One day – God-willing – I’ll be a 60-something pastor. The median age for pastors in my denomination is about 55 according to this 2011 study. But we have a large number of 60-somethings serving every size congregation and, increasingly, pastors are waiting until they are 70 to retire because there are substantial financial benefits to working past 65.
There are issues for pastors and congregations involving clergy 60 and over. Several examples in my denomination (i.e. one without bishops to move clergy around):
- What if you are 60 and ready to seek a new call because you’ve got some good years left to serve, but you are finding that most churches want a 40-something pastor who can “bring in younger members”? So you stay where you are, realizing that – in your heart – you are basically done.
- What if your pastor is 60 and, after 8-10 years of faithful and effective service, the church is ready for a change? Unfortunately, however, all indications are that your current pastor is planning to stay until retirement in another 10 years. Everybody recognizes that the energy is low and you wonder if your congregation will be able to recover if the pastor stays too long.
- What if you are a 60 year old pastor and you know it’s time to go but you still have a mortgage and not nearly enough money to retire, and you don’t think you can be called to another church?
- What if you are a 60 year old pastor who has served small congregations – sometimes part-time – and you are looking for a new call, but your experience with small (dying) churches seems to hinder your search.
- What if you are a second career pastor just starting out at about the age of 60, hoping for a first call and it’s taking longer than expected because search committees want someone with more experience?
In the next 10-20 years, 70% of our clergy will retire, but in the meantime, what will happen with those pastors who still want to work to 70 or beyond?
My hope is that we will be courageous – and faithful – enough to seek what is best for the congregation. But then again, retired pastors have to afford to live – perhaps for another 20+ years after retirement.
What’s the answer?
I honestly don’t know. But we who are closer to our retirement than our ordination will have some tough decisions to make in the next few years. One of my hopes is that at least we will try to learn all we can about the 21st Century Church. Paradigms are not easily shifted.
Image is Henry Raeburn’s Skating Minister. (Let’s not skate towards retirement folks.)