Seven clues for Retirement for Ministers of the GospelPeterCorney

1. Start preparing well before you retire. Pastoral ministry is busy, and the deadlines are relentless; sermon and service preparation every week, constant pastoral needs to attend to, regular committee meetings, marriage preparation, funerals, planning meetings, etc, etc. This can cause one to keep putting off planning ahead for retirement. The constant demands can also mean we can lose contact with old friends and valued relationships, neglect hobbies, and other interests, that will be important in retirement.

2. During full time ministry it is important to keep up other interests, relationships, hobbies, and ministry activities outside the parish. Many of these can be continued after you move from full time ministry. Retirement doesn’t mean we cease ministry! The pace and the pressure changes and the influence may narrow but our vocation can continue. In my case I have always been involved in training, coaching, and mentoring younger leaders, both within and outside my parish ministry, and that has continued into my retirement from full time ministry. The Arrow leadership program which I was privileged to head up, happened while I was still in parish ministry and when I moved from full time ministry gave me a continuing field of very meaningful service at a level appropriate to my energy at that stage of my life. In retirement I and a small group of retired friends from the church we attend, started a ‘Shed’ for men and women that is focussed on woodwork projects, musical instrument making, furniture projects both new and restorations, etc. The core group also act as a maintenance team for the Church. The group is open to anyone to attend and has become a great opportunity for members to invite their retired friends who don’t attend a church. The level of fellowship enjoyed shows the need for ongoing relationships for retirees.

3. Be prepared for loss, particularly a loss of recognition, status, and perceived significance. Parish ministry is a very public role. You are known, recognised by many people, and appreciation is often expressed. Retirement can bring a sense of loss of the recognition that comes with belonging to and being a significant person in that community. Someone said, “you know you’re irrelevant when no one knows or speaks your name.” That is what many older people feel in some nursing homes when no one visits them anymore. It is also why the federal governments initiative and funding to assist people where possible to live longer in their own homes and street is so important. Retirement usually means physical relocation to a new house and suburb for parish ministers which can also produce a sense of loss, loss of community, loss of a familiar place and contacts. Retiring to a beach house isn’t always a good idea! It can seem ideal at first but can become very lonely and isolated from friends and family. This needs careful thought and planning.

4. As our retirement continues and our physical strength and abilities change, we can feel that there is not much we can contribute to the Kingdom now. Billy Graham, perhaps the most significant and effective evangelist of the modern era, wrote in his later years in a book entitled Nearing Home “The time God has given you is not without purpose.” That is an idea we need to keep hold of as we age, as Psalm 31:15 puts it “My times are in your hands.” So therefore they are not without purpose. Discovering that purpose needs to become part of our regular prayers as it will change as we age. There is also the challenge to avoid becoming too focussed on your own health and the aches and pains of advancing years rather than the needs of others!

5. Be prepared for a change in life structure. Full time work gives a particular structure to one’s daily life and so it is important to develop a new one or one can drift into a vague boredom. At first the relief from the pressure of full-time work is welcome but eventually the need for structure and purpose asserts itself. It is important to maintain, even create new disciplines for your daily life. Especially in your devotional life of prayer and the study of God’s word. I thought that once I retired that my daily prayer life would be easier now that I have more time and less interruptions! In my case I found the challenge to keep and grow in these disciplines didn’t get any easier, it just changed in its form. I have had to develop new routines and methods and goals. Our new structure needs to also include regular daily physical exercise as our body ages. To keep mentally alert and relevant by reading, learning, and growing is as important now as it was in full time parish ministry. Supporting, mentoring, and discipling younger people is a great way to keep abreast of the new challenges contemporary culture presents to our faith and discipleship.

6. For those of us who are married there is another adjustment to being around more at home. The plus is that we now have more discretionary time to do things together, but we need to spend some time discussing this with our partner rather than making assumption’s about what we will do!

7. Dr Robert Clinton, who taught and researched for many years at Fuller Seminary on Christian leadership, made the observation that Christian leaders who “finished well” observed five things during their active ministry: (i) They kept perspective. (ii) They had many spiritual renewals. (iii) They maintained spiritual disciplines. (iv) They adopted a constant learning posture. (v) They maintained a relationship with a mentor, and they also mentored others. It seems to me these five things are also worth pursuing into retirement.

Peter Corney is Vicar Emeritus of St Hilary’s Kew