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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.

There were twenty six Christian Reformed Church (CRC) pastors in the room. All of them had come, in January of 2023, to talk about retirement. All of them were living and working in the North American setting. But alongside the Caucasian pastors who had come, most of the pastors were from Hispanic, Korean, Chinese, African-American, Indigenous, Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander (SEAPI) faith communities.

Here are some key observations from this multiple-perspective conversation:      

Observation #1: 

CRC Pastors who come from BIPOC contexts seem to experience conversations about retirement differently from Caucasian pastors. For example:

  1. In BIPOC cultures one’s work is more often an expression of one’s identity as a human being than one’s identity as human doer. As a result, the conversation about coming to an official conclusion of doing (retirement) is not as natural as it might be in Caucasian settings. 
  2. In BIPOC cultures ministry is not as often experienced as a professional career choice as it might be in a Caucasian setting. For this reason “retirement” as a concept seems to make less sense than in the Caucasian setting.
  3. In BIPOC cultures ministry is more often seen as a vocation– something you were born to do for your entire life. In fact, many BIPOC pastors were heard to say, “We don’t retire in my community!” 
  4. In general, the concept of retirement is a relatively recent development in Western culture, one that isn’t easy to integrate into many BIPOC settings. At the time of this writing there is a national conversation in France on what the standard retirement age should be (it is currently set at 62), and the foundational assumption is that retirement is an entitlement, a right earned by anyone who has worked at a job or career until a certain age. That assumption is not native to BIPOC settings.

Observation #2:

BIPOC pastors in the CRC generally experience less financial security in retirement than Caucasian pastors do.

  1. In BIPOC cultures there is greater value placed on community and interdependence. Concern for individual, financial preparations for retirement may be less natural in such a setting.
  2. Many BIPOC pastors are from small congregations that have not been able to pay into any kind of pension fund, denominationally-sponsored or otherwise, leaving their pastors without sufficient vestment.
  3. Many BIPOC pastors are bivocational or covocational, a situation in which there aren’t the same institutional advantages as would be experienced in monovocational settings (full time benefits, retirement planning assistance, pension benefits, etc.).
  4. Many BIPOC pastors are commissioned pastors, but are ineligible for denominational pension benefits in the CRC setting. 
  5. Upon entering ministry in the Christian Reformed Church many BIPOC pastors were not attentive to or aware of the need to prepare financially for retirement. As a result, they are less financially equipped for retirement.

The pastors who participated in this retirement conversation recognized that the concept of retirement is rich with blessing, especially when linked to with the concept of vocation. But they also noted that there is work to be done to address inequities described here, and to think more broadly about what it means to retire from ministry in a multicultural setting.

Our hope is that those who read this blog and the resource of which it is a part are able to integrate this awareness into their planning for retirement. Give thanks to God if you are well provided for! Recognize the concept of retirement for what it is: A relatively recent phenomenon that makes sense in a Western cultural setting, but not necessarily in other cultural settings. If you are not well provided for then find people in your congregation and classis who can be your advocates, helping you to lay a more solid financial foundation for your upcoming retirement.

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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