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Retirement from Pastoral Ministry

Preparing for Retirement from Ministry Can Be Complicated

This new resource, Retirement from Pastoral Ministry: Guidance for a Healthy Transition,  is designed to help you if you are a pastor  (monovocational or multi vocational) who is navigating the challenges and opportunities related to retirement.

The transition into what-comes-after-pastoral-ministry is anything but simple, but we’re delighted to come alongside you!

This resource is a collection of blog posts that are designed both to stand alone and to work together to form one body of guidance for pastors who are transitioning into retirement. Find the complete collection below.

We recognize that your journey through this transition doesn’t just happen. It is shaped by several things:

  • Life-long commitments that arise out of who you are and what you value as a human being.
  • Circumstances that have shaped how you have lived out of those commitments during your ministry.
  • Decisions that you are making (or have already made) about the transition from this season of life to the next. 
  • Plans related to your spouse’s life and career (if you are married).

We want to help you name those commitments, recognize the impact of your ministry context and other circumstances, and make good decisions. A good transition into retirement is more likely when there is good preparation for it.

Of course, scripture is the lens through which we see all of life, and by which we want to shape our understanding of retirement in particular. So we’ll give thought to the concepts of God’s Kingdom, our various callings within it, and how vocation and retirement relate to one another.

It is important to note that while the concept of “retirement” is familiar to people in many Western cultures there are some cultures, such as many Eastern and Indigenous cultures, in which there are no expectations that a worker will, at some point later in life, bring one’s work to an end. In the Navajo language, for example, there is not even a word specifically for “retirement”.  In such contexts there may be less awareness of the need to prepare for retirement and less awareness of the freedom and flexibility that typically come with retirement.

In this resource we want to be sensitive to all of these cultural realities. For example, we will sometimes use substitutes for the word “retirement”, phrases such as “what comes after full time employment” or “the time of slowing down”. We will also give sensitive thought to the situations faced by those who, for a variety of reasons, find themselves in financial difficulty even after years of diligent work in church ministry.

The guidance in this resource emerged from two projects funded by Lily Endowment Inc.

The first project involved a small group of Christian Reformed Church (CRC) pastors in West Michigan who met monthly for a year, beginning in 2004, to think together about their upcoming retirements. They observed that there was little guidance for such ministers, and so the group gathered to share their later career/approaching retirement wisdom with one another. They then created a booklet called “Closing Well–Continuing Strong” (published in 2006), built on three key ideas:

  • Planning for retirement is best done in community.
  • Planning is a process that should be engaged intentionally.
  • The process often brings anxiety.

The second project funded by Lily Endowment Inc., called Thriving Together,  began in 2019 as the staff of a CRC agency named Pastor Church Resources (now Thrive) began to think deeply about transitions in pastoral ministry, including the transition from later career into retirement. Work was done, over the ensuing four years, to gather thoughts and perspectives from pastors across the Christian Reformed denomination who were experiencing this transition. The gathered material was then combined with key wisdom from the “Closing Well–Continuing Strong” publication to produce this resource, “Retirement from Pastoral Ministry: Guidance for a Healthy Transition.”

We are deeply thankful for the many Thriving Together pastors whose insights and experiences provided much of the content for this resource. In addition, Rev. Zach Olson was the supervisor for the grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. that underwrote this project, and Rev. Dave Den Haan served as the lead writer. Rev. Dr. Cornelius Plantinga provided his expertise in the area of Christian vocation, and Rev. Dr. Mark Roberts gave advice and counsel from his perspective as the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Rev. Pedro Aviles, Rev. Mary Stegink, and Rev. John Terpstra joined Dr. Roberts on the resource’s review team.