One of the interesting dichotomies I see among pastors who have been in the business for a long period of time concerns what happens after retirement. Some never seem to really retire. They announce their retirement, leave the church and then within a few days, are announcing that they are now the interim pastor or permanent supply or part-time pastor somewhere. When they are done there, they announce another retirement and then within a short time, are announcing another interim or supply or part-time position somewhere else. I occasionally joke that such people just love retirement parties.
Another group retire–and they actually retire. Some might do some occasional supply preaching but they even set limits on that. They turn down requests to be interim or part-time. They avoid long term supply preaching. Some actually stop everything associated with public ministry. They attend worship but avoid teaching Sunday School, becoming deacons or anything like that.
Because my favourite all time question is “why?”, I wanted to know what the difference was. My initial working hypothesis was that somehow, the stop group were better and gave more of themselves to the ministry and therefore were spiritually and vocationally worn out. That would mean that the keep going group probably didn’t give as much of themselves and therefore weren’t affected as much.
But although there was some evidence this was the case, there really wasn’t enough to prove the case conclusively and there was enough lots of conflicting evidence. Two good friends who have recently retired are in the stop group and they were good, caring and hard working pastors. But others, equally hard working and caring, are on their second or third retirement. There was also the example of two equally good, equally caring people in identical high profile ministries. One retired so many times he is probably listed in the Guinness book of records. The other rarely did anything ministry related after retirement.
So, why am I looking at this and thinking about this? Well, I am retirement age but not retired. It is coming, though. I can’t see the handwriting on the wall but know that the pen is probably in position. Then I will have to decide if I am going to retire once or become a serial retirest. (I know that isn’t a real word but it works–my blog, my choice). Right now, I can’t imagine wanting more than one retirement.
The best answer I can give to the whole issue right now is that we are all different and therefore our response to ministry is going to be different. Just as we all have different levels of physical, emotional and spiritual energy, so also we have different levels of vocational energy. The demands of ministry are going to affect us differently, depleting our stores of energy at different rates. The cycle of our ministry is going to have an effect. I am pretty sure that if I hadn’t had a break from pastoral ministry in the form of a couple of years teaching in Kenya followed by a depressing year of unemployment, I would have been ready to retire and retire in the stop category by now.
Since I probably lean towards the stop category, I think I understand the need some people have to finish and not go back. This doesn’t mean we give up on life–a retirement with no focus and no activity and no reason to enjoy life will be a short retirement. The statistics suggest that people who give up everything on retirement tend to die early. But for some of us, that point and focus of life will likely have to be something very different from whatever we did in our working life.
Ministry, because of its demands and stresses is going to make some people really tired–and that vocational fatigue isn’t the sign of a lack of faith or doing too much or too little. It is simply one more sign that God has made all of us different and that one size (or plan) doesn’t fit all. In the end, I really don’t know for sure when I will retire and I don’t know how many retirements I will have. But I do know that when I am ready, I will listen to myself and to the Holy Spirit and do what seems right at the time, based on my needs and the leading of the Spirit.
May the peace of God be with you.