Rethinking Retirement in Ministry
by Matt Acosta
Retirement can either be good news or bad news. And whichever you think it is I think it entirely depends how one views and understands retirement; moreover, how one plans, and the actions taken early on in life to prepare for it.
Until the late 19th century, retirement was a foreign concept. And the only known old-age plan for the bulk of the world’s workers was to “work until you die – or until you can’t work anymore”. The saying itself can easily resonate to anyone as the Bible echoes a similar thought. Prior to the fall of man, the God of Creation already designed man for activity, creativity, and productivity. And it was only after the fall when God mandates humanity to labor and toil for bread until they return to the ground (Gen. 1:28-30; 3:19). That is to say that even though we may retire from our vocations, indulging on the fleeting pleasures of the world (not that God opposes leisure), and become sitting ducks in the remaining years of our lives are far from what God had intended. This is precisely what’s advertised to us daily by our culture, which we sadly buy without a second thought! But as Christians, we must step back and rethink this issue with wisdom and discernment. So, whether retirement feels like light years away, or whether you’re already approaching the shores of retirement age, resolve to never cease from being active, creative, and productive in serving Jesus, though the way we serve may change.
The implication goes the same with “full-time” Christian ministry leaders (e.g. pastors, missionaries, etc.). Whether you believe that a minister should retire or not is up for a whole new discussion. Notwithstanding, whatever one’s stance on the issue, we can’t deny the reality that at some point in life people have to keep their feet off the life’s gas paddle – not necessarily to slow down, but to transition to another phase of life where there are new visions; new sets of goals that ignite new passions; restructure priorities, and transform the manner of service to make Jesus look more glorious to the watching world.
This being said, as good and noble retirement seems, some ministry leaders refuse to consider, or are afraid of going for retirement. And out of many observations, the following are the 3 major and common reasons that explain why ministry leaders do not retire when they should:
Ministry as the sole source of income
This is undeniably a plain fact: pastors are just not financially prepared to step away. When was the last time we saw a pastoral work made it to Forbes list among the highest-paying careers? Probably not even once! Is financial literacy the root problem? In some cases: yes, but not necessarily always. My parents since we were kids have been wise and frugal about finances. As much as they wanted to save for retirement as an option, it was certainly not a necessity at that time — particularly when they were barely making enough in the mission field, and they had a 2-year-old, 4-year-old, and a 6-year-old crumb-crunchers at home to feed – not to mention the fact that some ministry funds were taken out of their personal income. The truth is, unless the pastor works for an average, or big-sized church with more than a hundred people, he has a limited pay. Many of the pastors I know personally served in small and rural churches that paid only modest salaries, and couldn’t afford to contribute to their pastors’ retirement. There are cases, too, that even though some churches have the capacity to give more, insensibility and poor stewardship also deprives the pastor of the pay he deserves for his faithful labor.
In 2010, when I was in the Philippines I met an 85-year-old pastor, who claimed to be a distant relative of mine. The pastor volunteered at a church of more than 300 people in attendance, with about 4 million Pesos or $84,000 in revenue annually. The reason why he was still actively serving in church was because of his sickly, bed-ridden wife, and they needed the money for daily food and medicine. Surprisingly the church gave 2,500 Pesos ($50) a month as honorarium and gesture of “love”. It broke my heart even more when I knew the couple lived at a dilapidated hut house (“Payag” or “Bahay Kubo”).
I could go on and on with real life situations similar to this; the point is, as much as these pastors want to retire, they can’t afford to as they need the church’s paycheck to live. One might argue and say, “Shouldn’t pastors worry about these things because he is a man of faith, and therefore should live by faith?” I think this is often a favorite line and ecclesiastical cop-out of Christians for being insensitively ungrateful, stingy and ungenerously unfaithful stewards of the Lord’s resources. One of the marks of true faith lies on how Christians put God’s money and resources to work, and especially how they take care of the one who cares for their souls. Unless the churches are willing to take note of this reality and take their fiduciary duty to set in place and fund a retirement account for all their pastors, we certainly need an alternative!
Ministry as the sole identity
“Until I die, a preacher am I” was one of the songs we used to sing at pastors conferences that seems to resonate with many ministry leaders. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. Nevertheless, while it is important to focus on what God has called us to do, this is too single-dimensional in that it does not develop a life outside the church. In fact, in some cases we might see this as arrogance, especially when we began to see ourselves as indispensable – thinking that the church needs us so badly that God can use no other, that we cannot afford to develop any other part of our lives. My professor once said, “As lead or senior pastor age, they tend to overstay and too frequently see the church decline.” The statement wasn’t intended to question the faithfulness of older pastors; it was just a plain fact and reality. And I mean no offense, but the idea of “once a pastor, always a pastor” is not always true with everyone in every situation, because fortunately the church will not crumble when you leave the church. The church is Jesus’, not yours.
Faulty ministry philosophy
“There’s no retirement in the work of the Lord” is another statement I’d often hear from older ministers. The problem with this philosophy is in the faulty idea that burning out is better than rusting out. This concept is fraught with pride, that “If I don’t do it, nobody will, and certainly no one works as hard as I do.” But how about “transitioning out” and do well in manner of training a Timothy from among the next generation of pastors to become as good as you, or better yet, someone who outweighs your caliber? Could it be that older pastors, when driven by pride, are threatened by the younger ministers’ potential, creativity, and new ministry inputs they can put forth on the table, that would hence steal away the spotlight? I have to admit that I have yet to meet an older pastor who reaches out his hands intentionally to my generation and say, “allow me to shepherd you as you shepherd your church.” There’s no doubt these pastors aren’t lazy. In fact, they are faithful to Jesus. But realize that ministry is multifaceted; there is life beyond pulpit, and at some point in life there has to be a hand off to younger generation.
So, whether you’re still in your 20s, 30s, 40s, or even if you’re over 50 of age, there is no time like the present to think about the factors discussed, and start taking action. And since there have been a growing number of ministry leaders facing retirement security crisis, numbers of retirement foundations have also been created to serve as an alternative to those who have difficulty retiring. Amongst these foundation is the Shepherds Care Ministry.
Introducing the Shepherds Care Ministry
Shepherds Care is an affiliate ministry of GraceDrive, Inc., that primarily exists to assist in relieving the plight of current retired pastors; extend assistance to the needy full-time ministry leaders and their families, especially in their preparation for retirement. This ministry also intends to support the children of ministers with special needs in the area of medication, education and other needs that require urgent attention.
One of the long-term visions of GraceDrive that’s on the progress of being realized: it is to create a community for the needy & aged ministry leaders. The philosophy behind however is more than just about providing them with life’s basic needs such as care, food, and shelter. It is to encourage and inspire hope, and direction; a sense of purpose and productivity. Shepherdsville will be a community for Jesus’ faithful ministers that testify to the next generation of God’s might and power; His faithfulness, and His grace (Psalm 71:18).
I encourage you spend some time thinking about this ministry. It is time that we be reminded of our fiduciary duty to the faithful servants of the Lord. For further questions about this ministry, or how to get involved, you can email us here at email@example.com.