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Where do pastors go to retire, if they should/could?

I am reaching my personal jubilee and have started thinking about things which I never did; such as retirement.

In the current ever-new world with a possible economic shift, where do pastors go to retire?

Actually, I don’t believe in retirement. The reason is simple: work is a gift and a mandate given by God. It is part of our imago Dei, it gives dignity to our humanity. But of course, as we grow older; we just may not be able to do the same work we have been doing – because of energy levels, failing health, changing circumstances {such as people preferring ‘online’ church?*}

What skills do pastors have to re-invent themselves in order to still be ’employable’? Professionals who have funds can set up private practices and become consultants and coaches. Those who are entrepreneurial may find it all about a fresh learning curve to move onto a new industry. Others may be able to move onto teaching in colleges or a more niche role in a parachurch organization or NGO.

The thing is, most pastors are generalists; and often many do not have extensive training or a wide berth of qualifications and training.

Rare is the instance where a pastor grows old with his congregation and have the immense privilege of passing the baton on to a younger minister or a son with a smooth and successful transition.

Let’s face it. The organizational, human resource perspective holds sway in many churches; and pastors are mostly ’employees’, hopefully, loved and respected ones.

Some church systems have retirement schemes, and they are busy redefining it to catch up with longer life spans and the lack of pastors. Many others have no such protocol in place. Yet some systems have a voting scheme where pastors have to step down if they are not re-elected.

Clearly pastors are not immune to employment threats.

But that’s not commonly thought about. In fact, the reverse is true. During the Asian financial crisis, my skeptical brother had said to me, “You are lucky as a pastor! People will always need spiritual services!” After the initial offense, I thought about what he said.

Are pastors always needed?

Will they always be paid for their ‘services’?

Not only does it betray how we are viewed; it is also important for us to be aware of what Pastor John Piper wrote about, “Brothers, we are not professionals” – the very real danger described by Paul as peddling the gospel {1 Cor 9v18-23} — where we change gears when it no longer pays us the due we feel we deserve.

Pastor, you have to work out your conviction about your work. If you subscribe to the commonplace view that work is drudgery and retirement is the end of the long trudge through the sludge of necessary toil; then retirement becomes a real allurement. Pastoral work, arguably one of the toughest jobs on earth, can be a real slog and it’s understandable that we sigh TGIM when Mondays roll around.

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About eight years ago I stepped away from a pastoral position I enjoyed immensely due to a set of circumstances I could not manage. The loss was very palpable. I remember sitting at my desk at home, staring at my computer screen, and asking God, ‘what now?”. I no longer had my salary. No one would call me ‘pastor’ I thought. I missed my church community and interceded with anguish at the valleys they would have to endure. I wondered about my calling and my identity.

In those days of prayer and thought, I received an insight I did not get from my training or my busy work-life. I received a fresh affirmation from God. He had called me to himself and to the work of a pastor. He alone affirms and qualifies me. Not only that, our vocation – our response to His Voce (Latin for voice) – is the obedience that opens the way for Him to work mysteriously in us to mould us into the being we truly are. In that sense, a pastor is not what I do, but who I am.

I recognized then that I would always be a pastor whether I had a title, office or a pay packet. I would be a pastor wherever I go. I checked my new insight with respected theologians and church leaders. They resonated with it. This gave me immense freedom to explore where God may be opening doors and the ways He joins the dots of my life for me.

So pastor friend, if God has called you to Himself and his work of feeding the flock; don’t stop doing it – even if you find yourself ‘unemployed’, ‘retired’, ‘not re-elected’. Be faithful. Be yourself, work hard and raise your family.

This reminds me of a friend who stepped down as a pastor several years back to do what he loves with more freedom. It turns out what he loves to do is encourage people; and he does it so well! He pastors total strangers, leaders and those in need with his amazing gift of encouragement; strengthening hearts and faith. He did not necessarily need to do it with the pulpit and all the attendant aspects of a pastor’s work.

As we grow in ministry experience; it is important to become comfortable with what we are good at and enjoy. What gives us life will spill life onto others. You may need to ‘re-invent’ or ‘retire’ – and that may be the best thing to happen to you.

*this is a whole different topic for another time: the online church.

Look up! Look up often!

Paul wrote to Timothy, his mentoree and spiritual son because the latter was facing some huge challenges, his health was weakening probably due to the stress; and both his personality and youth were liabilities it seemed at a time like this!

If I was Timothy; I would wish Paul returned back quickly to set things right. We all hope someone can appear to make things better. Churchlife! seeks to be an instrument toward that end – whether it is helping pastors and leaders navigate team dynamics, pressing issues, raising leaders or clarifying goals and setting strategies.

However, no matter how hard we try; the very real limits are found in two things: our hearts, and our vision.

If our hearts are worn down or filled with negativity or fear; no amount of planning and working would change much. Many great men and women will say honestly that they do not consider themselves the smartest or fastest; but they will readily admit to one thing: they have set their heart to the task and it means so much, they won’t back down.

How does one get such a heart?

It comes from the second: our vision.

All of us leaders know that it isn’t about hammering out some nice-sounding statement that a vision is birthed. Indeed, Oswald Chambers used to say,

“When God gives a man a vision, he takes him down to the valley; and hammers him into the shape of the vision” (adapted).

The vision that Paul cast before Timothy was that of his own life. Paul recounts for Timothy his own history and God’s unlikely call and amazing transformation of his life. He writes with such conviction that it crescendos with a doxology ~

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever, Amen. {1 Tim 1v17}

Then Paul pulls Timothy up from his spiritual slack, urging him to fight the good fight.

Faced with loud, contentious voices; issues that won’t resolve easily, maybe even personal attacks, all leaders can crumble within.  What gives us strength is recounting God’s call and gracious equipping – and trusting that even now, even this, God will be King, eternal, immortal ! Although he is invisible to our physical eye; God can become consuming in our spiritual sight and loom larger than all our present troubles.

And when we sit and wait, our trust growing deeper – God will assert His kingship and lead us down the path to take. This is the best shield and defense for the leader called by God.