What Every Retired/Former Pastor Should Be Doing

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I was raised in the home of a pastor. My father, before his death, was in ministry for over 40 years. Throughout his career in the church, he noticed that a lot of his friends in other vocational fields were always looking for ways to work less and play more. They were trying to hire other people to do their work so they could travel more, improve their golf game, retire early. I heard him repeatedly say that he’d probably never retire unless God made it clear for him to do so – and he never did. 

However, many pastors, ministers, ministry leaders do retire or step away from vocational ministry.  Some of them have left the ministry to work somewhere else, maybe in a parachurch ministry format. Others have fully retired. In either case, for those not in full-time, local church, vocational ministry: this blog is for them. I know them. I see the highlights of their lives on social media. I wonder about them.

And in a sense, this blog is also for me.

Now, when I say, “What Every Retired Pastor Should Be Doing”, how arrogant does that sound? I’m not even 40 years old and I’m declaring what people decades older than me who have so much more wisdom, experience and faith in God than I do should be using their time for. Seven things they should be doing, to be exact. 

Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father,” [1 Timothy 5:1]

I hope these seven actions come across as encouragements and aren’t felt like rebukes. 

Be thankful to God in reflection. 

If a pastor has retired, that means God sustained him for a long duration of ministry. Only one out of ten pastors make it to retirement age as a pastor. The other nine are either fired or they burn out and quit. For a retired pastor, there is much to look back on and be thankful for. There is much to celebrate. 

Looking back on how God was faithful and what answered prayers there were and what fruit there was is always healthy to reflect on as it takes the eyes off the retired pastor and gives praise to God. 

There are also so many people in a retired pastor’s past to be grateful to God for, and those people could be written heart-felt letters expressing gratitude for the support they gave to the pastor. Makes you wonder if Moses ever wrote a thank-you letter to Aaron and Hur [Exodus 17:12]. 

Attempt to reconcile with broken relationships. 

This is the most difficult step of the seven. 

Ministry is messy. It is full of imperfect people trying to serve a perfect God as well as other imperfect people. There is much let down and pain and harsh words said and for some reason American church leaders have made “nice” a fruit of Spirit as we shove the past severed relationships under the rug hoping they’ll go away.

I remember serving in a church where the senior pastor and the worship pastor were incompatible to the point where they were giving each other the silent treatment. These were grown men in the faith who were on stage together every week refusing to talk and forgive each other. 

It came to a point when the worship pastor was leaving the church for another position elsewhere. As he was packing up his office, I was in the senior pastor’s office and this leader of the church, the senior pastor, told me, I am so excited he’s leaving. I don’t even feel bad about not saying good-bye. 

I just sometimes wonder if pastors forget that one of their main ministries is the ministry of reconciliation [2nd Corinthians 5:19].

Sometimes the relationships the retired pastor needs to seek forgiveness for is with his family. In ministry he chose the church over his first ministry, his wife and kids, and as a result, there is distance in his marriage and a lack of faith in God with his kids. 

Most people aren’t self-aware at how they come across, but it is definitely true for leaders in the church. We just don’t know how what we say and what we do is felt by those around us. 

Some of the pain a pastor causes is unintentional, and some of it is downright sinful. 

80% of pastors are discouraged and 70% are clinically depressed. Much of that negative weight is due to broken relationships that weren’t peacefully mended. The retired pastor still carries around the anger towards others in their ministry past.

There are broken relationships that every church leader can think of, and, if that retired leader still believes in the Gospel, they should seek out forgiveness, give forgiveness, and vie to extend the hand of grace for the purpose of reconciliation.

They should spend time in prayer and ask the Spirit to bring names to mind. Past church elders. Past church staff. Past church members. After decades of ministry, surely there are a handful of people to reach out to and apologize. Hopefully they still have a pastor’s heart to be that humble and that courageous. 

Those are the kind of leaders I want to follow. 

Develop authentic and transparent friendships. 

Did you know that 70% of pastors admit they do not have someone they consider to be a close friend? 84% of pastors desire to have a close friendship with someone they can confide in and trust.

Yet it doesn’t happen. 

Pastors, being burned by people and seeing their sin burn relationships (usually related to pride, anger and an unhealthy obsession to control people), have trust issues. They’re afraid to get close to someone. 

67% of church people expect their pastors to have a much higher moral standard than they themselves do. 

Many pastors, while in ministry, are leery of letting their guard down because they might disappoint someone by showcasing a weakness. But now, being retired, they should feel set free to have zero pretense and develop friendships that are transparent. 

They should have a relationship where a same-gender friend holds them accountable, urges them to repent, urges them to seek reconciliation, urges them to keep their spiritual disciplines. 

Sadly though, the retired pastor will just keep people at a distance. As he continues to post pictures on social media about how much fun he’s having in retirement, it’s the thing he craves, a close friendship, that isn’t realized.  

Get actively involved in a local church. 

Some retired pastors stay active in the church they served vocationally before retiring. Some move on. That’s between the pastor and their spouse and God. Either way, whether a retired pastor stays in the church he served or moves on or moves away, they must be in a local church somewhere, consistently. Otherwise their entire career was a farce. 

Every week, as a vocational pastor, they would preach to others about the importance of church community. They would repeatedly urge people to attend worship, to serve in the church, to be in a small group, to give financially back to God.

For many, when a pastor retires, they neglect church life. Not only is it hypocritical, but it’s damaging to their spiritual and relational health.  

I know of a senior pastor who told his church elders he was going to retire in a few months and the night he told them, he stopped giving financially to the church. He ended his online giving immediately, even though he had 100 days left to serve vocationally. Instead of storing up treasures in heaven, he was storing up acorns for the winter. To him, if he was done with the church mentally, he was done financially [Matthew 6:19-20]. 

I can imagine that retirement in ministry isn’t full of lavish riches. Things get tight. You won’t find “pastor” as a Forbes list best-paid professions. But even so, tithing shows that Jesus is the retired pastor’s God, not money. Not control. Not fear. 

I know of a retired pastor who serves in the children’s ministry of the church he served for years as the preacher and it’s such an example of what volunteering looks like. What an example he must be for the parents picking up their elementary kids. What an example he must be in the worship service as he humbly puts himself under the teaching and worship of other church leaders. 

If ministry was all about getting a paycheck and being noticed and having a feeling of power in decision-making, then yes, those retired pastors are not actively involved in a local church today. But if it was all for God’s kingdom and for a love for others, you’ll find a retired pastor and his family with towels and basins all over a local church family [John 13:14]. 

Privately and publicly support your previous church leadership. 

When a pastor gets fired or leaves a church frustrated, yes, then it can be difficult to honor a church leadership. Those who do so anyway have a maturity of faith that is God-honoring. 

When a pastor retires from a church after many years of service, it should be a great and easy opportunity to honor the elders and the new pastor in place. 

They should do this privately (because church members will flock to the retired pastor to give their opinion about decisions the current church leaders are making) and they should do this publicly (on social media, while hosting others over to their home). 

Both private and public support carry weight. I publicly boast about my wife all of the time. Her faith in God, her love for her family, her heart for those in need, her hospitable nature to make others feel at home and the fact that she carries the fruit of the Spirit [Galatians 5:22-23] around with her more than anyone I know. I am utterly blessed to be in her life. 

That is me praising her publicly. And while those things are true about her, if I never tell her personally what she means to me, in private, then I’m not really uplifting her as much as I could. 

The devil gets a foothold toward church divisiveness because a retired pastor refuses to encourage the church leadership publicly (people are watching his response) and privately (due to gossip, and stubbornness) [Ephesians 4:26-27].

If he feels uncomfortable praising the current church leadership, then that takes us back to his need to seek reconciliation with others. If he’s staying silent, either it’s due to a sin that has yet to be uncovered or a relationship with church leadership has yet to be mended. 

Be aware of  the motivation for your online presence. 

When a pastor leads a community of faith for so long, and then steps away, he has an overwhelming feeling of displacement. He isn’t seen up front as much anymore. He’s not counseling people in need as much anymore. Sometimes he and his family step away from the church they served completely and with that there are losses of relationships and a loss of influence.  

Sometimes, to over-compensate their displacement, they post pictures online of how amazing their life seems to be. They desperately want the church people they used to serve to know that they are out of the house, with others, still trying to make a difference. 

They still want to feel they matter as their pulpit has been replaced by selfies. 

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed this, but have you seen that the most active people on Facebook are women and male pastors? I don’t see a lot of non-pastor males posting as much as male pastors do. There’s a large insecurity inside each church leader that screams for people to notice and like them.  

It’s fine to post every time you go to a restaurant with someone. Every time you go golfing with someone. Every service project you do. Every vacation you take. I’m not against it at all. I’m just curious as to why that is done. What’s motivating it?

And this is my point with these things a retired pastor should be doing. If a retired pastor is posting constantly about how great his life appears, it could be a clear indicator that he hasn’t reconciled relationships with those he hurt and who hurt him, he doesn’t have close, real friendships, he’s not involved in a local church and he doesn’t support his previous church’s current leadership. 

You might want to lovingly ask him if he’s done those things. 

Finally: 

Dream what’s next. 

Many have heard the phrase, If you’re still breathing, God isn’t done with you yet. While this isn’t a scriptural reference, there is still truth to it. Just because a church leader resigns from vocational ministry doesn’t mean they’ve resigned from serving God and serving others in big, impactful ways. 

Sure retirement can be full of loving on grandkids and entertainment and traveling but dream what could be next along with those blessings. 

I just don’t understand why so many pastors just get online and share articles when they have such a wealth of knowledge, wisdom and experience to write their own articles to help others. 

They should be writing worship music. They should be mentoring pastors. They should be evangelizing to their loved ones and neighbors. They should be leading a small group. They should be involved in international missions. They should start a non-profit. They should pray big prayers. Sadly, many don’t (in fact, 95% of pastors admit to not praying daily and to not ever praying with their spouse). 

I hope every retired pastor is like Simeon, the religious leader in the Temple in Jerusalem, who was promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he laid his eyes on Jesus [Luke 2:26]. 

The greatest event in Simeon’s long life occurred at the end of his life this side of heaven. 

If Simeon had stopped thanking God, stopped serving others, stopped his ministry of reconciliation and stopped trusting God to show up in his life, would he ever have held the Messiah in his arms?

My heart in writing this is for retired pastors and their wives and retired church leaders to not settle in life. Jesus came so that we would experience life to its fullest potential, and the hope He has for us to do so doesn’t end when our paychecks from the church conclude [John 10:10].

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. [John 14:27]

May each pastor, retired or not, have the peace to pursue these seven actions. Don’t be troubled or afraid to do so. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

One thought on “What Every Retired/Former Pastor Should Be Doing

  1. Good article about retired pastors. I am retired with plans to be a transitional (intentional) pastor – before Mr. Virus hit. I’ve been told to write a book, although it may be in response to my many stories. 🙂 I just started a blog three weeks ago, and I’m still figuring out the mechanics. Could you check out my blog clearthemurk.com ? Tell me what you think. I like your thinking, so I’ll follow you. My first major blogging addressed Worry (in three parts with a Reflection on the message added on). I just now finished posting about Tips for Nominating Committees. I hope you find any of those worthwhile to at least scan through. I’m looking forward to future blogs by you. And I must say, this blogging stuff is tiring! I haven’t seen your background yet, but I did see a reference to Southwestern. I have earned an M.Div. in Religious Education (that’s the actual degree) from what was then Golden Gate and a Master of Social Work from Southern. I’m now 70 (Wow! That’s older than I used to be!) and pretty retired during home shutdowns. Have a great weekend!

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