What’s a 60 Year Old Pastor to Do?

The_Skating_MinisterOne day – God-willing – I’ll be a 60-something pastor.  The median age for pastors in my denomination is about 55 according to this 2011 study.  But we have a large number of 60-somethings serving every size congregation and, increasingly, pastors are waiting until they are 70 to retire because there are substantial financial benefits to working past 65.

There are issues for pastors and congregations involving clergy 60 and over.  Several examples in my denomination (i.e. one without bishops to move clergy around):

  • What if you are 60 and ready to seek a new call because you’ve got some good years left to serve, but you are finding that most churches want a 40-something pastor who can “bring in younger members”?  So you stay where you are, realizing that  – in your heart – you are basically done.
  • What if your pastor is 60 and, after 8-10 years of faithful and effective service, the church is ready for a change?  Unfortunately, however, all indications are that your current pastor is planning to stay until retirement in another 10 years. Everybody recognizes that the energy is low and you wonder if your congregation will be able to recover if the pastor stays too long.
  • What if you are a 60 year old pastor and you know it’s time to go but you still have a mortgage and not nearly enough money to retire, and you don’t think you can be called to another church?
  • What if you are a 60 year old pastor who has served small congregations – sometimes part-time – and you are looking for a new call, but your experience with small (dying) churches seems to hinder your search.
  • What if you are a second career pastor just starting out at about the age of 60, hoping for a first call and it’s taking longer than expected because search committees want someone with more experience?

In the next 10-20 years, 70% of our clergy will retire, but in the meantime, what will happen with those pastors who still want to work to 70 or beyond?

My hope is that we will be courageous – and faithful – enough to seek what is best for the congregation.  But then again, retired pastors have to afford to live – perhaps for another 20+ years after retirement.

What’s the answer?

I honestly don’t know.  But we who are closer to our retirement than our ordination will have some tough decisions to make in the next few years.  One of my hopes is that at least we will try to learn all we can about the 21st Century Church.  Paradigms are not easily shifted.

Image is Henry Raeburn’s Skating Minister.  (Let’s not skate towards retirement folks.)

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10 responses to “What’s a 60 Year Old Pastor to Do?

  1. Thanks for this post. I’m not in the age bracket you’re describing, but I have some thoughts on what a 60ish pastor could do. 2 ideas:

    1) Specialize in interim ministry. There are lots of churches that could benefit from someone with experience doing an intentional interim.

    2) Serve congregations that regularly have short term pastors. In my denom there are many rural churches that don’t expect their pastor to remain much longer than 5 years. They feel they’ve done well if the pastor stays 3 years. Usually however, these congregations are not the big churches, and for some pastors they may see this as a step down.

    I’ve seen both of these at work, although number 2 is usually an already minister essentially serving as pulpit supply each week.

  2. Jan – Thanks. All good questions, particularly for one like me who is approaching 60. It’s interesting that you chose that image for “skating” into retirement because I’ve used it in the opposite way. Ice skaters speak of the necessity of “keeping their blades sharp” in order to make sharp turns and maintain speed and agility for difficult routines. I consider this my period of deeper questions and discernment of “how to keep my blades sharp” in order to know how best to do ministry well into the next decade.

  3. Thank you, Jan. As one who fits the last bullet (except 60 has come and gone while I keep looking), I appreciate your acknowledging this part of reality.

  4. My further reality, concerning the last bullet: I’ve spent my life volunteering in all kinds of capacities in the church, and now small churches are finding me *over* qualified, while larger ones won’t consider me because I’m looking for a first call (bang-up cover letters notwithstanding).

  5. Thanks for your reflection Jan. Good things for us to consider. So far, interim ministry is working for me – the other thing is deciding to learn new things and new ways of doing ministry. Can (will) old dogs learn new tricks? The second half of my ministry has been much more interesting and rewarding because I’ve been learning about and trying to learn about new ways of being church, and helping churches I work with think about church differently.

  6. I appreciate Roy’s words – as one who will be 60 in June and is wondering if/when she puts a PIF out to test the waters for a congregational position what the response will be – just 10 years in ministry, blades kept sharp (I hope) and passion/energy for ministry still high.

  7. Just got my second call, as a 58 year old. It was scary, not knowing if any church would look at an older, still new to ministry female pastor (ordained 2009). On the other hand – I have oodles of life/job/kid experience, and I come cheap on the ‘minimum guidelines’ for compensation. Maybe that’s how they see it!

  8. I laughed when I saw the title. Our over 60 pastor taught the best confirmation class last night to the youth about asking questions and struggeling with our faith. One young girl asked if he still had questions and he said, “ALL THE TIME!” He had the ability to answer the same question for different learning styles and taught with great confidence. That is what a 60 year old pastor could be doing…..

  9. 61+. Doing interim ministry now, after about 25 years in installed pastorates. It’s not only pastors who have to re-tool, but churches who need to understand that younger does not always equal better. So much good solid pastoral leadership is being allowed to slink away in favor of the perceived next new thing. Youth does not trump experience in every case. There is something to be said for consistent steady leadership, and no church will grow/prosper consistently unless folks are willing to change themselves. No pastor can initiate or sustain change on his/her own. And age-ism is the last little dirty secret in the church.

  10. The built in cruelty in the call process is the AA/EEO requirement. It’s hard to get excited about a projected interview when deep inside the prospective candidate is the nagging feeling that the PNC only wants the interview because he/she is over 60, and they want to be able to tell their COM that they were complicit.

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