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Education

How to End Well

05.26.2019

Lessons on retiring from Dr. John Koessler

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Dr. John Koessler, program head of pastoral studies and professor at Moody Bible Institute for the last 25 years, is retiring as a professor emeritus. Over his time at Moody, he’s taught and influenced many young people for Christ, in addition to serving as a contributing author and the theological editor for Today in the Word.

In the past few months I have found myself thumbing through old school yearbooks. It has been my way of preparing to retire and leave my role as a faculty member behind.

The faces I see there are framed in horn-rimmed and cat-eye glasses; they gaze at me with pursed lips or shy smiles. I do not recognize most of their names. The school they once served has forgotten them. Along with them are rank upon rank of students who are also long gone. There is a kind of comfort in their anonymity.

I know that I am about to join their ranks. It won’t be long before my name is forgotten too. “What is your life?” James 4:14 asks, continuing, “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

When I asked a friend of mine who recently retired what the experience was like, he replied, “It’s like death! It just goes on and on.” He was joking, of course. But I thought there was also a measure of truth in what he said.

Retirement is an ending as well as a beginning. The person who comes to it can’t help reflecting on the lessons learned.

For me, one of the most important lessons has been the reminder of God’s surprising ways. Looking back on my 25 years at Moody, I have not accomplished all that I hoped to—but have achieved more than I ever thought possible.

I am also reminded that ministry is never neat and tidy. Our expectations are shaped by our dreams and ideals, but the reality is something else. We must deal with people as they are, while living in the world as it truly is.

The world that Jesus entered was one whose jagged edges made Him bleed. He invites us to follow and join Him as He continues to serve that fallen world through His church.

He has not forsaken it and neither should we.

When people ask me what I will miss most in retirement, I find it difficult to answer. All of it. None of it. I leave expecting God to continue to lead me and believing that Christ will continue to use me.

I will miss teaching. I will miss the students. I will miss my friends.

I will not miss the commute.

It is no exaggeration to say that it was my dream to teach on the faculty of Moody Bible Institute. I used to lay awake at night imagining what it would be like and praying that God would someday open the door.

On those difficult days when things seemed to be at their worst, my wife, Jane, would sometimes remind me, “You’re living the dream.” On the good days, when things were at their best, I would say to myself, “I can’t believe that the Lord allowed me to do this.”

As I come to the end of my teaching career, I can only say, “I am grateful.”

Dr. Koessler’s students say . . .

“Having Dr. Koessler always keeps us guessing. Some days, he’s in a really energetic mood and does things like lay on the floor and do pushups for sake of demonstration. Other days, he’s really serious and honest as he shares with us his concerns about the current state of the church. Dr. Koessler is always very honest with his opinions, and I really appreciate that about him. It demonstrates the heart he has for local churches and their pastors.”—Mike, Pastoral Studies student

“When I was a student, I remember Dr. Koessler stressing the importance of grounding everything in the Scriptures. Whether it was our sermons, our pastoral theology, or our ministry practice, he always stressed the significance of grounding everything in God’s Word. As a colleague, he taught me how to be a critical thinker. He modeled how to ask the tough questions to others, to myself, and to God.”—Chris Rappazini, Moody professor and former student

“Taking Dr. Koessler was always a joyful challenge. You knew you were going to learn, but you also knew you were going to be challenged. There was no vaguely answering his questions. He wanted to challenge not just your response, but how you even got to that response. He wanted to challenge your false presuppositions. He took time before and after class to see how I was doing, and to provide insight and challenge for challenges I faced in life. He always genuinely cared.”—Michael, Pastoral Studies graduate

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