Preparing for Pastor's Retirement
Whether your pastor is 30 or 60 years old, now is the time to begin preparing for your pastor's retirement. It is difficult to intentionally plan for the departure of someone you know and love. But we all know that growing older is part of life. And at some point, your pastor will no longer be able to do the work of pastoral ministry on a full-time basis. So even for members of the clergy, retirement is inevitable.
The most loving and responsible thing you can do is prepare for your pastor's retirement.
Issues With Pastor's Retirement
While everyone faces questions about retirement, pastors have some unique issues that need to be addressed. As you work with your pastor to create a retirement package, consider the following.
When your pastor retires, he will probably have to relocate. In most cases it is not good for either the pastor or the church for the retiring pastor to remain in the area. When a new minister replaces the retiring pastor people in the congregation will have a difficult time transitioning to the new leadership if the previous pastor is still in the area. They will feel conflicted emotionally and think they are betraying the former pastor if they adapt to changes proposed by the new pastor.
Additionally, many pastors occupy the church's parsonage until their retirement. While some people will object to "kicking out" your retiring pastor, he obviously has to move before you can hire a new shepherd. A pastor's retirement package needs to make provision for this inevitability. He may need a severance amount so that he can purchase a new home somewhere else. Or, a church can help him make a downpayment on a house in Florida (or wherever) ten years before he retires.
His health insurance may not go with him. In order to get the least expensive insurance coverage, you may be tempted to purchase health insurance that only covers your pastor while he or she lives in your area. But it's important that you think long-term. Will he be able to take his insurance with him when he retires? If not, he may be forced to remain in the area. His dreams of retiring to the country or moving back to his childhood home may go unfulfilled if he can't find adequate and affordable insurance.
Your pastor's retirement may be complicated by social security. In the United States, a pastor can opt out of social security tax deductions from his salary. As you prepare your pastor's retirement package, make sure you understand the consequences of his decision. If he opts out of social security, your church should still invest the 7 1/2 percent of his income that you would have sent to the IRS. Start some type of pastor's retirement account so that he will have some money when it's time to retire.
Your pastor may not be ready for full retirement. Most pastor's don't want to retire to a little community in Florida and play shuffle board for the rest of their lives. They want to be involved in ministry. But it's possible that their clergy retirement funds won't be sufficient to support anything else. Perhaps you could consider supporting your retiring pastor like a missionary so that he or she can do short-term missions trips, serve as an ambassador for a mission organization, or become a chaplain.
He may be tempted to delay starting a retirement account. Pastors don't get paid a lot - most pastors any way. Generally speaking, though, no matter how small his salary it is essential that he start saving now for retirement.
These are among the most significant issues surrounding your pastor's retirement. The best way to address these issues is to have open and frank conversations with your pastor. But please know two things as you talk with your pastor about retirement.
You may feel hurt or offended when your pastor talks about a life without your church. This is normal. It's kind of like hearing your parents talk about all the fun they'll have after you and your siblings are grown up. This is a good thing - it shows you love and respect your pastor. Don't, however, allow your feelings to cloud your judgement when considering issues of your pastor's retirement.
As hard as it is for you to think about your pastor's retirement, it's even more difficult for him. He or she may even try to avoid talking about retirement. But for his own sake, you need to pursue these conversations.
A Word to Pastors
Pastor, please allow me a moment to speak directly to you about pastor's retirement. I can't imagine the conflicting feelings you must be experiencing as you consider the end of your pastoral ministry. When you transitioned from one church to another earlier in your ministry you had something to draw you forward... something to lead you away from your current location. But as you prepare for retirement, you may not have someplace to be, so to speak. You may not have a deadline to start at a new ministry... nothing forcing you to pack your boxes and move on.
But you know what you need to do for your church. Your congregation is experiencing grief not unlike that of a grieving widow. And prolonging your departure forces your church to extend their grief - like a woman watching the slow decline of her husband's health. She knows that death is coming, but she doesn't know when. You've walked many people through this grieving process. You know how difficult it is for the surviving spouse. Don't do that to the congregation you love - the people you served for years.
I've seen far too many pastors linger beyond their time. They end up damaging the very relationships they spent years building. Don't do that to yourself. Don't do that to the church you love. As hard as it is, when it's time to go, pack your boxes and go.
Pastor's Retirement Conclusion
For some pastors retirement is too far off to think about. For others the thought of leaving ministry is too painful to consider. But eventually, one way or another, your pastor will leave your church. For many, that means retirement. Help your pastor prepare for and transition into retirement. And the best way to do that is to start now by dedicating part of his salary to pastor's retirement.