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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.

In your new season of life, the season after full time ministry, you will have more opportunity to be in relationship with people as a person rather than as a pastor. The role of minister will no longer be the primary lens through which people see you, and it won’t be the platform on which you will interact with them. This, in turn, could lead you into a more natural way of meeting key, personal needs that have always been a part of your life: The needs for intimacy and reciprocity. 

Almost all of us have a need to be known deeply and to know others deeply. We call that “intimacy”. We also need to be in relationships in which there is the mutual exchange of love, support, responsiveness, and attention. We call that “reciprocity”. God Himself exists in this way, within the three-person community called the Trinity, and we are made in His image. We are made to be in relationships with others that feature, among other things, intimacy and reciprocity. 

Your ministry role sometimes got in the way of you experiencing both of these things in your relationships with others. 

First of all, there were many in your life who came to you primarily so that you could help them with their needs– their needs for comfort, encouragement, wisdom, and connection with God. They came at all hours, mired in complicated situations, hoping for a good word and perhaps some practical solutions. Especially in our consumerist age, they might even have approached you and your ministry gifts as commodities that were theirs to consume. They didn’t consciously think of you in that way, but the fact remains that they did not make it a practice to come to you because of what they could do for you. They came to you because of what you could do for them. You probably felt that both as a weight and as something deeply satisfying.

In this new situation of life, you won’t face that dynamic as much. Sure, there will always be some who will still want to experience you as a service provider, so to speak, but there will no longer be any formal expectation that you meet them in this way. And was this even a healthy way to relate to you in the first place? Probably not.

Secondly, you yourself will no longer be driven, by your ministry role, to see other people primarily in terms of their needs. The people who remain in your life, after your transition into the new season, will not be items on your to do list, boxes to check off, affirmations to win, or projects to complete.  Again, was this ever a healthy way to relate to people in the first place? As tempting as it often was to view people in that way while you were in full time ministry, it was probably not the healthiest way to connect with them. The people who remain in your life will, if you let them, engage you in a reciprocal way– with readiness to bless you while receiving blessing from you.

In your new life situation the needs you have for intimacy and reciprocity will be more often and more naturally be met as the ministry role no longer functions as the arbiter for how many of your relationships roll out. The relationships that you engage in will no longer depend on you being a resource, a service provider, or a performer. You will be more able and free to develop relationships that are intimate and reciprocal, based on mutual trust and commitment to one another’s well being. 

It will be important for you to keep making interior adjustments to your new life situation. Can you make clear to yourself (and to the people who want to keep thinking of you as their pastor) that you aren’t available to them in that way any longer? While you may be inclined to assist them in the ways that they would like you to, their expectations may still be based on your former role, and they should not be allowed to determine how you will respond to them. Feel free to be helpful, but on your new terms rather than their old ones. And, in the interests of reciprocity, invite them to become aware of your needs as a retired person and to come alongside you in new ways. 

Your new season may also be a time for you to put on new “glasses”, so to speak – to see the people you once thought of in terms of their needs and demands in a more wholistic, nuanced, and balanced way. Can you see them as people with things to offer to you, as conversation partners rather than as religious students or apprentices in the faith? Can you forgive them for seeing you only in terms of a service provider? Can you confess before God that sometimes you saw them as mere projects rather than as people made in the image of God? Can you find new reasons to rejoice in what God provides to you in the people of your community? 

Again, we are describing skills that you may already have started building long ago. But in retirement these skills are especially helpful. They will lead you to experience life beyond full time ministry in healthy, life-giving, and community-affirming ways.

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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