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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.

Two seasoned veterans of ministry life, ministers who were widely respected and often invited to serve in a variety of ministries after their retirements, confessed to us that transitioning into retirement had been neither simple nor easy. In fact, it had been among the most difficult things that they had encountered in their adult lives. It was a surprising admission from these wise and experienced pastors!

Retirement had indeed brought them all the good things that they had anticipated: More free time, satisfying rest from the relentless pace of congregational ministry, more travel, more family involvement, more freedom to determine what kinds of busy-ness they wanted to be involved in, and so on. They had discovered new hobbies and recommitted to a few old ones! However, they also wrestled, after leaving full time ministry behind, with deep questions related to their identities and their senses of purpose and belonging. There were new questions to consider, and sometimes it seemed as if those new questions had a familiar ring to them – as if they were really old questions in disguise.

One of the key changes that you make as you retire emerges from the shift of your life’s focus from doing to being. Your identity is no longer fed by the sweet aura of performance and achievement but is shaped by the reality of who you are, your redemption, your vocation, and your hope of eternal life – the unseen things. You remain a member of Christ’s body and a citizen of the kingdom, but you are no longer in charge of a specific ministry. 

The irony is that you are now invited to be more of what you have always preached: “I am not my own but belong to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ!” In other words, things are different and they are the same. The life situation is new, but the call to a certain kind of identity is the same as it has always been– as is the struggle with how to respond to that call.

As you began to move from being an active pastor to an emeritus pastor the prospect of being relieved of the work may have been pleasing to you—at least at times. Now that you are retired, the reality is that you are no longer the central figure, the one before whom the congregation gathers and on whom the church depends for so much. To have complete peace with that reality probably did not come without inner struggle. If you are no longer the pastor, who are you? What does it feel like to live without all those demands, schedules, and deadlines? Again, your new life situation is leading you back into an old conversation about who you are. 

In practical terms, you wake up every morning with new realities as part of your daily experience. The community that gave you esteem, sustenance, challenges, and even some power no longer enfolds you in its reassuring presence. Now your community has significantly changed. A variety of duties will still come your way, though probably less frequently. You will no longer perform them with ministerial authority as you once did. When tasks arrive, you will be asked to perform them in your capacity as a church member and not as an active, full time minister. In other words, you will be asked, in your new life situation, to perform them as an expression of your vocation. 

The great challenge of retirement then seems to be that you need to do what you were always meant to do, what you had always wanted to do, and what you had taught people to do: Find your being in Christ, and your vocation in the context of His Kingdom. In retirement, you will both discover and have quiet time to nourish the subtle, assuring joy of knowing yourself forgiven, accepted, and still commissioned by Christ, walking with him in his enduring company. 

From this faith-based self-identity comes a transformed community identity. You now relate to new people in your life for no other reason than that they are fellow human beings; some redeemed, some perhaps not. You show them kindness and they show kindness to you. You appreciate them and they appreciate you. You do them favors and perhaps they reciprocate. You may enjoy them regardless of their status and regardless of your own status. It is especially in old age that you discover the beauty of your uncluttered, unencumbered self, and you assess people around you the same way. 

There will be down moments when you feel listless, when you wonder what to do with your person, your means, your ambitions, and especially with your time. Time, you will learn, is such a strange commodity. Can you use your time as a gift, a blessing to be enjoyed, or will it be a problem to be solved? You will have time that is (as yet) uncommitted, time that is (still) available. Gradually you will see time as a blessing to be enjoyed rather than something to be endured. When doing (to Christ) flows from being (in Christ) your retirement experiences will have a quiet steady peace about them, even in the midst of trials.

The truth is that your vocation has now outlived your career. You are finding new ways to express the calling that God has always placed on your life. It will be wonderful. It will be a challenge. The constant will be God, his love, and his claim on your life. 

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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