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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. 

In a previous article we talked about the importance of planning. Let’s get a bit more specific now, and think about creating a timeline for your transition into retirement.

It's important to plan for the time after your retirement. But what about the time leading up to when you retire? In a previous article we talked about the importance of planning. Let’s get a bit more specific now, and think about creating a timeline for your transition into retirement. This post will help you prepare you, your council, and your congregation for your retirement from professional ministry.

Note: While there is a variety of opinions on the best length of time for this transition we advocate for a 3-5 year time window. That might seem longer than necessary, but a longer time horizon is wise because:

  • Such important projects are best started when you don’t have to make quick decisions based on a fast-approaching retirement deadline.
  • There is enough space on the calendar to revisit key decisions if needed.
  • There is plenty of time to involve the many voices of those you wish to consult.

Don’t panic if you are already within that 3-5 year time window! Perhaps you work better under close deadlines or perhaps your life has taken a turn that makes it necessary to retire sooner than you had initially planned. Much of the work here can be compressed into a shorter time frame if needed. 

Now is a good moment to get out your computer and create a folder for all the information that you are going to gather related to “What’s Next”. You’ll want to create a specific file in which you can list the key elements of your transition, things that can be plotted on a timeline. That list might include items such as those named below. Take note: Your timeline doesn’t have to be perfect. You should probably assume that some things on the list will change along the way. But it’s important that you begin the process sooner rather than later.

3-5 years prior to retirement: Getting started

  • Create a rough timeline for the remaining years and months prior to retirement.
  • Determine key moments during the transition into retirement when you will release key elements of your work (1), and how those release dates relate to the timing of your announcement to the congregation of your retirement. 
  • Determine key moments during the transition into retirement when you will engage personal/couple retreats for reflection, renewal, and rest.
  • Consult a physician for a thorough health assessment, to anticipate any medical or surgical needs that might arise.
  • Create a discernment team. Establish a meeting rhythm (this might adjust over time, becoming more frequent as key decisions loom or as your retirement date approaches).
  • Decide whether or not to engage the help of a professional counselor during your transition.
  • Discuss financial strategy with a financial advisor and tax professional. There are some key financial decisions that, if made early enough before retirement, can bring significant benefit during retirement.

1-2 years prior: Making key decisions

  • Develop the timeline further so that it includes all of the details related to your transition into whatever-comes-after full time ministry work.
  • Decide your retirement date and determine how the transition will unfold.
    • In stages or all at once? 
    • When will key aspects of ministry be relinquished?
    • When will key aspects of your personal and married life be transitioned into the new reality of the next season of your life?
  • Decide where to “land” in retirement.
  • Create a sense for how you would like to relate to your current congregation after leaving full time ministry in it.

6 months to 1 year prior: Implementing decisions

  • Announce to the council your plans to retire, and gain their approval (see Church Order article 18a, which specifies that retirement shall take place with the approval of the council and the classis). 
  • Present a request to your council a request for retirement, and arrange with your council to contact your classis re: the plans for your emeritation, so as to gain the approval of both council and classis.
  • Partner with the council to create a retirement planning team for the congregation’s transition into whatever-comes-after-you.
  • Announce to the congregation your plans to retire, providing them with the date of your final day in full time ministry.
  • Contact the U.S. Social Security office/Canadian Pension Plan, filling out any registration forms that are required.
  • Contact the denomination’s pension office to alert them to your retirement plans.
  • Decide on a faith community to participate in after retirement.
  • Decide farewell arrangements (farewell service, etc.).

During the final six months of your full time ministry: Prepare to leave full time ministry.

  • Explore options for your involvements and commitments after full time pastoral ministry.
  • Confirm plans with Social Security/Canadian Pension Plan; denominational pension office; financial planner; tax professional.
  • Meet with key people from your ministry life, people to whom you want to express regret or gratitude, with whom you want to celebrate life, or for whom you want to pray.
  • Deliver final sermon/sermon series.
  • Implement farewell arrangements.
  • Plan how you will celebrate and mark, for yourself, the transition out of full time ministry.

After full time ministry: Live your new reality.

  • Implement the plans for how you will mark your transition out of full time ministry. Take that trip. Move into your new setting. Visit old friends from days gone by. Test drive a few new hobbies.
  • Avoid starting any new ministry commitments for a season. Let the reality of your retirement materialize somewhat so that your new commitments emerge from your retirement rather than from your full time ministry. 
  • Remember that while your career may have concluded, your vocation has not. Establish new commitments that align with the vocation that God has given you, that bring you joy and peace, that can function as part of your ongoing contribution to the Kingdom.

There are, most certainly, other ways to arrange all of these items. There are probably other items to add to the list!  But, again, now is the time to create your own timeline so that you have a good picture of how you would like to experience all that lies ahead. 

As noted in the list provided here, you can begin with a rough list of basic items, and then develop the list by adding the more detail-specific items later on. Feel free to attach dates to the items on the list as you develop clarity about them. Some items, the larger ones, will be easier to attach dates to than others. Start with the large or basic items on your list. Since you have given yourself plenty of time for this work (ideally), you can rearrange your list as needed.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to note them below in the comments section.

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". More resources will be forthcoming throughout 2023 and 2024.

 

Comments

Perhaps I missed it or perhaps it's assumed. This entire transitional period should be bathed in prayer. As pastors approach the retirement age, I regularly encourage them to take sabbatical time (3 months) to devote to prayer and to discern God's will for this next chapter in your life.

I hate the notion that ministers MUST retire from active ministry by age 66. This should be viewed more as a time of transition from full time pulpit ministry to ..... whatever is next.

 

While this piece is focused on what the minister should do to prepare himself for the transition, this is also an incredible time for the congregation to engage in succession planning.  In my work with churches (and other non-profits), we advocate and facilitate full day succession planning workshops that involve the church's leadership -- elders, deacons, search committee, ministry leaders. It's a time to celebrate where you've been but then also to dream about what the church will (ideally) look like in 5 years.

It's a time to review the church's mission and vision statements. We also have all participants provide three words that describe the church. We have the participants take part in a SWOT analysis: What's working, what's not working, what are the opportunities, what are the threats.

The minister is usually involved in this process. Then he/she leaves the room.

The participants are encouraged to dream about what the church will ideally look like in 5 years. (eg. grow the church by 100 participants, increase youth ministry, become more missional, improve on discipleship)

This is an opportunity to celebrate the gifts of the outgoing pastor and to mention the areas of weakness.

The participants then develop a job description of their next pastor: is the focus on preaching? evangelism? mission? administration? visioning? What about preferred age of the pastor, gender, ethnicity.

Participants leave that full day session aligned around who their next pastor should be.

As the outgoing pastor leaves his years of ministry at the church, the church develops it's 'next chapter', building on the past.

 

Took me a while, Keith, but I saw your reflections just now, and want to respond with thanks for sharing them. Stay tuned...there will be more articles in the new year related to this important transition, the transition into later career and retirement. I'll be dealing with some of the spiritual, emotional, and relational issues, as well as more practical matters such as when and how to make known your plans for retirement. Grace and peace to you! Dave 

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