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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.

In our conversations with pastors in the third third of their pastoral careers we at Thrive encountered different approaches to retirement planning. Some pastors made detailed plans while some were wired instead to make very general plans that would get fleshed out later, on an as-needed basis. 

Rev. Bert Slofstra began to think seriously about his upcoming retirement when he had been at his congregation for twenty years and there were still seven years before he would actually retire. Even though retirement was still a few years in the future he created a list of six retirement-related questions that he wanted to answer:

1. Should I take on another ministry adventure in another church before I retire? That is, should I remain in my current church rather than look for a call elsewhere?

2. When should I retire? 

3. Would we have the financial resources to be able to retire?

4. Where would we live when we retire? 

5. If we stayed in the same town/city of the church we retired from, and there were multiple CRC congregations there, where would we maintain our church membership?

6. What would I do in retirement?

You might think of other questions that Bert could have considered, but this was Bert’s list. And over time Bert (and his wife) generated answers to these six questions. These answers guided them for the last season of Bert's full time ministry, which ended up taking place in the church that he had already been serving for twenty years. 

Especially noteworthy is Bert's work with the church's executive council. Upon Bert's return from a sabbatical, four years after starting to think about retirement, he spoke openly with the executive council about his hopes and dreams. They decided together to bring the full council and congregation into the conversation a year later, at which point the council did three things:

1. Set up an evaluation team to determine specific plans and goals for the final two years of Bert's time as pastor. This conversation had the feel of an exit interview in some ways, and it was with this team that a final retirement date was set.

2. Set up a calling committee to do some preliminary work to get the church ready to call its next minister. 

3. Set up a farewell celebration team. 

Subsequent to taking these actions Bert and the council then created and adopted a memorandum of understanding, guiding Bert’s relationship with the church following retirement. He says that he would strongly recommend any retiring pastor do this. It guided the relationship for a long while afterwards, even when Bert and his wife moved their memberships to another congregation.

Our expectation is that some of you later career pastors will cheer this approach and some of you will dismiss it. But we want you to have this story in hand, as something to work from– either in alignment with it or in contrast to it.

NOTE #1: This story was initially shared by Bert at a Later Career Pastors’ virtual gathering, hosted by Thrive in October of 2019. We are grateful to Bert for his permission to share it with you.

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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