ll careers, even those of people devoted to ministry, come to an end, whether voluntarily or involuntarily.
I retired as a pastor in the Church of the Nazarene by choice. After I spent countless hours of prayer and long days of number crunching, God opened the door for me to retire. To leave or not to leave: That was the question!
Shakespeare’s well-known inquiry from Hamlet—“To be, or not to be: that is the question”—applied in regard to retirement does not have to imply something as dark as Hamlet’s contemplation of suicide! However, it is a momentous decision that, for me, had unseen consequences. One consideration was the financial aspect. Second, like all who are called to Christian ministry, I was a person who not only made a career for all those years, but a person who was being made by that very career. So, when I left vocational ministry, part of me seemed to remain, leaving an emotional void and a psychological puzzle to greet me in retirement.
FILLING THE GAPS
Almost immediately after celebrating my retirement from a church I had served for many years, I began to realize I faced many gaps that needed filling. Through prayer, support, and patient trust, these gaps are being filled, and they are not uncommon for longtime ministers who no longer have a congregation to lead.
1. Reality Shift and Identity Crisis:
The first transition was a reality shift. Retirement involves a kind of grief. It is both an end and a new beginning. As a result, I began to experience a wide variety of emotions: loneliness, boredom, feelings of uselessness, and even disillusionment. Getting acclimated to this new normal required answering
intimate questions: Who am I now? Why do I exist? What is my purpose in life? What do I do now? Answering these questions would be the key to unlocking the door to understanding my new reality and my new identity.
2. Routines and Relationships:
I discovered I was clinging to wrong assumptions regarding my new role in life. I had not considered the psychological adjustments that accompany this lifestage, which include coping with the loss of career identity, replacing support networks a person has through his or her work, spending more time than ever before with a spouse, and finding new and engaging ways to stay active. What I needed most was to establish new routines in four areas:
Consistent exercise routines and healthy eating habits gave me focus and energy.
Deepening my intimacy with God:
Engaging in new study routines and keeping my mind sharpened by reading good books are two priorities that have filled the void left by the absence of weekly sermon preparation.
Social Interactions: I needed new activities and relational routines to replace time normally spent ministering to my congregation. Also, I needed to establish new interactions with my spouse and other family members, given the fact that I was at home more than ever.
Meaningful Ministry: I needed new ways to be involved in church life, since I was no longer the pastor. These new routines included finding ways to disciple, to be discipled, and to connect with people. I knew I needed routines that would give me support, significance, and a strong sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. If this is something you face, too, find places you enjoy going where you will meet other friendly people. The gym, golf course, church, coffee shop, volunteer activities, and small groups through a local church are all places to start expanding your social circle. I got involved in the pastor forums through my local Nazarene university (SNU) for continuing education and social connections. I joined two small groups, which I am now leading. I got involved in a new church, mentoring men and participating in church activities.
3.Finishing Strong: Retirement can be a fun experience. I’m having great days, because I have decided I’m not really retired. I have just started a new chapter in my life, and I’m going to finish strong. I am learning that in order to do this, I have to be deliberate in my planning and take responsibility for what I want my life to be like in retirement.
I am developing new goals that are still ministry-centered, and as I do so, I am learning not to be surprised if my experiences and feelings fluctuate from fun to dull, certainty to uncertainty, excitement to anxiety, or anticipation to fear. When these feelings shift, I am learning to identify the source of uncomfortable feelings and then address underlying issues.
DO NOT RETIRE ALONE
I reached out to family members and support groups after my retirement. My brother-in-law, who is also retired, reminded me: “Don’t just fill your time, but fill yourself.”
Scheduling events gives you reference points for future excitement. It’s also okay to take downtime. You remain significant to those closest to you: your spouse, parents, siblings, children, and grandchildren. In fact, retirement can make your discipleship role in their lives more significant than ever since
you now have time you once did not have.
I connected with a group for retired pastors and their spouses near where I now reside. Many of the pastors helped me through this process. This group is a place where we share feelings, fears, hopes, and dreams with others who are thinking about, experiencing, or who have successfully negotiated this transition.
ASKING NEW QUESTIONS
When I retired, I had to unlearn being the leader and accept my new role as a participating servant. I was no longer the pastor. However, for strength and significance, I have leaned on the spiritual disciplines I learned and taught while I was a pastor. Staying close to God has given me a more confident and positive attitude about this next stage of life and ministry.
All things considered, “To be, or not to be” is not the real question. The real issue is: What are you becoming? What will your legacy be? You can still finish strong. It’s
your choice. As the apostle Paul says, we are “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” (Philippians 3:13).
God wants us to take time to enjoy the beauty of His creation and the fruits of our labor. Reaching retirement age doesn’t mean that your mission in life is over. God still has
much work for you to do as you continue to live out His plan for your life: “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).