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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.

One of the signature features of congregational ministry is that a lot of it is done in public. Many people see you in your preaching role, your teaching role, your leadership roles, and so on. Even the work that you do in private, in one-on-one conversations, is work that the congregational “public” is often aware of in a general sense, and some of that work has an impact on the entire congregation itself.  

As a result, the minister’s decision to retire affects more people than just the minister and the minister’s family. There are also the men, women, and children of the congregation to think about. And while the date of your retirement will be a milestone for both you and the congregation, the moment that you announce the date will also be a bit of a milestone. It will kick off the season of the congregation’s own transition, its transition into whatever comes after you.  

As indicated in another blog in this series, there should be some strategy involved in deciding when to announce your retirement date to the congregation. Why? Because the announcement will bring a change in your relationship with your congregation. Once you announce the date of your retirement you are no longer part of the congregation’s future, and that reality will show up in all kinds of conversations within and around the congregation. People might start to go around you in key discussions about the needs, ministries, and members of the congregation. They might start to avoid you in order to avoid the discomfort that comes with knowing that you’ll be leaving. You might encounter various emotions from the people you’ve been serving (positive and negative), without being able to understand the countless variables behind those emotions. 

It will be wise to have large pieces of your retirement plans in place before you announce, as we note in our suggested timeline. The decisions that you make about how, where, and when you retire are complicated enough without also having to manage the emotions and relational upheaval that you’ll likely experience after you make your announcement. Make those decisions well ahead of time. However, don’t wait too long to make the announcement itself. If the window of time between your announcement and your retirement date is too short then you won’t give yourself or your people enough time to engage the transition well. 

The wisdom that we hear most often is that an appropriate window of time between your announcement and your retirement date is six months to a year. A shorter time frame may not give you and others enough time to process the reality of your retirement emotionally and organizationally. On the other hand, a longer time frame might be a challenge to experience without awkwardness, and may complicate the church’s transition from you to the next pastor. 

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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