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This resource is brought to you by Thrive as part of a published resource called Retirement from Pastoral Ministry: Guidance for a Healthy Transition.

Vocation has been a major theme in our discussion about your retirement. It is the life calling that God gave to you long before you thought about becoming a minister. It is the way that He called you to be in life, the way that you can contribute to the Kingdom that he is building, given the unique design of your personality and the unique context into which God placed you. It is also the thing that remains with you even as your full time ministry career concludes.

Now the question is this: How will you live into your vocation when a significant avenue for expressing it, your ministry career, comes to an end? How will you be faithful to the way God created you, faithful to your role as a Kingdom citizen, and faithful to what makes your heart sing as a human being? 

Consider this: In retirement most people are finally able to commit to ministry that doesn’t pay a lot, at a level that they find satisfying, and that engages passions and interests that they have had to set aside for many years.

Here’s a list of formal roles that open up in new ways as you retire:

  • Trained spiritual director
  • Coach/mentor for younger pastors
  • Coach for a little league sports team
  • Specialized Interim Minister
  • Mediation specialist
  • Congregational consultant
  • Interim pastor
  • Stated supply pastor
  • Pastor of visitation
  • Teacher
  • Program coordinator
  • Bible study leader
  • Classis clerk
  • Regional pastor
  • Church visitor
  • Volunteer at a local non-profit ministry
  • Support group facilitator

If you want to explore any of these roles you might be wise to connect with your classis’ leadership, neighboring churches and ministries, community organizations, or the denomination’s ministry to churches and pastors (1). 

All kinds of informal roles and ways of being open up for you as well. Maybe you hope to be more available to your family for taking care of little ones or looking after aging parents or a spouse with disabilities. Here are just a few other informal roles to think about:

  • Theologian in residence
  • Mentor/encourager (of young people, parents, church workers, etc.)
  • Adoptive grandparent to grandparent-less youth
  • Prayer resource
  • Student of life and scripture, and insightful contributor to conversations
  • Friend to the marginalized
  • Life coach
  • Student of home maintenance, and guide for DIYers
  • Student of computers, and helpful translator of technology for senior citizens
  • Student of plants and collector of ideas, and friend to gardeners everywhere
  • Artist (painter, woodworker, crocheter, sculptor, etc.)
  • Musician

Which of these roles align fruitfully with your vocation? Which of them could make your heart sing? Which of them might serve a need in your context? Try a few on for size, and see what fits. 

Just remember to keep up the good work of differentiating yourself from your roles – which had been important to do back when you were involved in full time ministry. Even if those roles are part-time, voluntary, and informal it will be important to be intentional about seeing yourself as a child of God before anything else. After all, you are not what you do. God never designed you that way. 

One more thing: Remember that your former identity as a full time ministry leader remains a part of your life, like an article of clothing that clings to you. Especially if you have chosen to remain in your former congregation, people will behave around you in ways that they were accustomed to behaving when you were their pastor. Use that feature of who you are as a gift to others, sharing your experience, training, and wisdom in ways that empower others, rather than as a way to seize control in some way.

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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