Ministry in Retirement

The man speaking up front was Walt Blehm, president of the Pacific Union Conference.

The setting was a meeting of pastors.

The subject . . . The importance of planning investments for retirement.

My thoughts were a kaleidoscope of many topics: My wife’s career – by our mutual choice – was mother to our three girls. Now those three girls were approaching their college years – my heaviest expense years yet! How was I to think of investing? Elder Blehm’s presentation was compelling, even convincing. He gave sound advice . . . but how would a few dollars saved here and there be available for investing, let alone help supplement Social Security and the church pension?

The denomination’s shift from the Defined Benefit retirement plan to the Defined Contribution plan in 2000 has required us to think more of investment planning and learn about monitoring our fiscal preparation for retirement. And the end of tuition bills is an opportunity for aggressive retirement investing. But there’s another aspect to retirement planning that is as important as wondering if the month will outlast the money: How will you spend your time? When the relief brought by a newly empty calendar begins to wear off, just what will you do?

Most pastors experientially understand the principle enunciated by HMS Richards: “If your conscience will allow you to stay out of the ministry, stay out!” I’ve discovered this guides not only entry into ministry, but also decisions regarding post retirement ministry.

Many pastors choose not to retire when eligible for pension distributions and/or Social Security. Many others continue in some form of ministry. Have you given much thought to whether or not you will continue ministry after retirement? What factors will guide your decision?

Questions to ask yourself as you begin seriously thinking about retirement:

·      Am I prepared to live on reduced income when I close my full-time ministry?

·      Am I prepared for the changed pace of retirement?

·      Can I make the switch from ministerial leadership to member in the pew?

·      Am I prepared to “let go” of the joys and excitement, the limelight and responsibilities of ministry?

·      What do I want to do when I retire – if ministry, precisely what type?

·      Do I want to volunteer my experience and skills or do I want/need remuneration?

·      What ministry options will be available to me when I retire?

If the need for more income presses you to continue ministry, you will most likely delay retirement – or continue with a lighter load such as a part time assignment caring for a small or isolated church. Either way, you should explore possibilities with your conference leadership well ahead of your normal retirement date. I cannot over emphasize the importance of open dialog with your conference leadership – discuss your desires and thoughts. You will need to initiate the conversations because employment law makes it difficult for conference leaders to do so. If you are retiring to another conference contact leadership in the new conference to let them know of your interests.

Exactly what you do will largely be dictated by four factors:

·      The need for additional income to supplement Social Security, pension distributions and investments in order to meet expenses.

·      What you are doing when you retire.

·      Where you settle when you retire.

·      Who you know that is in a position to seek your service.

In preparation for this article I asked a few of my retired colleagues about their decisions to continue in ministry after retirement. Some of the things I learned:

·      Every one of them continued out of sheer love for people and helping them to live better through knowing the Lord Jesus.

·      None really wanted to quit ministry, just have a little lighter load.

·      There was frequent reference to the stewardship of talent, skill, experience . . . “I cannot let what God has given me lie dormant.”

·      A relaxed pace offers time to do things previously only dreamed about: Writing, creative and experimental ministry, short-term mission trips, etc.

·      After moving frequently through their ministry, sometimes putting them at a distance from family, many are finding it refreshing to now live near their children and be able to enjoy and assist with grandchildren!

Every one of them expressed or implied the importance of planning for life after formal ministry. You dare not ignore it.

In addition to thinking about post-retirement ministry, here are some general tips for your retirement planning . . .

At the present time processing an application for retirement requires 5-6 months. You will want to keep this in mind as you plan and dialog with your conference leaders.

Health issues for you or your spouse may encourage seeking a lighter load through retirement. Similarly, if you wait too long to retire you might not have the health or strength to fully enjoy retirement.

Be very mindful of health care options where you live when you retire!

After you retire contact the union secretary to request honorary ministerial credentials.

If you receive half salary you are eligible for additional contributions to your retirement fund from your employer. If you receive more than three-quarters salary in denominational employment you will be expected to suspend your pension distributions.

Of interest to your financial planning if you live in the United States: Retirement fund distributions from your denominationally selected carrier (currently Empower Retirement) may be considered tax-free housing allowance – subject to the same rules of fair rental value and actual expenditures as the “parsonage exclusion” allowed by IRS while in active service. If you move your funds to another entity you may lose this benefit.

Remember that not all pastors are thrilled to have retired ministers in their congregation. Assure your new pastor of your support. Practice the Golden Rule! Let the pastor do their work as they see best. Don’t stay involved in the lives of former members. Don’t become involved in political activity within the congregation. Don’t undermine the pastor’s leadership. Genuinely affirm them and their ministry whenever appropriate!

Halvard Thomsen is a retired pastor and church administrator living in Apple Valley, California