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This resource is brought to you by Thrive and is part of a series designed for ministers who are making plans for their retirements.

Over the years you’ve entered the lives and spaces of broken people, dysfunctional relationships, and flawed congregations. And you’ve been battered and bruised more than your fair share. Your family has probably experienced that in some way too. 

All to say: You can’t help but get hurt in ministry, unless you put on an emotional suit of armor every morning while on the job. Of course, once you start doing that then you stop being a pastor. 

Some of the injuries you have encountered have come because you were misunderstood, maligned, or mistreated in some way. Some of them have come because you gave of yourself heroically at times, in the face of a congregation member’s personal crisis or in the midst of a busy church season. Some of the injuries have been done to you. Some of them you have done to yourself. Many of them have come and gone without you even noticing. 

What have you done with all of that? Where did you go, during your ministry, with the accumulated experiences of challenges and crises, and the emotions they generated? Pain, disappointment, and grief don’t just disappear over time. They land somewhere. 

Many pastors enter their final season of full time ministry still harboring resentments from the past– over real or perceived betrayals in ministry, disappointments over the fact that people didn’t rise to their expectations, or losses of timely ministry opportunities that seemed so perfect. Those resentments then find ways to surface when something in today’s experience connects with a painful memory from years ago. 

It isn’t just the challenges and crises that accumulate, though. Many pastors experience loss innumerable times over the course of their ministries. Staff members leave. Moving away from congregations to begin work in other settings generates grief. Colleagues exit the ministry. Beloved church members die. 

An experienced pastor once said that at the funerals that occur in the first few years of ministry at a congregation you are simply burying congregation members. After a while, maybe five years or so, you’re burying friends. After ten years with the same congregation you’re now burying family. Over the course of a career you will have likely buried a lot of family and friends. That’s a lot of grief! 

Finally, many pastors find that regrets over ministry mistakes, lost opportunities, and broken relationships come to occupy their thoughts during the season of transition into retirement (1). These regrets can overshadow the joy and satisfaction that should be part of the experience of laying full time ministry aside and moving towards whatever is next.

Have you understood, named, and worked through the emotions that came specifically with your traumatic experiences and your regrets? Have you forgiven those who have hurt you in the past? Have you fully understood and accepted God's forgiveness of you? 

Take care of that through therapy and/or spiritual direction and/or personal retreat. If you haven’t already, then please set yourself up with someone who is qualified to walk with you through these things in ways that help you to integrate them properly into your story. You don’t want to end your career in bitterness, resentment, or cynicism.

NOTE: This article comes out of a study of ministry transitions, done by members of the Thrive staff of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. The studied transitions include the transition from later career into retirement. The guidance here is part of a larger retirement resource that updates a 2006 resource called "Closing Well — Continuing Strong." The full updated resource, now titled “Retirement from Pastoral Ministry: Guidance for a Healthy Transition,” can be found here on the Thrive website.

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