Questions to Ask Yourself About Retirement: Discerning the Right Time

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Pastors know the importance of good timing. The right word spoken at the right time can heal a broken soul, challenge an addicted spirit, or move a group towards consensus in a time of crisis. Pondering the right time for action is a sign of leadership: when to launch the capital campaign, fire the choir director, or ask for a new appointment (maybe right after you fire the choir director!).

Asking the question “Is this the right time for me to retire?” may seem like a selfish question to pastors, who often focus on others. What does the church need? What does the Conference need? We often push back our fatigue and burnout to serve others.

The Center for Health encourages you to think about the importance of good self-care as an act of stewardship. The Church needs vital, healthy spiritual leaders. Taking time to ponder a decision as important as retirement is not a selfish act! Retirement is a decision that affects your family, your friendship circles, and the congregation you’re serving, as well as the Annual Conference.

As you begin to think about retiring, you’ll need to review the Disciplinary process through your Conference and work with Wespath Benefits and Investments (Wespath) for good financial planning. You’ll also need to give yourself time to think about the spiritual journey you’ve been on. Since pastors often identify deeply with their work, mixing “role” and “soul,” they often have mixed feelings about retiring. Retirement seems attractive when the stress is high, but it also may include losses, such as a very public identity and status, the discipline of sermon preparation, or the warm feeling of caring for others. Where will you worship? Finding a church to attend after years of preaching may not be as easy as it seems.

Audio Discussion

R. Jack Hansen, one of the authors of this article, discusses the discernment process (WAV file).

First of all, remember that your identity as a disciple of Jesus Christ comes before your consecration or ordination. Take time to journal some of your thoughts about your life in ministry. What are some of the highlights over the years? What are your regrets? Do you remember the first stirrings of your call to ministry? Make a list of the spiritual gifts you’re still discovering in yourself; this may help you discern what’s next.

Is there a “call” for you in retirement? Retirement in the United Methodist Church does not mean surrendering your Orders. It refers to your relationship to the Annual Conference. Many pastors have experienced the best years of their ministry after retirement!

In our book Shaping a Life of Significance for Retirement* we write about the importance of retiring to as well as from something. Having a sense of purpose and a way to continue to give are important values for most of us. Some people enter retirement with a very clear sense of the role they want to assume and the projects they want to be involved in; others need time to think about that. In our survey of newly retired professionals, we found that no one thought that full-time leisure was enough for them—in spite of those glitzy advertisements!

Here are some suggestions to help you discern the timing of your retirement:

  1. Discernment is about asking the question “Is this of God or not?” Typically that means slowing down the process of decision-making in search of greater clarity. Read some of your favorite scriptures. Look up passages on aging (such as Psalm 92:14). Pray. Have conversations with trusted friends. Finding a safe place to explore this question is very important. Take good care of yourself during this transition; know that God’s love is there at all times!
  2. A spiritual director, life coach, or counselor may be helpful for you. Transitioning from full-time ministry to whatever follows is a major decision, worth the extra time and expense to fully explore it.
  3. The Quaker “Clearness Committee” process involves opening oneself to a group of peers commissioned to ask open, honest questions without judgment. The Way of Discernment (Upper Room Books, 2008) by Stephen V. Doughty explains the process clearly.
  4. Go on a retreat by yourself or with others. The first discovery may be how tired you are! Allow yourself to rest. Later, other messages will come. Keep listening to your body; it is a great communicator—so pay attention!
  5. Consider participating in a covenant community experience such as The Upper Room’s Academy for Spiritual Formation®. Finding a new circle of spiritual friends can be very helpful for discerning a call to enter retirement.
  6. Take extra time to listen to your family, children, spouse, and siblings. Tell them what your hopes are, and ask them how your decision may affect them.

One final word regarding this decision: use discretion in terms of when and with whom you share your decision. Announcing your decision too soon can make it difficult for you to complete your work well. Note that conversations with Wespath staff are confidential.

*Shaping a Life of Significance for Retirement by R. Jack Hansen and Jerry P. Haas (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2010).

©Jerry P. Haas and R. Jack Hansen, 2012

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