Now That I’ve Got Your Attention . . .

. . . what should we do when:CutEnergy

  • An embattled 59 year old pastor shares that “if he can only stick it out” for 11 more years, he can finally retire.
  • A pastor less than 5 years from retirement confides that he’s done the math and there’s just enough endowment left in his church coffers to get him to retirement, and then the church can close.
  • A pastor shares that his mortgage will be paid off in three years, so he needs to keep working even though he’s pretty much out of energy.

Yesterday’s blog post hit some nerves, and as I wrote, there are certainly vibrant sexagenarian pastors out there as well as some uncompelling forty and fifty-something pastors.  But it’s easier for the young pastors to make a change when a change is needed.  A forty-something pastor can make vocational shifts more easily than someone on the cusp of 70.  And yet . . .

In our particular Presbytery, several of our churches have called pastors in their late 50s and early 60s over the past three years.  Those pastors have displayed energy, teachability, and a professional/spiritual life that has continued to grow and expand.  A couple of them had previously started new congregations or new forms of worship.  They still read widely, attended conferences, and were current on 21st Century theological conversations.

I remember another colleague in another Presbytery who shared that he “taught continuing education classes” he didn’t “take continuing education classes.”  He considered further education unnecessary, and it showed.  I know very few pastors in the second half of their careers who seek spiritual direction.

While many say that these are tough times for the Institutional Church, I believe it’s actually a fantastic time to be engaged in professional ministry.  We are reassessing why our congregations exist and what’s breaking God’s heart in our neighborhoods.  Some of us have “little to lose” and so we let go of everything we previously trusted that was not God.  We find ourselves free to be more authentic and declare that we – too – have been giving too much attention to the things that kill community rather than those things that enhance it.  This is a great time to be the church.

God deserves our best and it can’t be about our mortgage and our pension and our resume, no matter what our age.  But how can we assist those on the threshold of retirement to leave their churches better than they found them – if not in terms of numbers or programs, then at least in terms of spiritual depth?

5 responses to “Now That I’ve Got Your Attention . . .

  1. I am wondering about this sentence…”I know very few pastors in the second half of their careers who seek spiritual direction.”
    Why do you think this happens?


    • Hi Julie (miss you) –
      Why don’t “seasoned” pastors seek spiritual direction? Here are a couple of thoughts: many seminaries or denominational entities require spiritual direction of their seminarians/new pastors, but this is a newish thing. I was never encouraged to seek SD in seminary 30 years ago, and so pastors my age who were ordained long ago are not in the spiritual habit of talking with the a director. Seasoned pastors are often not as likely to seek coaching or therapy either. Another possibility: they have other established groups of colleagues with whom they/we meet for reflection. At this point in ministry, many of us have been meeting with preaching groups, book groups, colleague groups for decades and those groups serve (or pretend to serve) the same needs as a SD.


    • As a pastor (age 61, completing three years in ministry) and spiritual director (for the past five years), I think that pastors, like most of us, are apprehensive about self–disclosure and don’t really know how to talk about their spiritual lives anymore than anyone else does. I know that when I started spiritual direction, in my early 50s and with many years of professional experience and as a leader in the church already behind me, I was extremely embarrassed by my inability to articulate my spiritual experience. (My first plan was to plagiarize the life of someone like Teresa of Avila.) How much more difficult for a professional spiritual person to say, “I’m really a beginner at this.” I don’t know how I would have survived seminary or the call process without a spiritual director, but it was almost never mentioned in either seminary or interactions with CPM.


  2. The last post and this post really are a multi-valent issue.

    -the complacent close to retired pastor
    -the plethora of creative ideas which get squashed at session and/or committee (regardless of the age of the pastor)
    -the pastor who doesn’t take vacation/CE because the church will fall apart if they are gone
    -the pastor who does not see the value in spiritual direction because it is too catholic (true story)
    -the pastor for whom self-reflection is a terrorizing thought
    -the pastor who know they are right
    -the pastors who have taught their congregations to be fully dependent on them
    -the general presbyters who diss’s spiritual direction (at a presbytery meeting…true story)
    -the congregation who does do the good and needed ministry that only retired people can do (work during the in the food pantry, make the 45 miles trip to pick up the commodities for the food pantry, serve the compassion meal for a grieving family, etc)
    -the congregation which knows it will die but that won’t happen until after I am dead…and there will be a pastor I know to do my funeral/memorial
    -the whiteness of our congregation/denomination

    I do wonder if we are just ‘painting the facade’. I have no doubt the Church will continue. And what it becomes will be so different than we ever imagined it. I won’t be here to see that happen and my 15 year old nephew might not see it either.

    In the meantime, if I can help one person (regardless of their age) begin to develop their sense of awareness of themselves and the world, learn to hold multiple perspectives, and practice compassion perhaps that what the Church is to become will happen just a little faster.


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