For Pastors Over the Age of 55 (& Those Who Love Them)

Whether we are 25 years old or 95 years old, Boundary Training is required for all pastors in our Presbytery who serve congregations in any way.  

Autumn FenceSome scoff at this because it’s required every three years.   If we have been serving churches for 3 years or 43 years, we still have to attend the same training.  Most of us get it:  Don’t have sex with parishioners.

But, of course, there is much, much more to it than that.

Among the boundary issues that come up regularly involve retired pastors.  We have several gifted retired pastors who:

  • Continue to love the people they served prior to retirement (not a problem)
  • Miss the practice of preaching, teaching, and leading God’s people (understandable)
  • Feel adrift without their previous pastoral identity (also understandable)
  • And are inadvertently hurting the ministry of the churches they’ve loved (not okay).

It occurs to me that maybe we need to start early in preparing our pastors for Life After Retirement.

What if – starting at age 55 – all pastors (already-retired and not-yet-retired) were invited to a different kind of Boundary Training?

Military personnel – prior to retirement after 20+ years – are treated to workshops from How to Dress (when your wardrobe no longer includes military uniforms) to How to Find Work in Civilian Life.

Clergy need the same kind of preparation as we look forward to or find ourselves already in retirement.  Carol Howard Merritt shared at a recent conference that, in the next 10+ years, a huge number of Baby Boomer clergy will be retiring.  (Note:  While many say that there are too many clergy, there will be a huge need for gifted clergy in the coming years.  Get thee to a seminary, young spiritual leader.)

We get financial preparation from our Board of Pensions.  But few of us are prepared for retirement emotionally and spiritually.  Imagine if we had conversations/boundary training before and after retirement around these issues:

  • What do we do if all of our friends are in our last congregation?  (Tip:  make friends who have nothing to do with your church well before retirement.)
  • What do we do if all our spouses friends are in that last congregation?  (Tip: see above)
  • What if we miss our former church so much that we really, really want to drop in on church functions, get together with former parishioners, continue to offer pastoral care?  (Tip:  When you get the urge to connect with former parishioners, remember what this does to your former church – the congregation you love so much:  It confuses people.  It keeps them looking back at the past.  It sabotages the ministry of the current and future pastors.)
  • What if the new pastor has finally arrived to our former church and we want to partner with her/him because – after all – we have a lot of information about that congregation and we could help?  (Tip:  Don’t do this unless asked.)
  • What if we left under a cloud and we are still bitter/angry?  (Tip:  Vent to a therapist.  Don’t shred your former congregation or former colleagues.)
  • What if we were elected Pastor Emeritus and we are still connected to the church from which we retired?  (Tip:  Being Pastor Emeritus is an honorary status.  It doesn’t mean you are still on the church staff or that the church is obliged to invite you to preach, teach, or attend church functions.)

Healthy pastors of every age have a life outside the church.  Healthy pastors of every age have interests and friends who are not part of their congregation’s activities.  Healthy pastors of every age don’t make church about themselves.

But we need to help each other be healthy.


12 responses to “For Pastors Over the Age of 55 (& Those Who Love Them)

  1. Love this, Jan! Good suggestions and would love to see the POC start the ball rolling on the “How to be a retired pastor” workshops.

  2. Denise Williams

    As a 55 year old first call pastor, i am not looking to retire any time soon, but this is great wisdom for me as the new pastor!

  3. The BOP “Growing Into Retirement…Today” does include an intro to boundary training that you’re describing, Jan – including the emotional/spiritual boundaries around former congregations, friends, etc. Discussed in part in the sections on where to live – making friends – etc. There is a growing body of work on preparing for retirement, including a new book coming out soon by Ron & Lois Richardson, Recommend it as a workbook – not designed expressly for clergy, however.

  4. Jan, another equally important (maybe even more so) is congregational training regarding this subject. Many long serving ministries to an elderly congregation will continue to see their ‘retired’ Pastor as their family Pastor and will contact them to handle things for their family. They see it as two issues – one for the “church” and one for their family. This puts both the retired and serving Pastor in a sticky wicket….The retired Pastor can continue to refer the parishioner back to the serving Pastor but the may not be acceptable to the family expect the retired Pastor to be their family Pastor forever. This then causes further rift between retiree and serving – and the situation may not have been created by either! Congregational training and support is needed as well.

  5. Hmm…This is absolutely spot on for how we do things, but I’m not so sure it is how we should do things. The retirement you speak of has within it some assumptions about the role of a pastor which I think may be problematic for the church as we move into this new era.

    If a pastor and a ministry and a church are all ideally deeply rooted in a community, then we shouldn’t want to tear apart those roots at retirement (or any other artificial ending). Figuring out healthy connections that move through different life-cycles and roles within a community would be really challenging, but seems like a faithful way to be God’s people together.

    If our expectation of the pastor is that she is actively sharing and nurturing leadership with others while pastoring, then we might not see her as “the one and only” which would then allow us to receive pastoral leadership from someone else after her retirement, wherever she connects at that point. And she would never have seen herself as defending her “pastoral turf” so she won’t have to scuffle over it with the next pastor.

  6. I recently found this 2010 transcript from an NPR program entitled ‘Power Imbalance Can Facilitate Clerical Abuse.” The discussion pertaining to sexual abuse is a more obvious and much discussed topic, as it should/must be. What is not as obvious – perhaps – is discussion about the complicated relationship between a pastor and the congregation, important not just to retirees

  7. This is an excellent article on retirement in general. I’m newly retired from a 34 year therapist’s position for special needs children (30 in the same school) in the neighborhood in which I both live and worship. Some days I have to actively remind myself to make a wide berth around the building during school hours to avoid even the appearance of inappropriateness. The first year is difficult. But I am blessed to have established an active life outside of work.

  8. The number of resources available in this area is growing in leaps and bounds. You should have no difficulty resourcing clergy and setting up workshops as was suggested. It will certainly be important to do so.

  9. I attended a boundary training about leaving well, intended for intermission as well as retired/retiring pastors. It was discouraging to hear some retired pastors respond to the presentation with a vociferous “NO!” This could not possibly refer to their situations…

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