Andy Rooney was a radio and television writer whom many in my generation will remember for his weekly broadcast, “A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney,” part of the CBS News program “60 Minutes.” His last regular appearance on the show was in October 2011. He died a month later at the age of 92. When asked when he would retire, he had responded in the gruff fashion for which he was so well-known, “Retire from what? Life?”
Most of us don’t have the privilege of working until we die, but neither is retirement a bad word. The Bible does not prescribe a retirement age, except in one place: “This applies to the Levites … at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer” (Numbers 8:24-25).
But that does not apply to everyone. Current culture speaks of retirement at age 62 or 65 but many are working longer. I am blessed to have had good health and to retire from full-time ministry at age 77. People had told me, “You’ll know when it’s time.” I knew and I did.
Someone has spoken of retirement as that time when the retiree’s wife gets twice as much husband and half as much money! Having recently retired, I can testify that is not far from the truth.
Someone else observed that in retirement, every day is Saturday. It’s like having a perpetual day off.
Retirement for a pastor is in many ways like everyone’s retirement, an abrupt ending to one’s career. It might be easy to feel like a woman or man “without a country.” In other ways, however, a pastor’s retirement is unique.
For instance, most retirees are glad to have a break from the routine of their jobs, yet after a while they begin to miss that same routine. Most pastors are glad to gain a respite from the demands of a busy pastorate, yet in time they miss certain aspects of the job. They may miss preaching, the fellowship of people in the parish or ministering to families in crisis.
It is easy to think of one’s identity as tied to their job. When they no longer have that job, they wonder, “Who am I?” For a retired pastor, it may be easy for some to feel, “Without a parish, I’m not sure who I am or what my role should be.”
When a pastor becomes a layperson, sitting in the pew, it may be difficult to listen to others preach. While there is an appreciation for the preaching of the Word, the retiree may wonder, “Why did Pastor use that approach with that Scripture? I would have taken it a different direction.” Over the years, pastors prepare hundreds, even thousands of sermons. So, it’s only natural they would sometimes think of stories, quotations or illustrations that would fit so well with a point the pastor just made. Or think of another Scripture reference that would have helped to interpret or shed light on the passage in question.
In my ministry, I spent 33 years in the pastorate and then 21 years in church administration. For 11 years of the administrative responsibilities, I had no regular preaching assignment. That was a big adjustment until I began teaching an adult class, which I did for 10 years. That satisfied the need to give expression to my own faith and understanding of the Word.
On the home front, my wife does see a lot more of me than she did when I was working full-time. I spend more time in the kitchen, helping to prepare meals and assisting with the cleanup. My help is generally appreciated, but occasionally I am reminded that this is her domain much more than it is mine.
Fortunately, I have a home office with a library and resource materials, and I am at home there. Since I still do freelance writing and editing, as well as occasional preaching, I have a creative outlet.
Financially, retirement can be challenging unless one has prepared for the reduction in annual salary. Most people find it difficult to live on Social Security alone. Health insurance that was once paid by the church now becomes the retiree’s responsibility. In addition to Medicare, one must have a supplemental insurance policy as well as coverage for prescription medications. These premiums can take a sizable chunk of one’s retirement income.
Housing costs represent another issue. When pastors spend their entire career living in church-owned parsonages, having to buy or rent a home makes a huge impact on the budget. Many churches are providing housing allowances for their pastors, enabling them to build equity over the years. However, retirees face a financially stressful future if they have not made adequate provision for the new reality of housing costs. With home ownership also comes the responsibility for utilities, taxes, insurance, maintenance and repairs.
There are many positive benefits to retirement. For one thing, we don’t have to set the alarm as early as we once did. Getting a little extra sleep is a blessing. My wife and I have prayed together for decades, but now that we have more discretionary time, our prayer list has expanded. Besides the normal morning routines of grooming and breakfast, we can extend our time for devotions and prayer.
We also love being closer to family. In our case, for the last 27 years of our ministry, we were hundreds of miles from children and grandchildren. Now we live just a few blocks from one of our sons. We enjoy weekly visits from them or to them; sometimes we see each other even more frequently. We have two granddaughters nearby who are in high school. One is a cheerleader, both are in the band, one is in drama productions. So, we have opportunities to attend events that we only heard about in previous years.
We deeply appreciate our local church. If a minister retires directly from pastoring a local congregation, I do not recommend they continue to attend that same church. The new pastor needs time to build relationships with the congregation and become accepted as their leader without the former pastor hovering in the background.
We have retired in a community where I was once the pastor of the church we now attend, but more than 25 years elapsed between our departure and our return. So, I am no threat to the current pastor. While we have friends in the congregation, there are also many who did not know us before and who do not see us in a pastoral role. We enjoy being supportive and encouraging without having responsibilities for the congregation.
In short, retirement is great. We were fortunate enough to prepare and the denomination helped us prepare financially through its pension program. We are in reasonably good health and able to enjoy many of the blessings of retirement. In addition, God is still faithful to supply our needs, as he has always done through the years.
Rev. Ron McClung is an author, speaker and retired Wesleyan minister.