(Do not miss the post script at the end.)
Don’t let anyone tell you there is no retirement in the Bible.
Church people will say that, of course, mostly in fun. “Preacher, the Bible doesn’t know anything about retirement.”
But they’re dead wrong.
Numbers 8:25 says, “At the age of fifty, (priests) shall retire from service in the work and not work any more.”
There it is, in black and white. I have no idea why the Lord stopped the service of these men so early, unless to give others a chance to serve.
Not that any servant of the Lord I know today is trying to play that card. These days, fifty is just the far edge of youth. You’re just getting started at fifty.
However, we post it here as a good-natured response to the smarties who insist that “retirement is not in the Bible.” (Be sure to smile when quoting Numbers 8:25.)
At any rate, it is entirely possible to retire from pastoring a church but to remain in ministry. In fact, that’s how it’s done.
We are always on duty for the Lord, whether anyone employs us or pays us a salary or not.
The day a pastor hangs it up and cleans out his office and turns it all over to the younger generation comes for all of us. I did that the first time at the age of 64 when I left the pastorate of the First Baptist Church of Kenner, Louisiana, to become Director of Missions for the SBC churches of metro New Orleans. Five years later, I did it again, this time for good.
And let me say, it was indeed “for good.”
Everything about retirement has been good. I recommend it strongly. In fact, I sometimes joke that if I’d known it was going to be this great, I’d have gone straight from ordination into retirement.
Here are 7 suggestions for pastors who have logged a full forty or fifty years and are now working from home….
1) Figure out what to do with the rest of your life.
If you plan to write a book, pastor, get started early before you are unemployed if possible. If you think good writing skills will automatically kick in when you are retired, you’ll be sadly mistaken. I cannot tell you how many friends have said, “When I retire, I’m going to write a book.” Most never did.
My friend Jack is my age (mid-70s), supposedly retired, and is still handling the advertising for a chain of groceries from his home in a small Louisiana town. He says he does it for the money, but I know the rest of that story. When one has nothing to do, something inside him dies and the body is not far behind.
For most of us, having to mow the lawn and rearrange the tools in the garage is not motivation enough to get us out of the bed in the morning. We need bigger things than this. Give thought early on what you will do when you can no longer pastor the church.
2) Find out where the old geezers in your town meet for coffee. I’m tempted to say that’s your new office. It’s not, of course, but having such a place is nice.
If you don’t connect with the oldsters at Hardees or your local hangout, consider starting your own group.
You will need some buddies, mostly just to laugh with, to help one another keep your sanity. If they are preachers like you, great. But that’s probably not going to happen, so look around and see who’s meeting where and drop in. Mostly be quiet for the first 20 visits. Otherwise, they will yield to you (Hey–you’re a professional talker; talking is what they are doing and it’s what you do best) and that changes the character of their morning sessions, and they will soon resent your presence. So, be quiet and laugh at their jokes for a while.
3) Ask around for some eager young preachers whose libraries still have some empty shelves. They will be victims–uh, recipients–for the books you are getting rid of. I’ve given away several thousand over the years and still have more to contribute.
4) Go slow about taking interims.
Unless you are one of the few with a divine calling for interim pastorates, or unless you have a suicidal wish, do not take an interim pastorate too quickly. Enjoy being retired. Visit other churches and hear your friends preach. Enjoy supply preaching for a few months before interiming.
5) Find out what your wife wants from you now that you are retired. Does she want to travel, maybe buy an RV and hit the road? Would she like you to take a part-time job somewhere? Does she want you out of the house in the morning? or is she good with your being underfoot all day? Does she need your help with housework and cooking? Or will she prefer you tend to the yardwork and she’ll take care of the cleaning and the kitchen?
You should ask her and listen carefully. Do not be surprised if her answer to this question evolves and changes. She deserves being heard.
6) Plan to be out of the house for a couple of hours every day. This is not hard to do. You’ll go to the bank, to the post office, run by the church, drop by Walmart, and pick up something at the drug store or the cleaners. I hope your library or a good bookstore is nearby.
This daily excursion gives your wife the peace and quiet she has known all those decades and calms her fears about losing it.
7) Buy a new laptop now, start a blog and get started writing….
–some of your favorite sermons, the ones that linger in your heart most, those you still preach when invited to fill in for other pastors. Write them down.
–your life story.
–a compilation of the best advice you ever received, the best stories you ever heard or told, as well as the worst.
–counsel to other ministers on how to pastor a church, preach a sermon, wrestle with deacons, whatever.
What will the Lord (or your family) do with what you have written? God knows. And He’s not telling yet. Your job is to write it.
On this website, begun in 2003, I’ve written perhaps 2,000 articles. When asked if I’d written books, I would answer facetiously, “I’ve written hundreds, but published none.” There are over a hundred articles on leadership alone, and plenty more on deacons, prayer, the church, preaching, and church conflict. Then, a year or so ago, something happened.
Kelly Boggs, the editor of our state Baptist paper, The Baptist Message, told me they were going to start publishing a couple of books a year. “You have all this great stuff on your blog,” he said. “We would like to publish some of that.”
So, that’s how it is happening, looks like. I didn’t plan it, but just “did the next thing,” that is, I opened the computer each day and wrote about subjects on my heart. And now, the Lord has laid it on the heart of this wonderful friend to take the writings to the next level.
What will He do with your stuff? I have no idea. But it’ll be fun to find out.
If you are retiring now, get on with it. If you are retiring in 10 years or even 20, do not let it catch you unprepared. Give thought now to what you will be doing with these golden years, the very best time of your life.
Post script. My wife suggests younger ministers should get started with a retirement account now in order to give it time to build. Church leaders should make sure the pastor is being well taken care of. We’re grateful that Southern Baptists decided several decades ago that churches should set aside a figure equal to 10 percent of the pastor’s salary in Guidestone, our annuity board. Until that time, churches were putting a pittance into the minister’s retirement fund. Guidestone–their website is www.guidestone.org–exists not only for Southern Baptists these days, and is one of the best things on the planet for men and women in the work of the Lord.