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

Balancing Work and Rest Post-Pandemic

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So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. (Genesis 2:1-2 / NLT)

Most evenings in our households while putting our young daughters to bed this is what the routine looks like: pajamas on, teeth brushed, hug mommy goodnight, have daddy read a fictional book and a chapter from their children’s Bible, then, prayer and kisses (and then they have the endless excuses to stay up like: I’m hungry, I’m not sleepy, I’m itchy, my tongue hurts, I’m afraid of that fly I saw earlier outside, etc). 

The other night for their children’s Bible time we read the creation account where God the Creator creates the world in six days. 

To their numerous amount of questions I was explaining everything God had done in the Creation week to my  daughters. I’m saying, God did this. God then did this. God then brought the animals. God then made Adam and Eve. 

One of the girls takes the children’s Bible from me and puts it under her sheets as if she was tucking in her own child to sleep. She looks at me and says, God needs to go to nap time.

She doesn’t comprehend it yet, but God doesn’t rest on Saturday because He was beat. God worked and accomplished so much, but He the reason He rests on Day 7 wasn’t because He was all plumb-tuckered out. 

God didn’t wear himself out to the point He needed to go to Florida for some R & R. He wasn’t like, “Oh, man! I pulled a hamstring. I got calluses. Whoo, making the goats, that was exhausting. I’m not as young as I used to be.

But what God did, God finished his work, and then He rested.

The point of rest is this: To enjoy life.

Did you know that? 

The point of resting is to enjoy life. So many people work and don’t enjoy life. 

I know people who work really hard to get a boat and don’t go boating.
I know people who work really hard to get a car and never go for a drive.
I know people who work very hard to have a vacation property and don’t vacation.
I know people that got married and don’t go out on dates.
I know people that have kids and don’t hang out with them. 

It’s because they keep working. They can’t stop. They won’t stop until they completely crash and harm what is good in their lives. This is why we have rates of burnout and anxiety and depression, because people just keep going until they absolutely come undone. 

What God is saying is this, “Work hard for most of the week. Work hard, do work that honors me, make things good and very good. But then, take your day off. Sleep, rest, enjoy. Don’t just work all the time.

I am concerned about what life is going to look like post-Covid-19 for some of you because still, after all of this time seeing how things are out of our control, you think everything is up to you and you have to work constantly and you’re fraying yourself, you’re going to come undone and you’re missing moments with your loved ones. 

When I moved to Brooklyn, NY right out of college, during my time there I didn’t take a day off. I had three jobs. I slept 4-6 hours a night. I burned myself totally out. I was frustrated and angry and easily agitated. I was not as pleasant to my friends, or my roommates and I treated the girl I was dating at the time in a disrespectful way. I can’t blame that on anyone. That was absolutely my sin that I needed to repent of.

And it was all due to not resting. 

The point of rest is to enjoy life and when I refuse to rest I harm the good life I’ve been given. 

It’s the person who hasn’t slept and is stressed out and freaked out and angry and agitated and then their productivity suffers. Those who don’t rest well, don’t work well.

It’s the person who works hard and well, and then rests and plays hard and well, and then goes back to work that has this rhythm in their life. 

I have parented two toddlers in my history of being a dad. Toddlers play hard, they work hard and they sleep hard. Toddlers have rhythm. It’s how we’re created. If they get off that rhythm, the ugly side comes out. 

Adults aren’t much different. 

The subtle thing behind people who work too much is this: If you don’t take a day off, and if you don’t take a nap, and if you don’t cease from your work to enjoy what God has given you and what you’ve done by his good grace, then you are demonstrating to the world that you don’t trust God. 

(you might want to read the above paragraph again, slowly)

Those who work too much, too late in the day, at night and on the weekends when their family is around, checking their phone all vacation, they’re saying, If I don’t work, it all falls apart because God’s not sovereign and he doesn’t hold things together.

If we don’t take time to worship and we don’t take time to rest, we don’t take time to love, we’re being terrible followers of Jesus. We’re sending out very mixed messages about God to our loved ones and to the world, This is the God who’s sovereign, but I have to keep everything under control.

But, the person who works hard, takes time day off seriously, enjoys their family and their friends and enjoys their hobbies – those are people who live better lives and longer lives. They leave a legacy that is more productive. We should rest. 

Don’t feel guilty about resting, it’s biblical. 

I can think of two types of people who have the hardest time having a Sabbath and a rhythm of rest. 

(1) The Self-Employed and (2) The Mother

Those who are self-employed struggle to rest and find boundaries in their schedule because they don’t have a boss, and they just keep working. And mothers, because on the weekends, their kids are still there. Motherhood never ends (in a good but exhausting way). 

No matter the case, when some type of normalcy begins to occur, it’s going to be important for those of you who have fast-paced lives make sure that you still Sabbath, that you get your date night if you’re married. That you get time with family and friends. That you make time for a Bible study. That you make time for prayer. That you can put the phone down. 

People can get real legalistic about Sabbath, they ask really detailed questions like, What constitutes as work – if I mow the lawn or bake a cake? Or if a go for a walk, is that work? Am I sinning against God? 

If you want to go for a walk and that’s restful for you and you enjoy the Lord, it’s a nice day, go for a walk. If for you it’s restful to take a nap, take a nap. If it’s restful for you to be out in your garden, then go work in your garden. If it’s restful for you to have people over and to have a big meal and to enjoy your family and friends, then enjoy yourself and have people over.

Let’s not argue too much about the Sabbath. It’s a gift that God gives for us to have joy and rest. And that’s why some people argue over the day. Well, is it Saturday, is it Sunday, is it this, or is it that? Paul says in Romans 14, it’s whatever. If Tuesday’s your day off, Sabbath on Tuesday. If your job forces you to work Sunday, and Wednesday’s your day off, enjoy Wednesday.

Some people have this picture of God, that when God tells us to do something, it’s bad, and we need to be defiant. I’m telling y’all, when God tells us to do something, it’s good. When I looked at my toddler daughter, and noticed, Whoa, Mr. Hyde is back in your personality. Toddler, go take a nap, that’s because I love her. I want her day to go well. I know what it’s going to look like if she doesn’t rest.

I know what my life will look like if they didn’t rest.

God’s just like that. God’s a good Dad, who looks at us and says, “You need to rest today. You need to just read and pray and hang out. It’s a nice day, go for a drive. Go for a walk. Go for a bike ride. Take a deep breath of fresh air. It’s a nice warm winter day. I’ve given you the whole world – get out of your cubicle, go enjoy a little bit of it. Go play some golf. Go read a book. Take your preacher out to Chili’s with you.” 

Alen Cohen says, “There is virtue in work and there is virtue in rest. Use both and overlook neither.” 

We have been given the gift of rest and time with God and with loved ones for a couple months now. All I’m inviting you to do is discipline yourselves to, when you go back into life once the restrictions lift, is to keep rest in your week. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z