If serving as a pastor is a calling and not a job, why would God’s calling end simply because a person reaches the age of 65? That’s a question being pondered and answered by some who have embarked on new careers — or a second round of the same career — after crossing society’s retirement threshold.
These new opportunities for church lay leaders and ministerial members alike can bring unbridled joy and enthusiasm for what lies ahead. This is the case for long-time pastor Dr. Laurel D. Buckingham, founder of the Buckingham Leadership Institute in Canada, who is as enthusiastic about training up church leaders today as he has ever been.
“I feel better at 84 than when I was 44 in every way — physically, spiritually and mentally,” he said. He credits this to several things, the main one being that life is not about pleasure but about purpose. “When you are involved in seeing lives changed for eternity, you really start to think about that. A passion for a vision determines how we spend our time.”
Dr. Buckingham served as the lead pastor of Moncton Wesleyan Church in New Brunswick, Canada, from 1969 until 2013 when he began to lead the center named for him. “You can retire from a career, but you cannot retire from a call. A call is what I was created to do,” he said.
He believes he has been more productive in retirement than before. “I was 73 when I finished pastoring and these past 10 years have been the most fruitful and the most energizing in many ways.”
As the institute’s chief executive officer (CEO), and through their workshops and cohorts, Dr. Buckingham has worked with Wesleyans to Catholics. What gets him excited are the churches in other denominations that have been helped and souls that have been won for the Lord, all because of the training offered through his group, which is now affiliated with Kings Church in St. John. “I knew there would come a time when I couldn’t lead this anymore, and I wanted to find someone to take it over,” said Dr. Buckingham. “Brent Ingersoll, the pastor of Kings Church, is going to become the CEO when I’m finished,” he said.
Best Laid Plans
Another pastor who gave up his own retirement agenda is Dr. Keith Carroll who officially retired December 31, 2023, from the staff of Mt Zion Wesleyan Church in Thomasville, North Carolina, a church where he spent 23 of his 29 years there as the lead pastor. After 44 years in ministry, he said, “I told my family when I retire, I am going to be retired!”
But God… Just as Pastor Keith was preparing for his life of leisure, he received a call from the North Carolina East District Superintendent Tim Jones asking if he would serve as interim pastor at Covington Memorial Wesleyan in Reidsville. Rev. Jones did not know at the time that Covington was where Pastor Keith first got his start in children’s and youth ministry four decades earlier, and that his hometown is Reidsville. After two official weeks of retirement, Pastor Keith started his new job January 14, 2024.
Pastor Keith was fresh out of college when he was hired by Pastor Ralph Clayton, who himself retired in 2022 after 55 years of service at Covington. “Pastor Ralph and the church believed in me and gave me my start, and now I have the opportunity to go back there and serve them,” said Pastor Keith. But what he is most excited about is preaching. “I have just always loved to preach. The Lord has a wonderful way of working these things out.” The added benefit at this stage of life is fewer pressures. “I just think it is going to be exciting and refreshing in a way because it’s not quite the same situation as I go back there now.”
A third pastor, Rev. Blaine Derck of Colorado Springs, Colorado, believes God chiseled out a specific niche for him to use his skills and gifts in retirement. After pastoring for 35 years, he decided to semi-retire in 2020 and found himself immersed in an entirely new career with a funeral home. “There are a lot of people out there who have no church affiliation and no pastor, so an opportunity presented itself to fill that void,” he said.
He has also found an opportunity to counsel coworkers at the funeral home. “The folks I work with deal with death all day long. I’ve watched the toll the volume of deaths, especially through the COVID years, has had on them,” he said. He also has been able to counsel members of the LGBT community. “I have been able to speak into their lives and tell them ‘God cares for you’ in the midst of this. So, this puts me right on the front lines. I don’t need a church at this stage of my life to fulfill my calling,” said Pastor Blaine.
The fulfilling experiences these pastors are now enjoying in retirement are exactly why a group called Retirement Reformation was formed — to help seniors rediscover their purpose and calling in their retirement years. Bruce Bruinsma, founder and CEO of Retirement Reformation, states, “There are about 48 million Christ followers in the U.S. and Canada who are 55 and older.” He believes that most of them have no idea what to do once they retire, have no sense of purpose, are lonely and churches aren’t tapping into their strengths and wisdom.
That’s why Wesleyan pastor Rev. Elliott Innes of Colorado Springs, has teamed up with Bruce to help churches and seniors. “Our goal with churches is to move the church from having a ministry to seniors, to having a ministry of seniors,” said Rev. Elliott. They do this in several ways including helping seniors to experience the fruit of the Spirit to address loneliness; intergenerational prayer ministry; finding ways for seniors to support foster parents through a program called Wrap Around Grandparenting; equipping seniors in workshops and small groups and by helping churches activate seniors in ministry.
To learn more about Retirement Reformation and how your church can benefit from the wisdom of the older generation, listen to Church Multiplication and Disciple’s January webinar here.
Jennifer Jones is a former journalist and pastor’s wife serving as the North Carolina East District administrator.