I will be 65 years old next week (and will try not to talk it incessantly because I think about it incessantly.)
Being 65 makes me eligible for Medicare and marks fifteen years since I could join AARP. I could say so many things about aging here but I won’t.
Instead, I want to talk about clergy retirement.
I’ve written a bit on 60-somethings in our congregations and some of those posts have hurt my colleagues feelings. That was not my intention. It is my intention as an institutional church person to devote my life to helping congregations thrive and expand the reign of God and make disciples of all nations.
As I did when I was a pastor serving a congregation, I have a small group of people I trust to tell me the truth. One of their primary responsibilities these days is to tell me when it’s time to retire and I am confident they will do this.
In my denomination, it’s lucrative to retire when you are 70 years old if you are vested in our pension system. And it’s also true that churches do not tend to call new pastors who are 60+ in age.
So, here’s what sometimes happens: A pastor is – say – 62 and wants to retire at 70 but that pastor has lost energy and the desire to learn new things. There is no steam left to shift the culture of that congregation.
This is especially dangerous in these days as we discern what the Post-Pandemic Church will look like. A struggling congregation cannot survive 2 to 10 years of leadership under a pastor who will not or cannot pivot to serve a Post-Pandemic Church.
As I discern these things personally, I am begging my Boomer colleagues to talk about these things with the LORD:
- Am I one of the first to say ‘yes’ when elders and deacons present fresh ideas for our congregation to consider?
- Am I excited about Sunday mornings? Sunday evenings? Tuesday afternoons doing my ministry?
- Have I surrounded myself with people who help me dismantle doing things “the way we’ve always done it?” for the sake of the Gospel?
- Am I willing to learn from younger leaders?
- Do I feel hope for the future of our congregation?
If you answer “no” to any of these questions, please consider retirement in the next year, my beloved 60-something colleagues.
The truth is that it’s not about age. It’s about energy, intelligence, imagination, and love. And yet if you find yourself at a place where your energy is depleted, your desire to learn is negative, your imagination has leveled out, and you don’t love ministry the way you used to love it – please, for the love of God – retire this year.
I don’t mean to offend, but our churches will suffer to the point of no return without hopeful, dynamic, servant leadership. We need pastors who are pumped to move our congregations into the future with impactful ministry in the name of Jesus Christ.
P.S. If you don’t know that this is a post for you, ask around. Ask your colleagues, your family, and those trusted parishioners who are not ‘yes people.’ Listen to what God is telling you in prayer.
For some retirement is the end, for others it is a beginning. I encourage all embarking on retirement to consider it a as the next adventure in a life filled with wonderful adventures. Perspective is everything. Peace and blessings as you discern your next adventure!
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For me, retirement was not about being burned out or tired. Retirement was choosing to embrace a different authentic self with family and friends. I chose abundant time with family and got to know the international community caring for my Dad in North Carolina . I chose to spend time with grandchildren and delighted in the ordinary moments of life without rushing . I chose committing to an art studio and to writing and spending time in healthy pursuits. I chose to love the gym (before pandemic) and found the delight of taking care of my body. I chose
Not to take on any leadership roles in any church and was blessed by truly amazing and creative worship experiences. I chose to immerse in worlds of theater and arts. Too many clergy think of retirement as giving up or as an antidote to being tired and out of creativity. I have been working in a job since I was 16. The joy of retirement for me has been so rich and full and abundant. Susan Meier, joyfully and completely Honorably Retired.
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Brian beat me to the punchline…when I left teaching I did not call it retirement, I called it moving to the next adventure. For the past 10 years I have had many adventures, this year taking me into the world of virtual storytelling, channeling Mr. Rogers. I would recommend you do your best to stay your healthiest and do all you can to be motivated to see the possibilities. Retirement (or whatever you call it) will bring great joy.
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Well–I was more or less forced into retirement (at 73) because (1) the congregation consistently said “no” to my new ideas (they had none); (3) I wanted to dismantle “the way we’ve always done things” but the congregation didn’t (and they wanted to worship in person only); (4) I was one of the youngest leaders; (5) I was the only one with hope for the congregation. One person all but said I was “too young” to understand them.
So you never know.
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Some congregations unwittingly choose to close.
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Could you speak to the financial consequences of an early retirement decision? Since churches “do not tend to call new pastors who are 60+”, many pastors who would consider retirement simply cannot afford to retire early. In my denominational pension and health insurance plans there are significant life long consequences to early retirement. Maybe our church systems could begin to consider offering continuing education opportunities and support to help pastors navigate those last years of ministry. I would appreciate conversations about career shifts from ministry in the church into other fields. How can pastors who have served the church for more than 30 years transition into other work, without significantly reducing the amount of pension they will receive?
When a pastor is 60 and unable to pivot or change, perhaps that would be a time for new resources and support for the pastor in addition to considering what is best for the church. To ask pastors to make such significant sacrifices in the name of what is best for the local church seems to me to be unreasonable without investment by the denominations in providing guidance and financial support to pastors in their 60’s.
Retooling from a life-long career in ministry is not easy, and can often be financially disastrous. The church deserves transformative leadership in a time of great change, and pastors deserve to have a secure retirement when it is time to transition.
Talking with a financial professional who can address your specific situation (no cookie cutter plans) is always the best idea. It could be true for you that retiring at 67 and then doing a different kind of work in retirement is best but that wouldn’t work for someone else. I have worked with pastors who do not take advantage of opportunities to learn how to pivot but they do not participate. How do you convince pastors who’ve been preaching a certain way for 25+ years that they need continuing education in homiletics?
Contact your mid-council leaders for a conversation about your situation and you might get some fresh ideas. And this is foremost a spiritual activity that involves prayer and discernment.
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One of the members of my former church (a PK) implied I should be using the old “Three points and poem” preaching method.
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I retired from an 18 year pastorate after 33 years of ordained ministry. I did so because:
1. The congregation I was serving was vital, with strong leadership, excellent worship at the core and a continuing commitment to community service.
2. A ministry team structure was in place, positive and healthy and shared by many.
3. I was financially able to retire from the pastorate.
4. Since I was able, I wanted to step aside to leave space for a new generation of leadership to step into head of staff or solo pastoral positions.
5. Retiring from the pastorate was an opportunity for me to stay fresh, learn new skills, be alive and sharp, walking into a new calling: coaching, teaching and engaging conversations about the future shape of vital communities of faith and their leaders. (I planned for this 3 years prior to retirement.)
6. Having my own schedule also allows me to be spontaneous in saying Yes (or No) – and having the opportunities to travel, including walking.
Assuming steps 1-3, I guess number 4 and 5 is what remain stumbling blocks for many avoiding retirement.
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Roy- you’ve done this as well as anyone I know.