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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.

As noted in another blog in this series, congregational ministry is a public ministry. As a result, the minister’s decision to retire affects more people than just the minister and the minister’s family. There are also the men, women, and children of the congregation to think about, particularly the congregation’s leadership.

We’ve already noted in this resource that your church’s leadership can be a source of insight and collaboration for you as you engage this transition. As we said there, you and your closest leaders can set goals together for your remaining time with your congregation, and produce a blueprint or roadmap for pursuing those goals. That blueprint or road map can be built on the timeline that we describe in another blog. Once developed it could be proposed to your council for its approval, and then provided to your congregation for their information. 

We’ve also noted that the decision about when to announce your retirement date is an important one. As you consider when to announce it you might want to think small-to-large in terms of the circles of people with whom you share this important information. Start by communicating your specific plans with the primary leaders on your council or board– an executive team or administrative team. Enlist their help in determining when and how to make your announcement more broadly– to the full council and then, at some point, to the congregation.

Let’s also recognize that you have a responsibility to get the church’s leaders ready for your transition out of full time ministry, so that there isn’t a vacuum when you leave your post. Talk with them about the elements of your job that will no longer be done by you after you leave. Give them plenty of opportunity to explore with you whether all of those things will continue to be necessary for the life of the church. One of the pastors we talked to created a small handbook for his leaders, in which he described all of the ministries that he was involved in- those that they regularly experienced themselves as well as the “behind the scenes” work that the pastor had been doing. Included in his handbook were descriptions of all those ministries, the “why” behind them, and procedures related to them. The handbook gave his leaders a full view of what he had been doing, and enabled them to assess the ongoing value of each one.

If you have been at your post for more than ten years then you might want to suggest to your council that they explore contracting with a Specialized Transitional Minister (STM), someone who can help the congregation transition from grief to peace, from mission-ambiguity to mission-clarity, from life with you to whatever is next. There is plenty of information available for you and the congregation’s leaders on the denomination’s STM website.

It is worth making clear here that you should speak in ways that express your wisdom and experience AND that leave your church’s leaders free to set their own course. After all, they are the ones who will remain with the church after your departure. This is especially true when it comes to the conversation about the congregation’s next pastor. You may have thoughts to share, but share them wisely and sparingly. Make it a habit to ask your leaders if they would like to hear more or less of your thoughts about the future, and honor their responses. Remember, this congregation has been yours to shepherd, but your shepherding has always been in the service of the One to whom these people actually belong, God himself. 

Finally, take advantage of the season prior to retirement to engage people in conversation about your time with them, doing ministry together. Several pastors took the time to tell us that they experienced some of the sweetest conversations of their ministries during this season, conversations that were unencumbered by normal ministry pressures and filled with gratitude to one another and to God.  

Reflection Questions:

  1. What does the church’s leadership need from me? 
  2. What do they NOT need from me? 
  3. Do they feel as if they have my permission to share their perspectives on this?
  4. Do I feel as if I have their permission to share my perspectives with them?
  5. How do we honor God’s sovereignty and Jesus’ headship over the church in all of this?
  6. How do we honor human agency in all of this?

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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