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THE NEED FOR PLANNING

If you are in the later years of your ministry career then you have probably started looking ahead to retirement. Maybe you anticipate that season of life as a time of freedom to volunteer, travel, spend time with family, develop new (or ongoing) hobbies, and so on. If you are married then your spouse likely has thoughts on what that season of your life together will look like. You sense that it is time to start making preparations for retirement, but realize that you have no idea where to start. 

Let’s start by stating the obvious: Good planning is important! Planning for whatever comes next will help you to finish full time ministry well and begin retirement fruitfully. It will also help your congregation to come alongside you in meaningful ways, to celebrate with you what God has done during your time together, and to discern what they might work on after your time with them is complete. 

How much time is needed for you to plan and prepare well? Probably 3-5 years. That might seem like a long time, but the retired pastors that we’ve talked to tell us that taking lots of time is worth the effort. It doesn’t mean that you announce your retirement 3-5 years before your retirement date, but it does mean that you begin to think about the transition into whatever-comes-next for a significant season before you plan to lay your full time, pastoral work down.

REFLECTING ON YOUR MINISTRY

As you begin to think about retiring from active ministry you would be wise to take time regularly to sit back and reflect on your ministry career, your identity as a pastor, and your hopes for the future. Among the things you might think about are these: 

  • What sort of pastoral identity came to shape the way that you saw yourself and the way that you presented yourself to others…and how authentically did that identity represent the real you? 
  • What values have characterized your ministry…and how have those values changed over the years?
  • What components of ministry gave you life, and what drained you of energy? How did these things change from season to season or from setting to setting?
  • What habits and patterns have you developed during your ministry? Which ones brought you great blessing or great challenge or both?
  • What places have you been in ministry? Is there a theme that you might name for each of your major ministry settings?
  • Who showed you something of God or something of the brokenness of the Fall or both? How do you hold these people in your mind and heart today? What might you do to thank the top ten people on that list?
  • What plans and goals did you make that came to life beautifully…or not so beautifully…or not at all?
  • What professional development did you engage in, and how did it impact your ministry? 
  • If you are or were married then what role did your spouse and family play in your ministry? How did your spouse and family bring blessing and/or challenge to your ministry? How did you bring blessing and/or challenge to them?
  • When and how did God “show up” memorably? What did that do to your soul? What do these memories do now?

By the way, if you are married then seek the input of your spouse and perhaps your children. You may also wish to have conversations with trusted colleagues who witnessed parts of your ministry. Don’t forget the input of spiritual directors or professional mentors that you have engaged (or might still engage). 

Write down what you discover. Discuss your discoveries with others. Don’t let negative observations get you down. Reviewing one’s life and career may lead to promising results. Some of your conclusions may still enrich the remaining years of your ministry, and they may help you set direction for your retirement years.

INVOLVING YOUR COUNCIL/BOARD

It is important that your current church council or board becomes a partner with you in shaping the remaining years of your pastorate. To some degree, this season of your ministry resembles a term call. How can this more-or-less clearly defined period of time become maximized to the benefit of both you and your church? 

Together you might outline the needs of the church at this time in its history. How can your gifts, skills, and interests be put to the best possible use? You may agree to assume some new ministry obligations and discontinue others. Your council may then want to recruit qualified volunteers to round out the overall ministry program. 

You and your council might be wise to appoint a small planning team, consisting of perhaps three or four persons. Together you can set goals for your remaining years, and produce a blueprint to propose to your council and congregation. At some point consider sharing and discussing this with the congregation in a town-hall meeting or some other venue that provides people with the opportunity to hear and to speak into your plans. Note that there is a suggested timeline provided in another post.

Of course, if your relationship with your current congregation is characterized by tension and challenge then it would be wise to enlist the support of the ministry consultants of Thrive, the Christian Reformed Church’s agency that supports and encourages pastors and congregations.

Resources to take along into your reflection times:

  • “Diary of a Pastor’s Soul” by M. Craig Barnes (Brazos Press, 2020)
  • “The Emotionally Healthy Leader: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply Transform Your Church, Your Team, and the World” by Peter Scazzero (Zondervan, 2015)
  • “Falling Upwards: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life” by Richard Rohr (Jossey-Bass, 2011)
  • “Flourishing in Ministry: How to Cultivate Clergy Wellbeing” by Matt Bloom (Rowman and Littlefield, 2019)
  • “The Gift of Years: Growing Old Gracefully” by Joan Chittister (Blueridge Publishing, 2010)
  • “The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life” by David Brooks (Random House, 2019)

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". This article is part of a collection of essays serving as a guide for the nuanced process of retiring from pastoral ministry. The rest of the resources are coming soon!

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