Keep serving together

Role of pastor, wife in church following retirement from pulpit

By Carolyn Tomlin
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist

Like their counterparts in secular professions, most pastors will one day reach a certain age or face health reasons that prompt them to move into the phase of life known as “retirement.”

But being retired doesn’t mean a minister’s service to God or to people is over. A retired pastor can continue to serve where needed.

Retired pastors and their wives often have many questions about their role as a former pastor or “first lady” of the congregation. 

  • “Where will we place our church membership?”            
  • “We want to stay at this church where we’ve served for years … yet I want people to realize I’m not their ‘minister’ anymore. They now have another man in this position.”  
  • “I want to be supportive of the new pastor, but what is my role now?”

Now retired, a pastor’s wife says, “I’ve taught the ladies’ Sunday School class for 20 years. I love these women. They are my friends. Should I step down from this position? I don’t know what to do.” 

Supportive attitude

How a pastor and his wife perceives this new stage in life can have either a positive or a negative effect on their former church, as well as on their own lives. Consider two scenarios:

When Pastor Jones retired from a large city church he met with the new, young pastor the church called. 

He said, “I’m available to help you in any way possible. If you need a supply call me. If you want someone to visit the hospital or shut-ins call me. You have my phone number and know my contact. Otherwise I’ll be down at the pier fishing.”

Jones’ attitude was to assist the new pastor during this transition period — not to interfere but to be supportive. 

Is it any wonder the church continued to grow and serve God and people? 

However, not all churches experience a smooth transition when a beloved pastor retires and another one is called. 

Pastor Smith came to a small-town church when it was struggling to keep the doors open. He visited prospects, attended community meetings, supported local sports events, performed weddings and funerals and served many others in the area. Instead of a 40-hour-week, his work exceeded this many times over. 

The congregation grew and built a beautiful new auditorium. It’s no wonder the church loved this man. 

Upon retiring Smith had a difficult time giving up his role as pastor. He had no hobbies because he never took time for leisure pursuits. 

A few weeks after he left he continued to walk into the new pastor’s office unannounced. When the secretary asked if he had an appointment, he felt offended. After all this had been “his” church.

In Smith’s case his struggle with the transition to retirement has the potential to hurt the church he shepherded so well.

‘Calling never changed’

After serving as a pastor for 45 years, the last 23 years at Eastern Hills Baptist Church, Montgomery, Rick Marshall has used the months since retirement to focus on several things. 

“These months have given me time to reflect,” he said. “I look back to those happy memories, good relationships and blessings we’ve had during my active ministry.”

Another reward of retirement is the ability to choose. 

“Usually preaching twice on Sunday morning (and) being involved in the Alabama State Convention, a daily radio ministry and writing … well, my schedule was very tight,” said Marshall. “Now I can have morning coffee with my wife, enjoy books I’ve wanted to read and spend more time with our three married children and seven grandchildren.”

The Marshalls continue to live in Montgomery and attend Eastern Hills. 

“I’ve learned what it means to be a ‘regular member’ and I see things from the lay person’s side. My wife has always been active in my ministry, working in Sunday School, Vacation Bible School and missions.

“However, we can ride in the same car and go to church at the same time. She was always a member of a women’s class; now we belong to a couple’s class.

“As a pastor my head and heart has not changed,” Marshall said. “God called me to be a minister.”

Gary Fenton served as senior pastor of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church, Birmingham, for more than 25 years.  

“Retirement takes planning,” Fenton said. “I prayed about this stage in my life long in advance. During this time I developed a general plan that included my calling, my role and my position. 

“For me my calling never changed. God called me to be a pastor and to serve Him and others.

“As we age our role becomes different. I compare it to going from being a quarterback to now being a cheerleader,” he said. “My role now is to encourage young pastors and churches. Today in my position people in the community often reach out as they need someone to talk to.” 

Fenton serves as senior advancement officer at Samford University in Birmingham, leads conferences and preaches in churches. 

“During my time as senior pastor I never took a sabbatical,” Fenton noted. “Now I have time to read, to study and to learn new skills. When you retire you really must have something to do that fits in with your life.”

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Options for service

Each one of us is different. God made us that way. Retired pastors and ministry leaders have choices when it comes to how they spend their retirement years. Here are some of the options:

  • Interim pastor
  • Supply pastor
  • Sunday School teacher
  • Write-to-publish for Christian publications
  • Ministry to nursing homes and assisted living centers
  • Prison ministry
  • Volunteer missions
  • Start a men’s or women’s coffee club
  • Hospital visitation to support the pastor
  • Work in church clothes closet
  • Serve in centers that feed the homeless and low-income households
  • Chaplain to industrial companies and businesses
  • Write grants to support church programs (Read more: https://thealabamabaptist.org/grant-writing-basics-for-churches-and-faith-based-organizations/)
  • Sing in church choir or play in the church orchestra
  • Start or maintain a church library.

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Helpful books

  • “Positive Retirement Preparation for Pastors” by Lloyd Manning
  • “Retiring with Grace: A Baptist Pastor’s Journey from the Pulpit to Retirement” by Kenny Smith
  • “Out of the Pulpit, Into the Pew: A Pastor’s Guide to Meaningful Service After Retirement” by Gene Williams
  • “Pastor’s Wife: Blank Journal with Inspirational Bible Quotes” by Joyful Blessings

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Four ways ministers might be sabotaging their financial well-being

By Don McLeod, CFP
Special to The Alabama Baptist

People who answer God’s call to the ministry don’t always consider financial know-how to be one of their job descriptions. But too little financial knowledge can cause ministers to make mistakes that can impact their security in retirement.

Here are four of the biggest financial mistakes those serving in ministry make:

1. Failing to plan

Planning doesn’t have to be complicated. Use a resource you are comfortable with to establish a plan for how your money will be used. Be sure to include savings — both an emergency savings account for short-term needs and a retirement savings plan to reach long-term goals. Contribute to each one every time you get paid.

2. Accepting a lump-sum compensation package

With the “package” approach to financial support, ministers are provided a lump-sum salary. With this approach you pay taxes on the lump-sum salary and then pay for your own medical coverage and expenses out of the remainder — meaning you pay more taxes than necessary. To learn more download a free copy of GuideStone’s “Compensation Planning Guide” at GuideStone.org/CompensationPlanning.

3. Opting out of Social Security

New ministers are often advised to opt out of Social Security to lower their tax burden. According to the IRS this decision should be made solely based on theological beliefs involving the receipt of publicly financed benefits. Once the exemption has been granted it can never be changed and the minister loses a major element of the retirement savings equation.

To understand more about Social Security and the unique tax status ministers may encounter, download and review GuideStone’s publication “Social Security Considerations: Why Opting Out Is Not the Answer” at GuideStone.org/DontOptOut. 

4. Planning to earn income until God calls them home

Ministers tend to view retirement in one of two ways. Either they plan not to retire, expecting to work their entire lives, or they look to retirement as an opportunity to pursue a new phase of ministry, namely missions opportunities. They expect to fund their golden years through paid post-retirement ministry and as a result fail to plan ahead. 

While God’s call to ministry doesn’t have to have an end date, it may be unrealistic to assume you will be healthy enough to serve as a pastor in your later years. 

Plenty of faithfulness

It doesn’t take too many wrong decisions to affect our financial well-being. But in the same way it takes only a small amount of know-how — and plenty of faithfulness — to build a strong financial foundation for the rest of your life. And remember, God is honored by good management of all our resources including finances. 

EDITOR’S NOTE — Don McLeod is a certified financial planner with GuideStone Financial Resources. GuideStone serves churches and ministries by providing retirement and investment services, group and individual insurance plans, and property and casualty coverage. Visit GuideStone.org for more information.  

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