years there is a sense in which the ministry has to be refocused, redirected, perhaps shaped in a way that allows the ministry and the pastor to make the most of the next season. And I certainly see that in the years that I had at McKinney. We had building programs and relocations, but also changes in our focus and our approach to ministry that helped make those seasons’ fresh starts.

For me, I knew I didn’t want to be a pastor into my seventies. So I went to the elders and told them that we could do a regular transition, a traditional transition. I would finish and when I was through, they could find somebody, or we could do an intentional transition. They chose the intentional transition. And we spent four years considering different people that might be a possible candidate to be the pastor. We found a fellow who over time proved himself to be that person. And so I left right before I turned 60 with the excitement of starting a new ministry hopefully for the next season of ministry.
Darrell Bock
So by intentional transition you mean you worked a transition which there was a clean handoff from you to the person coming after you.
Ken Horton
I finished on a Sunday, and he started on a Monday. And we worked through that process through the elders. And I think it was as positive an experience as we could have had.
Darrell Bock
And did you have him come and minister in your midst while you were still there or was the transition a clean switch?
Ken Horton
He actually joined our staff as a singles pastor and proved himself in that role – or a young adults’ pastor actually. And as he demonstrated his skills at that point, about a year-and-a-half before I left, the elders came to the conclusion he had the kind of qualities they were looking for, and they approached him about that. And then we spent about a year-and-a-half after it was announced to the people – or about a year after it was announced to the people that he would be the next pastor. And so there was a very strong sense of him – we’re running the race. I’m leading the race, he’s running with me.
Darrell Bock
And you round the corner and the baton is about to go.
Ken Horton
And then I got out of the way. Got off the track.
Darrell Bock
And I take it you left the church after leaving?
Ken Horton
I was convinced that the best way for me to bless Him was to be involved in another church so that people would not be looking to see my facial expression every time something changed. And that’s made it very easy for me to focus on a new ministry. In fact, I’ve had people say, “You just seem to be so happy.” And I tell them, If that’s the biggest concern you’ve got, that I’m so happy in this new ministry, then that’s an easy problem for us to work through.
Darrell Bock
That’s great. That’s interesting. The intentionality of that is interesting. Because that’s actually probably its own podcast, the decision about how you actually make the transition and the options that a church has in facing that.

Hal, what about your situation?
Hal Habecker
My situation is a little bit different, but somewhat similar. I was there for 21 years. I felt, as maybe an athletic coach might be in some ways, I took the church as far as I could in one sense. I was a little bit sensitive to my age as well in communicating to a younger generation. Now, I communicate well to my kids, grandkids and all those things, but just the mindset of a boomer right in the middle of the aging process is a whole lot different than a millennial or the Gen X. And I found myself feeling the distance between those two.
Darrell Bock
They didn’t get any of your illustrations. They were all too old, huh? [Laughter]
Hal Habecker
That’s true. And those kinds of things began to turn in my mind. And I also felt really I had taken the church – I had done my best there. And I felt my season was finished there as I processed it with the Lord and with my wife and elders. And so we started the intentional move. We talked to the elders probably four or five years ahead of time and said by the time I’m 65 – not that I picked that age as a retirement age, because I didn’t retire. But I picked that age as a good year to make a transition. So that’s what we worked for. And I transitioned out of the church a year ago this week actually.
Darrell Bock
And how did you work the follow-up? Was it like the way McKinney did it or was it a different –
Hal Habecker
It was a little bit different. The elders exempted me from the whole process. I didn’t have any say in the search for a new pastor. They selected a firm to help do that. And I moved out of the church for four or five months. They wanted me to disappear and not be involved.
Darrell Bock
So they were in a transition in which they were doing pulpit supply until they made their selection.
Hal Habecker
Yes. And they made their selection just two months afterwards. And he was able to start two months afterwards. So four months after I left, Aaron Armstrong, he started. And he is doing very well.

I am somewhat back in the church, but I’m preaching other places.
Darrell Bock
You’re in and out.
Hal Habecker
I’m in and out. Our friends are still there, so I want to be supportive and I want to be involved. So I haven’t taken the track to disappear, but I want to be very supportive and encourage everybody there as well. And if we want to see somebody, we just go to Costco on Sunday [Crosstalk].
Darrell Bock
Where you used to go, right? The beauty of this is of course we didn’t talk about your stories ahead of time. And so I’m hearing this for the first time. And what we’re seeing is really the reality; that there are a variety of ways to make the transition, with probably strengths and weaknesses coming with each of those approaches and sorting that out as part of the detail here. We’re not thinking about a blueprint and saying this is one size fits all here, but thinking about the principles that are involved.

So in listening to you I’m hearing two things on the one hand. And in both cases it sounds like there came a time when you realized that in terms of being able to minister to the church in terms of where it needed to go given the nature of its makeup and to some degree its demographics, you realized the church could probably be more effective with having a younger leader.

And then the second thing that I’m hearing is thinking through what’s the best way to do that without being too disruptive to the local community that I’m a part of. Am I missing anything in that?
Ken Horton
And I’m sure some of what Hal was experiencing is true for any man in his fifties moving towards sixty. My main focus was I knew I had another type of ministry that I wanted to be involved in that included more travel, more missions.
Darrell Bock
So there was something pulling you.
Ken Horton
I had been the chaplain of the TCU football team for a long time, so there was a sense of connection with younger adults that I enjoyed, but I wanted to have a different focus and a different level of relentlessness that the local church brings to you. So more flexibility –
Darrell Bock
That’s where I was going next.
Ken Horton
– but still maximum focus on what you felt like was most important in your ministry.
Darrell Bock
That’s interesting, the thought that in the transition of ministry actually comes a different package in which you have, I used the word flexibility. I was actually going to ask you about that directly. There is this additional flexibility that you can have that allows you to be in one sense – and I don’t mean to be pejorative here – but as you slow down, you get more nimble because you don’t have the constraints of just the institutional demands that a local church puts on a pastor, some of which are probably nice to have behind you.
Hal Habecker
I don’t know about Ken, but I love that. It’s really freeing.
Darrell Bock
Yes. And both of you have ministries I take it that are focused pretty much in the age group in which you’re functioning as well, or is yours across –
Ken Horton
Mine covers guys in their twenties to guys in their sixties.
Darrell Bock
Oh really? So it’s just open-ended in terms of [Crosstalk].
Ken Horton
I disciple faithful people. And there are some young ones and some old ones.
Darrell Bock
That’s great. Okay. So now the next obvious question is transitions can be scary, right? You dream and you hope that it’s going to go in this direction, but when you’re actually in the midst of doing it, who knows? Well, the Lord knows, but sometimes He isn’t telling. So what’s that part of the experience like?
Ken Horton
Well, I think the transition is built on the ministry. And so the degree of confidence and communication and integrity that you’ve experienced in that ministry is really the basis for being able to have those kind of conversations. And I would say that it’s important to really make sure you understand what both parties are thinking through in terms of timing.

We had a good experience. The elders were very gracious to help us get started in our new ministry. And so that was a very positive thing. But I think you need to work on communication and make sure you understand what that’s going to look like and not assume that you know what’s being talked about. It’s just about practical things regarding is it going to be best for me to stay or to go to another place. What does that look like? We were in agreement on that. But if you weren’t in agreement on that, that would be an important thing to be clear about.

And I think the guys that I’ve noticed that have a great experience are ones who are excited about something in the future. When they’re living with their eyes in the rearview mirror about what used to be, for them or for their wife in particular, that can be a very difficult experience.
Darrell Bock
That’s an interesting observation. I might come back to that. That’s an interesting observation.
Ken Horton
If I could hitchhike onto that just briefly. I think a transition or a retirement – it’s not retirement; it’s a transition from something to something. And it’s a huge difference. And it’s really helped me in my ministry because I’m working with a lot of retired people who then have to figure out what are they doing for their next season in life. But their life situation is not different than mine. I think God wants us to make a transition from working full-time to continuing to work for the kingdom. You’re not retiring, you’re not stopping, you’re not slowing down in that sense, but you live with a sense of mission that’s just as relevant as when you did before.

So I find myself in that same transition to a new ministry. So I’m experiencing what I’m talking to other people about. Reassignment; not retirement. Reassignment.
Darrell Bock
Here’s an interesting thing. This is the question that’s floating in my head. And there’s a part of my personality that has a pushback element in it or thinks, “Okay, what am I hearing? This sounds wonderful, but…” So this question is kind of coming out of that package. And that is you guys are obviously talented. You’ve had long, experienced ministries. You had a place that you were planning to go to in leaving, that kind of thing. But I imagine there are some people who transition out of ministry for who they don’t necessarily consciously know what the next step is. And I suspect you know people who have found themselves in that situation as well.
Ken Horton
Yes.
Darrell Bock
What does that look like? Because you guys had places to go and land. In some cases – of course the nice thing about both your situations, you got to talk through your transition as well. In some cases people who transition out of ministry late in life don’t have that privilege, if I can say it that way. That’s the nice way to say it. And so a minister who has given years to a particular community all of the sudden finds himself out on the street. What kinds of thoughts do you bring to that scenario in terms of how to think about transition?
Hal Habecker
Peter Drucker says – he’s not a pastor consultant as such, but he has a lot of wise things. He said you need to start thinking in your forties about what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. And if you don’t have a plan by the time you’re fifties, most people who don’t have a plan don’t transition well to retirement.

So I’m thinking all along, what’s God doing in your life, how do you process life, what do you see yourself doing in five years, ten years? So somewhere in your fifties you really need to be thinking about this. So my encouragement to any pastor or any church leader in any capacity, what is God taking you towards as you age? I think it’s a critical issue. And if you don’t do that, I would think a pastor may be no different than anybody else who doesn’t ask those questions for himself or herself.
Ken Horton
And I think you do have to anticipate the transition. And the transition could be from senior pastor to pastoral care pastor. There are lots of other possible transitions.
Darrell Bock
Exactly right, yes.
Ken Horton
There are some pastors who don’t need any compensation. I was not one of those. I knew that my transition was going to involve an organization that was able to provide a measure of compensation for what I was giving my time to. And so took time to prepare that and to set that whole process up. But I think you need to count the costs. There are some financial costs. And depending on how well you’ve been able to prepare for that, that’s something that impacts how you’re able to move forward.

And there is relational cost. Both of our wives worked through the issue of not being able to be around the people that they had given 25-plus years to. And my wife struggled with it for a while. But she loves one-on-one discipleship. And when she began to pour her life into four to six women every week – and the men take about an hour and 15 minutes to work through our conversations; they take about three hours to work through their conversations.
Darrell Bock
[Laughter] Okay. I’m not going there, but go ahead. [Laughter]
Ken Horton
They just enjoy it more than we do. So I think that really cushioned the relational part of that. And then she began to find herself talking to pastors’ wives that were working through whatever issues. So she has a very full ministry experience. And we now have some grandchildren, so that makes it all wonderful.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, that’s a gap-filler.
Hal Habecker
The other thing I would add to that, I had to ask myself the question. Starting leaving the position, raising support. Am I willing to live by faith like I’ve preached to everybody else to live by faith for the last 40 years? Will I trust God to provide for us and develop a new ministry and support and friends and all of those kinds of things? And God is very faithful, as we all discover. But there is a step of faith that every one of us has to take.
Darrell Bock
A natural question, and not asking you to disclose anything that’s too personal. But were there pension elements to where you found yourself, or were you completely on your own in terms of the amount of service you had given to the church?
Hal Habecker
For me, I’m mostly on my own.
Darrell Bock
Wow.
Ken Horton
The church was very generous to put me in a status so that they continued to pay my insurance, medical insurance. And our agreement was they would do that until I turned 65. When I get on Medicare they are no longer responsible for that. And then they made a meaningful contribution to my ministry organization.
Darrell Bock
To help get you going.
Ken Horton
Yes, that’s right. And they’ve been very generous in that regard. It was enough to – seed money on a yearly basis. And that will change when I turn 65.
Darrell Bock
That’s interesting. So neither of you really have walked out of this with a pension arrangement. The ministry that you’re moving into is really the core means of your income.
Ken Horton
Yes, absolutely.
Hal Habecker
It is for me, absolutely.
Darrell Bock
That’s interesting.
Ken Horton
And I would just say this. I would imagine you’ve experience this too. When you’ve poured your life into people for 25 years and you’re doing something that they can see the fruit in that ministry, that has not been an onerous experience.
Hal Habecker
It’s a rewarding step of faith.
Ken Horton
It’s a rewarding experience to see how God works to provide for us.
Darrell Bock
So in other words you’ve gotten – I think I’m reading between the lines right – you’ve got people who have helped you with the transition who you’ve built into their lives, and they’re continuing their support with you in this new endeavor and are walking through it with you.
Ken Horton
And we’ve had some surprises. People we thought were going to be with us, and then people we hardly knew were really with us.
Darrell Bock
Wow. Some transitions are smooth and some transitions are actually quite rocky. And although your stories are positive ones where the transitions have gone well, we are all aware of transitions that aren’t so neat and clean. What advice do you have for people who have crashed to the ground as opposed to have had a smooth landing?

Ken Horton: I would just say that there is no transition that’s perfect. And so everybody in a transition has caught an elbow that they weren’t expecting to catch on the way out. Even the most positive ones. But in one where there’s been real hurt and real woundedness, to stop and to face that directly is going to be a critical part of the transition. Because as long as you’re looking back, sort of sorting through the anger of the wounds that you’ve experienced, you’re going to be neutralized for anything that’s going to be fruitful and joyful in the future. So I think for that person to say this is an important issue for you to work through. You’re angry, you don’t feel like you were treated well, you don’t feel like you were appreciated the way you should have been. And so this is an important first step for being able to enjoy whatever future God has for you. So you can’t carry that with you and expect to have a fruitful final season of ministry.
Darrell Bock
Hal?
Hal Habecker
A couple of things come to my mind. First of all, the scriptures are filled with transitions of all kinds. So if people don’t think about transitions, in one sense you’re not paying attention to the scriptures. Life itself is a whole transition process over decades. And I think that goes back to our relationship with Jesus. I think it’s the most critical thing. People who don’t land well or become bitter, disappointed, you know, it’s hard to process all that with Jesus. And if he is in it and ahead of it as he orchestrates life – you know, we all believe in a sovereign God except when it hurts. You know? I think it’s terribly important to process life at a deep level with Jesus all the time. Because if you don’t, you get hung up.

I think it’s important to have good friendships. Vicki and I had a strong core of five, six, close couples who walked through this entire process with us. And they held our arms up like Aaron and Hur held Moses up in the battle.

And the other thing, you need to converse well with your elder board. And that’s when a lot of hurts happen if the leadership teams are not on the same wavelength. But you have to keep working at that. That’s an annual, almost a weekly, daily process in the life of a pastor. How are you working through all these things? And if you get hung up at some point, the plane may crash and burn. And then you need friends, you need Jesus, you need time away, you need to get refocused and press on.
Darrell Bock
Yes. Because it seems to me that in the transition out if it’s an uneven one, you can stay in the hurt, you can – some people crash and burn because they’ve burned out. I mean, they just haven’t managed their experiences well or circumstances have gotten beyond them. So that’s an option. But it also strikes me on the other side that when I think about ministry, I walk into – I mean, we life in Dallas Fort Worth where there is a lot going on. There’s all kinds of opportunities for terrific ministry. If you didn’t have somewhere to land, it isn’t because there aren’t opportunities to minister. There are all kinds of possibilities.

And it seems to me that thinking through different kinds of ministries that might need good volunteer, experienced help might actually be a way to help transition into a type of recovery by becoming useful again in ministry if you are willing to undertake that and look at that. Is that another way to think about completing a rough transition?
Ken Horton
As long as you’re focused on yourself, you’re going to be stuck. And as a person begins to give their lives to other people and use the gifts God has given them, they hopefully will have a little more perspective to address whatever they’ve already experienced, and they begin to experience the blessing and the joy that God created us for.

And so the thing that I discovered about going through hurtful times is that when you learn how to do that, when that becomes something that has a healthy outcome, you are prepared for ministering to a whole host of people, because everybody you know has been hurt. And the human response to hurt is anger. And so there’s nobody in your circle –
Darrell Bock
Sheep are dirty.
Ken Horton
Yes. And so nobody that we know doesn’t need encouragement as we work through life’s hurts.
Hal Habecker
One of the things we’ve done – and I don’t know what you did in Fort Worth. We had a band of brothers, so to speak, of about 12 to 15 local pastors who just met regularly to process what’s life in the church like and how to encourage each other. Because everybody goes through challenging times. And that was incredibly powerful. I mean a pastor – we’re not lone rangers. We need friends around us. And we need to be processing.

On this issue I think the more proactive you can be – even I’m thinking about you and what you would do after – you know, and moving into this role here. I’m sure you thought a long time about that.
Darrell Bock
Yes, I do. But Mark doesn’t want me to think about it too much. [Laughter]
Ken Horton
I just think you need to be creative and ask your friends, what has God gifted me to do? If you’re struggling, where do I go? If you don’t have a sense of transitioning to something, well, that’s okay. Let’s pray. Let’s trust God. Let’s lean into Him and lean into friends and do the kinds of things through which God will open doors.
Ken Horton
If you allow your identity to be so closely linked with being the pastor of a certain church, you will increase the trauma of that transition. And so I was very intentional about having identity. I enjoyed being the pastor at McKinney Church, but that was not my identity. And that’s something that you choose to think about and address years before you actually are no longer the pastor of Dallas Bible Church.
Hal Habecker
I think that’s the essence of the spiritual life. We are in Christ; our identity is not what we do, it’s not in our skillset, it’s not in our giftedness, it’s now who we’re married to, it’s not who our kids are, it’s not who our grandkids are, it’s not where we live, it’s not our resources. Our identity is in Jesus. And that’s where you see all the transitions.
Darrell Bock
Your citizenship is a heavenly citizenship. You’re described in this life as being in exile, which kind of implies that you’re moving from place to place. It’s your picture of transitions, et cetera. Sure, all of that is in play. Obviously the hard part of this is that because we are so located beings and we often are culturally influenced, sometimes our identity gets misdirected in terms of where we find ourselves.

I’m sitting here thinking – and this risks dating the podcast a little bit, but I’m going to go ahead and do it. I’m thinking about – and you don’t think of a spiritual example coming from this place necessarily. But I’m thinking of Rhonda Rousey, who just got beat in a famous match. And she did an interview yesterday in which she describes being in the locker room after she lost, having suicidal thoughts because she says if people don’t care about me because I’m no longer the champion, who am I?

And this is what you’re talking about. The identity placed in the wrong place. And so she was immediately dislocated by the loss. And the pain was so deep. And then she immediately transitioned, strangely enough, to what her future was going to be. And in thinking about her future, she transitioned out of the very scary place she was finding herself kind of unexpectedly having landed in. And I think that’s actually a very normal set of emotions in some ways if you get dislocated, to end up in that kind of uncomfortable space.
Ken Horton
And some of the men I am discipling are men who have in their late fifties, early sixties left prominent positions in a business or as a medical doctor, and they go through the same issues.
Hal Habecker
Yes, they do.
Ken Horton
I’m no longer practicing medicine; who am I? And if they’re followers of Christ, one of the things we’ve discovered when they begin to focus on discipling three of four guys a week, they discover I think a more biblical understanding of their real identity that has a lasting opportunity in being a way that being a vice president at Lockheed Martin isn’t going to provide.
Darrell Bock
Because ministry and mission never stop. And so it doesn’t matter where you are, whether you’re in the church or you’re in a business or whatever; ministry and mission, at least theoretically, should never stop. And so it is a transition, but it’s not a retirement. And I think there is value in thinking through and then responding to the way God has built us to serve until he calls us home.

Well, that’s interesting. We could say here, but I do have one other topic I want to transition to. And that is, all right, we’ve thought about the transition, we’ve executed the transition, and we’ve even figured out, okay, we’re even going to have a support team as we move into the transition. What’s the transition like once you finally get to where this new place is that you’re going? What advice do you have for people who are headed towards or are thinking about entering into that phase of the discussion?
Hal Habecker
My first thought is, enjoy it. This past year for Vicki and me has been a real gift. The Lord has opened new doors. Vicki kiddingly says I married you for better or for worse, but not for lunch. But our whole life is different. Our marriage is different, our schedules are different. And we have entered into those. And the only thing I would say on the reflective, it’s important for a pastor and his spouse, his wife, to really process this together. Because the hurt may be different on different sides. And it’s important to process this under the leadership of –
Darrell Bock
It’s not just your transition; it’s her transition too, very much.
Hal Habecker
No, it’s hers. And I think for her in a sense it’s more difficult than me. I’m transitioning out of something to something else, and she goes along with it and is a very big part of it. But immediately my whole mind and heart is focused on a new mission. But it takes us both some time to get up to speed on that.

But I have loved it. I have loved not having the normal routine at the church where I’m thinking about the staff, thinking about the worship order, thinking about elder meetings. And I am focused on what it is that God has me doing. And I’m really free to do that almost 100 percent. I feel the creative things flowing as I haven’t felt in the past. And it’s just been fun.
Darrell Bock
If you keep talking, we’re going to have no one in the ministry. [Laughter]
Ken Horton
I would echo that. It’s given me a chance to have maximum focus on a few things that I know are very fruitful and that I’m gifted to do. It gives me not only time flexibility, but spatial flexibility. I’m not very technical, but I do know how to use Skype and FaceTime. And so I can continue to do my discipleship sessions with men in Colorado in the summer. And I can be at 50 degrees and they can be at 100 degrees. And it gives me a global opportunity. I’ve discipled guys in Japan, in India. Anybody that has internet, I can spend time with them on a regular basis. So it has just been very encouraging for me to have this kind of opportunity. And I have discovered that the flexibility gives me the margin to take phone calls from pastors and to be available to people in a way that I just wasn’t able to be when I was responsible for a large staff.
Darrell Bock
One dimension of this that we have alluded to a couple of times, and Hal, you just addressed it a little bit, but I don’t want to leave it behind, is what is this like for the spouse. And we really probably should wind this clock back a little bit from the moment you start thinking about this to the point where you’ve come through it. What sensitivities should a person have in relationship to their spouse as they’re moving in this direction and going in this direction, and what advice would you give and things to be aware of as you make that move?
Ken Horton
Certainly you don’t want to surprise your wife. My wife was in on all of my thinking and my wrestling through this. And she did have a major adjustment because she was very involved in the children’s ministry and women’s ministry. But after a season, which was cushioned by the fact that in those early years she went with me on many of my trips; to Israel, to Turkey, to Czech Republic.
Darrell Bock
So she knew where you were going.
Ken Horton
And she was going with me and actually ministering with me. That has diminished some at this point. But I think for her because she discovered how much joy she got in one-on-one discipleship as well, we are actually partners in ministry in a way we were never partners when I was the pastor of a church. Because we are both doing similar types of things with people.

Darrell Bock: Are you working with couples when you do this?
Ken Horton
No, we don’t. So a lot of times she’ll be working with a wife and I’ll be working with the husband, but there’s not a –
Darrell Bock
There’s not a couple part of it.
Ken Horton
And we’ll do some counseling with couples if their marriage is working through some issues. But the one-on-one process is a process focused on helping that person be prepared to disciple people who will disciple people.
Darrell Bock
Okay. And what advice do you have?
Hal Habecker
Well, I want to echo what Ken said. We can’t start too early. Hopefully this is the way we’ve been doing ministry all along; with our wives. We’re processing what God’s doing in our lives. And so whenever we sense any transitions, she was the first one we talked with about this. And we bat this around for years. What do we do next?

Now her role in our ministry now is a whole lot different than it was as a pastor’s wife. A pastor’s wife, you’re involved in everything together almost. There’s a lot of things that I’m involved in separately from her. But for example, last night we went out with a retired physician and his wife. And we had a wonderful evening, encouraging them together. She is very much a part of my life, very much a part of our ministry. But I think that’s one of the things we’re just praying about and really seeking God, how to really grow this ministry between the two of us together and make it stronger.

Darrell Bock: What are you still trying to figure out about the transition? Is there anything that fits into that category, or are you just pretty content with where you are? What does that look like?
Ken Horton
When we started, we did not envision developing a resource material that we would put online. And once we did that, and now it’s been translated to half a dozen languages, my board is saying what’s the next transition plan? Who is going to take this ministry when you’re no longer able to do it? So suddenly I am working through with my board what does it look like when I’m 70. So who is going to be the person who takes this type of ministry and helps direct it to the next level?

So I would say that I have moved from transition to transition. I’ve transitioned out of the TCU football role. Did that for 20 years. Did it with another fellow for three years. And now he is doing it without my participation. So I am a transition –
Darrell Bock
Is that why they’re playing better Football these days? [Laughter]
Ken Horton
It probably has something to do with it. But we actually had a pretty good run while I was there too. But no question he’s done a great job. And a Godly man who has a great heart for evangelism. So I am excited for him.
Darrell Bock
That’s great. So the transitions never stop is kind of what you’re saying?
Ken Horton
I think that’s sort of the life lesson that I’m finally getting clarity about.
Hal Habecker
My transition is not like yours, although people have asked what are you going to do ten years from now. My model for ministry – I mean, we’ve had models here. Prof Hendricks, Pentecost, Vernon Grounds from Denver Seminary was one of my encouragers. You live your whole life giving your life away.
Darrell Bock
That’s right.
Hal Habecker
One of the things I’ve really enjoyed, I don’t work at the same pace that I did. I don’t quite put in the same hours. And my schedule has eased up slightly. But just working on personal stuff. Where does the ministry transition to next? What are the new things we ought to be doing? And that’s what a church wrestles with; how do we change? You were talking about eight to ten year cycles in a church. I think there are cycles for everything. And how do you keep growing or how do you keep responding to the spirit of God? So that’s my big concern and how you pay attention to how God leads.
Ken Horton
And no matter what happens for the organization that I’m involved in, as long as I’m healthy, clear-headed, and can make it to the coffee shop or to the computer, I’m going to be involved in one-on-one discipleship.
Darrell Bock
You’re in business. You’re in the ministry. You’re in business.
Ken Horton
Yes, that’s right.
Darrell Bock
So I’m going to shift the question this way. Let’s assume that there’s someone, probably a strange person who is in their forties listening to this. And they’re thinking through what they’re hearing. What advice would you give to younger pastors who aren’t in this kind of a transition yet and probably are still some distance from it, but it is a part of what ought to at least be a blip on the radar screen. What would you say to the pastors in their forties as we begin to summarize what it is we’ve been talking about?
Hal Habecker
Let me jump in there. I think first of all, you should pay attention to the older people in your congregation. Some of the young pastors are focused on younger churches, and older people are feeling more marginalized by the church today than ever before. And I think the best thing a young pastor can do is pay attention to older people in the church and follow what they’re going through. Because inevitably that’s what you’re going to be going through. You are no different than they are; you’re just a few decades behind them.

I spoke at Baylor University a few weeks ago with some honors college students down there. And my advice to them when they went home for the next break, do me a favor and go pay attention to your grandparents. Just go sit with them. Have a meal. Ask them questions about their life. The generations are more disparate today than perhaps ever before. And I think the church is the great intergenerational organism that brings the body of Christ together. So if they pay attention to that, they will transition a lot better and those older people will start giving them better advice.
Ken Horton
One of the best things I did when I became a pastor at McKinney, I was 36 when I became the senior pastor. And every month I met with the elders who had retired, the elder emeriti as they called them. There were about a half a dozen of them. We would meet for prayer and then go to lunch. And they would tell me the stories. And soon it was the same stories over and over and over again. And we would pray. And I knew they were praying for me every month. They felt included. And I learned a tremendous amount from those men. In fact, I’m going to do a funeral this weekend for a 96-year-old widow of one of those men. And so I think you spend time with older people, as you mentioned. You partner with them in ministry. And then whenever we did have to make a change, when we put up the screens 25 years ago, which was a revolutionary thing to have the video screens, those older elders knew about it before anybody did, except the other elders. So they are able to help you make the changes you need to make because they are involved with you in that process.
Hal Habecker
20 years from now the young pastors will be making the same transitions that we’re making. So the more they can get a head start in at least thinking about this, the better it is.

Darrell Bock: Yes. I really do think that the generational transition and ministering across generation, one of the greatest challenges of the church that also is a very, very important challenge. Because there are very few places today where you have the opportunity to get that kind of cross-generational input that is so helpful to balancing people out in terms of how they face life.
Ken Horton
I have a 31-year-old and a 28-year-old. Daughter and son. And my relationship with them has been a huge blessing in terms of trying to relate to their peer group. And so I think that’s another thing a pastor can do; not only reach older, but let your kids be a part of helping you –
Hal Habecker
Absolutely.
Darrell Bock
Be a sounding board, yes.
Ken Horton
So it’s not just your connection with the next generation, it’s your connection with the generation behind you as we all go through this process.
Darrell Bock
Well, gentlemen, I want to thank you for coming in and helping us think through transitions, particularly transitions out of a senior pastor into the next and oftentimes final phases of ministry and helping us look ahead and look back and look around and think through what that involves. I think it’s a very underappreciated part of a person’s ministry career. And it’s important to the stability of the organizations that you’re a part of, it’s important to the future of the individual ministers, and it’s an important part of doing ministry well. So we thank you for being with us, and we thank you for joining The Table, and we look forward to having you back again with us soon.

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