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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.

When you go from being a full time minister of the word to being a retired minister of the word you aren’t merely changing titles. And this transition isn’t merely a date on the calendar. The pastors that we’ve talked to about retirement named experiences that are part of the process, and they named emotions that all of those experiences generate. 

Here is a very partial list of experiences that come with the process of transitioning toward retirement. What emotions might you encounter with each of these things?

  • Anticipating a life with more discretion about how you spend your time.
  • Reflecting on the fact that you have enough ministry experience by now that there are fewer ministry surprises at this stage even if there are still new ministry situations.
  • Wondering about financial stability after retirement. 
  • Training others to take over the leadership of ministries you’ve led in the past.
  • Having people come to you for ministry guidance less often.
  • Traveling through the calendar of “last things”– your last Fall kick-off, last Christmas Eve service, last Spring Break mission trip, last Summer sermon series, and so on.
  • Pondering your significance and value as a person.
  • Getting lost in the details of retirement preparations.
  • Looking back over a career in full time ministry.

Once you retire there is a whole new collection of experiences to encounter, as the partial list below illustrates. Again, what emotions might you experience with each of these things?

  • If you are married, there will be more time with your spouse.
  • An increased ability to shape your daily, weekly, and monthly schedules according to your personal preferences. No more night meetings (unless you want them)!
  • More capacity to develop and maintain relationships with loved ones. 
  • Less responsibility for the spiritual wellbeing of others.
  • Fewer demands on your energy and time.
  • More opportunity to develop yourself and pursue interests in new ways.
  • The loss of professional courtesies, resources, and collaborations.
  • The loss of a significant reason to get up in the morning: Your job.
  • Fewer naturally-occuring reasons to gather with others in your profession.
  • Fewer naturally-occurring reasons to develop skills, knowledge, interests related to ministry.

How good are you at naming not just the experiences you go through every day but the feelings that arise from those experiences? You’ll need this skill to navigate the transition process well. Actually, you’ve always needed this skill, the skill of naming your emotions accurately. Retirement is just one more occasion to put it to work! If you aren’t naturally good at this (and most of us aren’t) then you’ll want to find someone to help you– a professional counselor or therapist. 

It’s important to name your emotions so that you know what to do with the experiences that generate them and how to integrate them into the story of your life. Your emotions aren’t the only guides for the good work of processing past and current experiences, but ignoring or downplaying them will only make it more difficult to experience retirement in a healthy way. The suicide rate among men in their seventies is extremely high, and we want you to experience retirement in a way that filled with hope and joy rather than despair and sadness. 

One final note on this subject: Depression and anxiety might not be experienced right away in retirement, but they might arrive later– five or ten years later. You might find your energy waning and you might feel it necessary to release more commitments, and these developments could trigger some of what we’re thinking of in this article. Be watchful for these things, and be ready to engage the support resources that we’ve referred to often in this material– therapists, spiritual directors, mentors, and coaches. 

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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