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I don’t want to be one of those pastors. I don’t want to be one who stays in a church even though it’s not a good fit, who keeps working just to get a paycheck, who refuses to retire even though  the congregation is unhealthy and in need of new leadership.

I don’t want to be one of those pastors. But I can see how I might just be tempted. In no other position will I ever be able to make the kind of money I make as a pastor. Greeting at the local Wal-Mart just won’t pay the bills.

I don’t want to be one of those pastors but I can justify it. May I not conclude that if God doesn’t call me to another pastoral ministry, He wants me to continue to serve my current congregation? That’s the logic I was once taught to apply to the practice of discerning God’s call.

I don’t want to be one of those pastors but if Pope Benedict could serve the church until he was nearly 86 years old, why can’t the Lord use me as I age – even thought I get around a little more slowly.

I don’t want to be one of those pastors but how do I know when it is time to retire? How do I know when it is time to step aside and let someone else take my place? In the wake of Benedict XVI’s retirement and transition to the role of Pope Emeritus, Christianity Today published an article by Ruth Moon entitled “Quitting Time: The Pope Retired. Should Your Pastor?”

Moon asks an excellent question. In her research, however, she discovered that many pastors have no plan to retire. She cites a 2009 study of one denomination that found that only 1 of 4 had plans for full retirement; more than that said they didn’t plan to retire at all.

But shouldn’t pastors have a plan or be open to the possibility of retirement? If the Lord is the one calls us to pastor one congregation and the one who call us to leave one congregation to serve another, should we not also conclude that God will be the one who calls us out of pastoral ministry? Ruth Moon thinks so and suggests that Protestant leaders take a cue from Benedict’s choice.

The fundamental issue, however, remains: How do we know when to step down? Surely the circumstances of life – such as health and finances – will inform our decision. But should our decision be limited to those factors? Shouldn’t our decision also be informed by other factors, such as the health, vision and goals of the congregation we serve? Who wants to be one of those pastors, the one who holds on to a position for personal benefit while the congregation struggles?

At the same time, I don’t want to encourage congregations to dispose of pastors simply because they are over the age of 60. As the recent retirement of Benedict XVI (at the age of 85) and election of Pope Francis (at the age of 76) illustrate: sometimes what the church needs is a seasoned veteran who has been following Christ and serving the church for decades.


Thought provoking piece, Sam.  Thank you.  We are both Calvin Seminary class of 1979 and the same age. 

Until this past fall I had planned to retire early from my current charge in Howard City, but God gave me a distinct nudge to accept a new challenge.  I thought at age 60 no church would be interested and was surprised to receive two calls a week apart.  In three months I head to Anchorage, Alaska to serve Trintiy CRC until retirement.  I am hoping for and expecting good things to happen.

There is a lot to be said for the wisdom and skill that comes from experience.  I encourage pastors not to stop using those gifts too quickly, and churches not to reject them too quickly, either.

Here is a link to the article Sam mentions:

Sam, a solid affirmation and resounding "Amen!" to your article.  I retired from fulltime  CRC ministry in 2002.  I wanted to continue for one more year to round out a full 10 years in my last charge.  The Lord, in some very loving ways, made it clear that it was time to move on, and I did. In the 11 years  since that decision. my wife and I have co-pastored 16 congregations in interim ministry. What a great joy that has been!  A failure to personally recognize that the Lord often doesn't intend to accomplish anything additonal in a current pastor's ministry can be detrimental to the health of the congregation and the pastor. Yes, there is life after fulltime congregational ministry. Congratulatons, Bill, on your upcoming move to Anchorage.  We served Trinity on interim and fell in love with them and Alaska!  Watch out for the moose in your backyard!

Bill Vis on March 28, 2013

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Bert, I will be two months short of ten year here when I leave.  I went exactly ten years at my last church.  Nothing to brag about, just how God prompted.  That said, I remember sitting with a pastor going through a nasty separation after about 13 or 14 years in his church.  As part of the process he needed to be evaluated by the occupational psychologist used by the denomination.  One thing that psychologist said has stuck with me ever since.  Very few people have the ability to effectively serve as the key leader of any American institution for more than ten years.  He pointed to Lee Iacocca at Chysler and others.  I think he was probably right.


We are looking forward to our first moose sighting.  Just hoping it is not on the Alaska Highway as we drive up.

We have a retired pastor who still preaches and takes temporary chrages. He said his best barometer is his wife. He keeps asking her, "Is it time to quit?"

What would you like to do as a pastor?

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