10 Insights for Retiring Pastors

With the aging of the Boomer generation, pastors are retiring every day. I hear from a pastor almost every week who has recently retired or is considering retirement. Over the past few years, our conversations have become somewhat predictable and consistent. 

The questions these pastors have typically revolve around three issues: how do I prepare my church for my retirement?; what are some major financial issues regarding retirement?; and what do I do after I retire? 

Here are ten insights that touch on those three questions. 

    1. When you retire from your church, stay away for a season. The season may be permanent if you move out of town or begin a series of interim pastorates. At the very least, let your successor get established without your presence for several months to a year. 
    1. Most pastors who retire do not want to leave vocational ministry. They might be ready to take a break from the weekly demands and expectations of local church pastoring, but they still want to serve in vocational ministry. Interim pastorates are the most common retirement ministries. Many churches want someone who can help them with church revitalization (see Church Answers’ Church Revitalization Certification). 
    1. If you are eligible for Social Security, get sound advice on when you should begin taking the payments. The standard eligible age ranges from 62 to 70, but each year can make a big difference with different implications.  
    1. If you are eligible for Medicare, you need even more sound advice. I have a finance degree and have been in the business world for several years, but I still needed help. Sometimes I think the government made it as complex as it could be. I ended up paying a Medicare coach to guide me through the maze. The modest cost was worth every cent. When you near your retirement age, you will get reams of mail letting you know that their plan is the best Medicare supplement plan. Get an independent person to guide you. 
    1. You will need to prepare for a different life. The life can be flexible, joyous, and exciting. But it is different. Everyone responds differently to the life of retirement, but almost everyone is surprised how different this new phase of life is. 
    1. The moment you announce to your church that you plan to retire, your relationship to the congregation has changed. You are no longer the pastor; you are the departing pastor. Such is the reason I advise pastors to be careful about making announcements too soon. 
    1. Don’t be surprised if the church really does not want your input on finding your successor. And don’t take their posture as a personal rejection. It is human nature for people to move on once they know this significant change is on the horizon. 
    1. Plan your retirement and your exit from the church with your spouse. This decision dramatically affects the person to whom you are married. Don’t just plan “my future.” Plan “our future.”
    1. Get outside financial help and planning. You need to know what your income level will be. If you have a 401(k) or a 403(b), you need to know such intricacies as RMD (required minimum distribution) and estate implications for the deferred income. And there is more, so much more. At the very least, get a one-time review of your total financial picture.
    1. Rejoice in this new phase of life and ministry. God is not done with you yet. It can be a fun and exciting time of life. It should be a fun and exciting time of life.

You have served well to get to this point in your life. Move forward in the confidence of God’s power, strength, and wisdom that the best days of your life and ministry are still ahead of you.

Posted on October 23, 2023

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Speaking as a young pastor, I find #7 quite disappointing. Obviously, the church and not the previous pastor needs to select their next pastor, but the retiring pastor may well be the only person in the church who has ever pastored. Why would you not seek his input? Especially if he is a beloved and long-tenured pastor.

    • Why shouldn’t the pastor have a say in their successor? Because there are people trained to help congregations look at the pastor with new eyes. There are lots of places where the hand-picked successor fails miserably, because the successor is not the incumbent and will never be the splitting image of the incumbent. No matter how fair the retiring pastor is, those in the church who disliked them will transfer their dislike to the successor, and vice versa. The pastor needs to be the one called by God and the church to serve as pastor.

      Especially in long pastorates, having the outgoing pastor meddle in the selection of the successor does not generally end well. And if they are beloved that isn’t fair to the successor.

  • Joel Burkholder says on

    In no. 6 of your retirement blog, you mention that you shouldn’t announce your departure too soon. I’m retiring in April, 2024 after 19 years in This parish and 44 years of ordained ministry. What is the appropriate time to announce my retirement?

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Joel –

      While I would not presume upon either God’s will or your specific context, your long tenure likely means an earlier announcement is in order. I would say three to six months would be best (which means now if it’s six months).

      Thank you for your faithfulness!

      • I agree. There are many who say 6 weeks is too long. As you say, the dynamic of the relationship changes once the pastor becomes the lame duck. While not retiring, I am moving to a new call and notified my current parish October 1 with November 5 as my last Sunday in the pulpit. To say the relationship has been weird is an understatement, especially since I have been here for nearly 13 years.

  • You are SO right about #3. The coaching I got was invaluable!

    I would disagree with #6 in some settings. We have been working on a transition for over a year, and are a month into a 3 month overlap with the incoming new lead pastors. I was not treated like a lame duck, and it’s been a great process.

    BTW – I’m signed up for the Church Revitalization class and will do it as soon as the transition is complete.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks, Bill. Great to have you in revitalization certification. You and I are not disagreeing on the sixth point. It is a caution but not a universal rule.

  • Tom Couch says on

    Thank you very much. This is really helpful and important. Financial matters are not fun, but very necessary.