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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.

If you are ordained as a minister of the word in the Christian Reformed Church, then the Church Order has something to say about your retirement! Here is the text that addresses ministers’ retirement, from article 18:

18a. A minister who has reached retirement age, or who because of physical or mental disability is incapable of performing the duties of the office, is eligible for retirement. Retirement shall take place with the approval of the council and classis and in accordance with synodical regulations.

18b. A retired minister shall retain the title of minister of the Word and the authority, conferred by the church, to perform official acts of ministry. Supervision shall remain with the church last served unless transferred to another congregation. The supervising church shall be responsible for providing honorably for the minister’s support and that of qualifying dependents according to synodical regulations.

18c. Should the reasons for retirement no longer exist, the minister emeritus shall request the council and classis which recommended the retirement to declare the minister eligible for call.

Note that the supplement to this article provides additional information related to the standard retirement age, the option to retire early, and what sorts of things count as “official acts of ministry”. 

As noted in a previous blog, the denomination’s pension office begins its process of benefit distributions only when it learns from the classis, by way of the official meeting minutes, that you have been granted approval for your retirement. With that indication in hand the pension office has authorization to provide you, if you are an ordained minister in the CRCNA, with denominational pension benefits. Give this process plenty of time, to accommodate for the fact that classes typically meet only 2 or 3 times a year.

Q: What if you are a commissioned pastor?

If you are a commissioned pastor serving as a lead pastor in a local congregation then, sadly, you do not qualify for denominational pension benefits. Upon your retirement the classis may decide to confer upon you the title of commissioned pastor emeritus, but there are no financial benefits associated with that title (see Church Order article 24-e, supplement; see also the Commissioned Pastor Handbook, Rev. 2019, pp. 31-32, 38-39). Of course, the classis may grant permission to the commissioned pastor emeritus to continue to perform official acts of ministry within the classis. 

Q: What happens to your church membership upon retirement?

If you are ordained then your membership and ministerial credentials remain in the church last served unless you request a transfer to another congregation.

Q: What if you desire to remain a member of the church from which you retired?

Be careful! There are both wonderful stories and troubling stories of pastors who have remained in the congregations they last served prior to retirement. Synod 2009 took up the matter of ministers who, upon retirement, decided to remain in the congregations they last served, in response to concerns that some retired pastors were causing challenges for church councils and for the pastors who came after them. The report produced by that year’s synod can be found in the Agenda for Synod 2009, pp. 42-52 and the Acts of Synod 2009, pp. 575-576 (see especially the “Guidelines for Congregations and Former Pastors”).

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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