I’ve been asked to share a few lessons I’ve learned about retirement now that I’m 18 months into this phase of life. The hope is that some of these might assist others who are considering that momentous step.
IT’S MOSTLY IRREVERSIBLE
Coming to the decision to officially step aside from fulltime duties was the hardest one I ever made. If you have any conscience at all about your calling I think it should be.
I remember the night I shared the decision with my church board. About ten minutes before I dropped the bomb my feet went numb and I kept thinking, “What am I doing?” But the months/years of prayerful consideration and struggle had proven to me that it was time and I’m grateful for it.
IT’S A STATEMENT OF YOUR OWN TERMINALITY
Even though I could have verbalized it I wasn’t totally prepared for the emotional hit that retirement signifies – You’re not getting any younger and you’re not going to. After retirement one of the next big milestones of life entails a gravestone. That’s just truth and you can’t avoid the thought. It does creep in. I don’t mean to be morbid, I’ve just been asked to share honestly and even though I might have 30+ years of productivity ahead of me the reality is that the “freedom” of retirement also brings an emotional finality. Be prepared for it.
RETIREMENT FINANCES ARE DETERMINED EARLY ON
By that I mean years and years ago, not in the first few months of retirement. If you’ve developed smart financial habits as part of who you are, you should be fine. If you’ve financially flown by the seat of your pants through the career you’ll need to get ready for some turbulence when your income is cut by half or more.
Some might do well to “hang on” a few years longer than they expected so they can get their financial house in order. But please don’t stay in ministry just for the money because that, obviously, destroys the meaning of “ministry.”
If you can keep the passion and commitment and need a few more years to be truly ready for the financial seismic shift of retirement you may need to do that.
YOUR “STATUS” WITH THE CHURCH WILL CHANGE MORE THAN YOU THINK
I once pastored a district with five retired pastors in the ranks and only one would ever darken the door of the church. I didn’t understand that then. Retirement opens the door to all kinds of responses regarding what you expect from your church and what your church expects from you. Retirement grants freedom. No one is looking over your shoulder any more for the use of your time and/or your attitudes regarding the nuances of your church.
As a result, each person will have to navigate and negotiate how they respond to the new landscape of a dramatically changed role. I ask you to be prepared for this curve ball. It actually has more magnitude than most of us can predict.
DON’T COUNT ON BEING “SOMEBODY” ANYMORE.
To some this is incredibly refreshing. I once pastored a church with a large contingent of retired ministry professionals – three from the General Conference, two from the NAD, one from the Union, several conference presidents, and numerous pastors. All but two of them handled the change of “being somebody” to simply being one of the good folks in the pew with incredible grace. Sadly, two of them never could surrender the expectation that they needed to be deferred to at every turn because of who they once were. That experience has certainly shaped my determination and self-awareness in retirement. I’m not going to be “that guy.”
EARLY ON THE CHURCH BOARD IS NOT MY DESTINY
The day may come where I can participate and bring my years of experience to bear in a positive way. My determination is to allow a period of time to pass before I accept any leadership role in any local church. The church needs that space and I need that space.
DON’T COUNT ON BEING USED
At this point I am acutely aware that my story is not the norm. I’m still available and I’m amazed that I’m still used. For whatever reason Heaven has seen fit to allow me to remain very active in the areas of ministry that I found most fulfilling. Very often I have the high privilege of speaking somewhere and I’m still given random opportunities for teaching and creativity. I thank Heaven every day for this but I also know that’s not the testimony of most of my colleagues. (“Easy for you to say, Dude.”)
I’m acutely aware of this and I hesitate to even write of it because I fear that even raising the issue may cause pain to some who read it. But, for the sake of honesty I hope that the ones who are looking toward retirement may find it a valuable warning sign.
Personal ministry need nevercome to an end. Public ministry may not be in your future much at all once you officially take the leap from active to retired. Please don’t count on it as an outlet for your passion. Most don’t get that privilege.
FOR ME, PRINCIPLE #1 HAS BEEN AFFIRMED
I’ve always verbalized that it’s Christ’s church, not mine. Retirement has absolutely cemented that conviction more than I ever before. Surrendering any illusion of it being “my church” is a wonderfully developing freedom and a very healthy posture.
I’d advise you to pray that Christ directs your retirement as much as you’ve wanted Him to direct your ministry. If we can all navigate that He will be free to accomplish His purposes in us and in His church.
Would any of us want anything else?
Don Pate is a retired pastor living in Knoxville, Tennessee