The Retired Pastor

January 20, 2020

By Thom S. Rainer 

Tens of thousands of pastors and other church staff members are becoming retirement age each year. We have not seen anything like this phenomenon. These church leaders are reaching retirement age, but they still have many years of active ministry and life left in them. How will they respond? How will churches respond? 

We are watching this trend with fascination at Church Answers. Let’s look at some of the key issues unfolding. 

  • Some churches are fine with older pastors remaining in their roles. Others are not. We see many churches where the members don’t think twice about having a 60-something or 70-something pastor. They see their pastors as fully capable and fully energetic to continue leading. Other churches are ready for the older pastors to move on. This latter disposition is exacerbated when the church is struggling and/or in decline.
  • Too many retirement-age pastors don’t have options because of financial realities. I’ve addressed this issue in an earlier post. Though my observations are anecdotal, well over half of the pastors with whom I have conversed are woefully prepared financially when they hit their mid-60s. It’s usually a case of churches failing to care for pastors and pastors failing to plan for themselves.
  • The most common option for pastors leaving their role is to become interim or part-time pastors in other churches. The opportunities for this ministry are increasing regularly. At any given point, we could have over 50,000 churches seeking an interim pastor. Indeed, we created Interim Pastor University to train and differentiate those pastors moving into these roles.
  • More pastors are moving into the role of church consultant or coach after leaving their pastoral roles. Some of these pastors have 30 to 40 years of experience as a pastor. Their wisdom and experience can be incredibly helpful to churches. Our fastest growing ministry at Church Answers is Church Consultation University, created to train and certify leaders in this new role.
  • It will not be unusual for pastors to retire from their churches and have 20+ years left of vibrant ministry. These pastors may have chosen to go a different path, or their churches may have forced them out. Don’t let life expectancy numbers fool you. Once someone makes it to 65, the likelihood of them staying active to 85 is good. These can be some prime years of ministry for these former pastors.
  • The timing for this wave of “retired” pastors could match well with the need for part-time, interim, or revitalizing pastors. The demand could meet supply IF churches would look beyond the traditional profiles. Of the roughly 350,000 Protestant churches, about 349,900 want a pastor who is 35 to 49 years old and has 30 years of lead pastor experience (sarcasm intended). It’s time for many churches to look to the growing supply of older pastors who can still lead well.

The trend of retiring pastors who are not retiring from ministry will continue to grow. It will be fascinating to see how churches respond.

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19 Comments

  • Where does one pursue a career in church consulting? I am 60 – great health – but it seems churches wanting younger inexperienced pastors. I have sent resume for some Staff positions such as Senior Adult Pastor / Pastoral Care (which I love) positions but it appears that the field is dim. If you can offer ideas – suggestions – that would be great! entering 38th year of pastoral calling and 41 in ministry. Have even considered DOM or Convention openings to invest in other pastors – either I am looking in wrong place for those openings or you need to know someone … that knows.

  • I served as lead pastor in three churches over 42 years, 34 of which were in my last church from which I “retired” 2 years ago, My ‘plan” was to to continue serving through supply preaching or to serve in various places as an “interim” but God had other plans. After announcing my retirement a year before the effective date, mid-way through the year our association called me to serve as their DOM effective 2 weeks after my “retirement”. My wife and I are still members of the church from which we retired. The church called a young gifted pastor 3 months after my departure, and he is doing a great job preaching the Word and discipling young believers. I am loving the new challenge of associational work, the church (which had grown and then frankly, had plateaued under my ministry) is growing again, and now instead of me “being” the pastor, I have a pastor to call my own! To God be the glory!

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