The Baby Boomer generation is reaching the age of retirement. Thousands of pastors are announcing their retirement plans to their congregations. The people in the church will react in different ways. Some are glad: “Can’t wait to see the pastor out of here!” For many, however, it’s like experiencing the death of an old, trusted friend.
When a pastor announces an upcoming retirement, most people in the Church begin a grieving process. It’s like losing a family member, for many. They need time to process. They need to express their feelings. They should have an opportunity to show their gratitude. Here are some issues a retiring pastor and the Church should consider:
- Do not announce the retirement to the whole church too far in advance. If so, the “lame duck” syndrome begins. The announcement should be public about eight months to one year in advance.
- The leadership board should know one to two years in advance, in order to make a plan.
- Every church leadership group should work with the pastor to develop a succession plan.
- In some churches, when the senior minister announces that he (she) is leaving, everyone else on staff resigns (allowing for the new pastor to rehire them … or not).
- It should never be assumed the associate pastor will become the new senior pastor when the senior pastor retires. Some associate pastors are not yet ready. Some are not gifted or called to be senior pastors. Others are ideally gifted.
- The succession plan should never be the work of the whole congregation: 100 people will have 150 different ideas. This could be very disruptive to the church.
- Many churches use an outside, objective counselor to guide the senior pastor and the board through this emotional and difficult process of change.
- A team should be assembled to plan a celebration for the retiring pastor and his/her family.
- The succession plan may include an overlap period between the present, retiring pastor, and the succeeding pastor. This part of the plan generally depends on the gift mix and personality of both. An advisor can guide you.
- Before choosing a successor, the church should undergo a thorough, professional assessment by an outside expert. This assessment will help determine the type and style of leadership needed for the next chapter of history.
- Sometimes, particularly after a long pastorate, an intentional interim pastor is helpful. This is a person who “fills in” for one or two years, to help the church redefine the mission for the next chapter of history.
- The retirement of a pastor is a good time for a church to reflect on and celebrate the past. It is also an excellent time to reconfirm commitment to the future.
What have you observed when churches handle pastor retirements? Please share your experiences below.
Kent Hunter is known as the Church Doctor. His most recent e-books are The Future Is Now and The J-Dog Journey, available at no cost. Contact him at (800) 626-8515, or you can visit www.churchdoctor.org.