I Don't Want to be One of Those Pastors

I don’t want to be one of those pastors. I don’t want to be one who stays in a church even though it’s not a good fit, who keeps working just to get a pay check, who refuses to retire even though  the congregation is unhealthy and in need of new leadership.

I don’t want to be one of those pastors. But I can see how I might just be tempted. In no other position will I ever be able to make the kind of money I make as a pastor. Greeting at the local Wal-Mart just won’t pay the bills.

I don’t want to be one of those pastors but I can justify it. May I not conclude that if God doesn’t call me to another pastoral ministry, He wants me to continue to serve my current congregation? That’s the logic I was once taught to apply to the practice of discerning God’s call.

I don’t want to be one of those pastors but if Pope Benedict could serve the church until he was nearly 86 years old, why can’t the Lord use me as I age – even thought I get around a little more slowly.

I don’t want to be one of those pastors but how do I know when it is time to retire? How do I know when it is time to step aside and let someone else take my place? In the wake of Benedict XVI’s retirement and transition to the role of Pope Emeritus, Christianity Today published an article by Ruth Moon entitled “Quitting Time: The Pope Retired. Should Your Pastor?”

Moon asks an excellent question. In her research, however, she discovered that many pastors have no plan to retire. She cites a 2009 study of one denomination that found that only 1 of 4 had plans for full retirement; more than that said they didn’t plan to retire at all.

But shouldn’t pastors have a plan or be open to the possibility of retirement? If the Lord is the one calls us to pastor one congregation and the one who call us to leave one congregation to serve another, should we not also conclude that God will be the one who calls us out of pastoral ministry? Ruth Moon thinks so and suggests that Protestant leaders take a cue from Benedict’s choice.

The fundamental issue, however, remains: How do we know when to step down? Surely the circumstances of life – such as health and finances – will inform our decision. But should our decision be limited to those factors? Shouldn’t our decision also be informed by other factors, such as the health, vision and goals of the congregation we serve? Who wants to be one of those pastors, the one who holds on to a position for personal benefit while the congregation struggles?

At the same time, I don’t want to encourage congregations to dispose of pastors simply because they are over the age of 60. As the recent retirement of Benedict XVI (at the age of 85) and election of Pope Francis (at the age of 76) illustrate: sometimes what the church needs is a seasoned veteran who has been following Christ and serving the church for decades.


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