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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.

What will your final year in full time ministry look and feel like? Much of that depends on your expectations of yourself as you enter that year. Here are two things to keep in mind: 

  1. Create realistic and sustainable goals.

A pastor who was preparing for retirement shared his list of things that he wanted to “take care of” before retiring. He named things that he wanted to train people to do, a sermon series he wanted to preach, a bible-reading campaign he wanted to start, a missional conversation he wanted to shepherd, a neighborhood ministry he wanted to develop, and so on. 

The pre-retirement to-do list sounded like a list of things that had been important at one time but then, for one reason or another, had been placed on a shelf in his ministry mind. They were things that he would get to when there would finally be enough time to do them justice. Now that retirement was looming and time was shortening he was feeling pressure to get them “taken care of”.

After naming the list he was asked, “What would happen if you focused on the reason that you entered ministry at your church in the first place? What if you put the list away and simply loved your people?”  

After a moment of quiet reflection he began to weep. It was as if someone had lifted a great weight off his soul. The relief was so overwhelming that he didn’t know what to do with it except to feel it. 

It was a vocation-recollection moment. It was a time for this pastor to remember what his vocation, his life’s calling, actually was. It was to love people in ways that helped them to see Jesus, and the burdensome list that had been developing in his mind over the years had been a well-intentioned but vocation-denying distraction. 

The final year of full time ministry is not the year to lose track of your vocation. It is the year to become even more clear about God’s call on your life, so that when you transition away from your ministry career you will still know who you are and what you are here for. If you are one to draw up goals for yourself then make sure that the goals for this final year are realistic and sustainable. And the best way to do that is to make sure that they relate as directly as possible to your true vocation. 

  1. Try to focus on the acts of ministry that make your heart sing.

This second point is related to the first one. We’ll start describing it by naming this reality: We all have lists of things that we have to do in order to do the things that we love to do, the things that make our hearts sing. For example, some of us do administrative work because we love it. Meanwhile, others of us do it merely because it supports the ministry that we love doing. In the same way, some of us do pastoral care work not because we are so great at it or love it so much, but because we know that it benefits the work that we truly love, the work of preaching. And some of us really love pastoral care work, and don’t naturally gravitate toward the work of preaching. 

Interestingly, perhaps not surprisingly, the list of things that bring us joy in ministry usually correlate to our true vocation. If God has designed you for certain ways of being and doing then being and doing in those ways will bring a certain amount of satisfaction, joy, and fulfillment.

In the final stretch of your full time ministry career it will be helpful to calibrate the balance between the “must do” items and the “love to do” items so that it is more weighted towards the “love to do” side. You’ll enjoy ministry more, and your people will likely become aware of that. It will be less likely that they will observe you “coasting” or “battling”, and more likely that they will see you engaging life with vibrance, eagerness, and joy. They will see you living out your vocation.

Make this a matter of the conversations that you have with your support people about your retirement. Ask them what they observe in you when you are doing certain things. Talk with them about building a weekly schedule for your final year that is a better expression of your vocation. May those conversations not primarily be about how much you can still accomplish in this final ministry year but about how you will be in ministry in this final ministry year– someone ministering vocationally and with joy.

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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