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This resource is brought to you by Thrive and is part of a series designed for ministers who are making plans for their retirements.

Virtually everything we have learned about pastors’ emotional health has this at its center: The value of community, conversation, and collaboration with peers. We’ve heard it in hundreds of discussions with pastors at all stages of their careers, and from those who have studied pastors’ wellbeing. Pastors who try to make their way through challenges and transitions alone generally experience greater stress, burnout, and levels of anxiety and depression.  

Matt Bloom, who directed the Lilly-funded “Flourishing in Ministry” project, found that peer-to-peer relationships should be part of a network of relationships in a pastor’s life, and that three additional relationship types were also important: Significant others (spouses, friends), members of the local church that a pastor is serving, and denominational leaders. Pastors need the supportive engagement of other people in order to stay healthy in ministry. 

Support During the Transition towards Retirement

If having a network of relationships is important for pastors during full time, pastoral ministry then it is not hard to imagine that this would also hold true for a pastor’s transition into life after full time, pastoral ministry. Here too it would be important to have the support, encouragement, and wisdom of others. 

This is precisely what a group of pastors concluded in 2023, after they had gathered regularly for over a year to think together about what comes after full time ministry. In one of their retreats, they talked about the importance of reviewing and reflecting on one’s career in conversation with others– as they had been doing for their year together. And as they shared their experiences in the transition, they normalized for one another the anxieties that come with it. They encouraged one another to trust God in all things. They shared helpful strategies for dealing with details of the transition. And they provided one another with companions for the road. 

They also talked about involving the support of others. Together they sensed that it would be wise to work with a counselor or therapist, someone who understands ministry and is able to ask great questions. You could think of a spiritual director as fitting for this role as well. They then asked together if it would also be helpful to gather a group of non-ordained people from your church that you, as a pastor, would respect and cherish as conversation partners. Such a group could be thought of as a discernment team. 

It goes without saying that this group should include your spouse, if you are married, but you could also involve other people from your congregation. Group members could be council members, but should be thought of as a different team from the discernment team described in another article. They could also be people from other settings. If they have a love for God and a love for you then they have two key qualifications for participation in such a group! 

After gathering your discernment team you might ask the people on it to pray and work with you through a number of questions related to the transition from full time ministry into retirement. 

Here are the questions developed by the pastors’ group referred to above:

  • What has made your heart sing in ministry?
  • What has robbed the song from your heart?
  • What has caused you grief?
  • How have you made your way through the experiences of grief?
  • Do you need to “rewrite your story” or a particular part of your story to help see the blessings of God even in the difficult experiences?
  • Have you forgiven those who have hurt you? When have you been forgiven?
  • Where have you seen God working?
  • What are some personal milestones in ministry that have shaped your faith?
  • What advice would you give to a pastor beginning in ministry? Where does that come from?
  • What realistic ministry expectations do you have for yourself as you enter retirement? How will you function to make that happen?
  • Will you feel guilty saying ‘no’?
  • How will your personal walk with the Lord continue without ministry motivation? How will you continue to mature in Christ?
  • What does it look like when a retired pastor is flourishing?
  • What does it look like when a retired pastor is floundering?
  • How will you notice and identify this? Who else will notice and identify this?
  • Is there value in having a “mentor” for retired pastors (as we do with new pastors)? Could this be part of a conversation with a spiritual director?
  • How have you seen God use you?
  • What have you learned about God in your time as pastor? (To expand this question: what have you learned about the church, about people, about yourself?)
  • Where does support for your spouse happen? Does your spouse need to go through a similar review/reflection/debrief at the end of active ministry?
  • Are there feelings in the hearts/minds of your children that need to be addressed?


These questions could be placed alongside the series of questions that appear in another blog this series, the reflection questions for yourself to consider. Perhaps all of these questions will inspire new and different discussions in your own mind and in the minds of those on your discernment team. 

In any case, let’s say it clearly again: The project of transitioning into retirement is best done with other caring people at your side. Research confirms this: Studies show that one of the most important factors in flourishing in the third third of life is having good relationships.

For your information: A proposed job description for the members of your discernment group can be found here.

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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