By John Ambra
Even old pastors sometimes need some pastoral care.
I’ve been in vocational ministry for three decades, including the last two decades years at GuideStone. During that time, I’ve walked alongside thousands of aged pastors and their spouses. Many have become close friends. All are close to my heart.
While every old preacher has a unique story, there are some common needs they all face as they journey through their latter years. Here are my top three.
Older pastors need a purpose in retirement
Imagine preaching almost every Sunday for 40 or 50 years. Visiting the sick, helping people grow in their faith in Christ, performing weddings, shepherding the flock.
Then it stops.
As I visit retired pastors all across the country, a common lament is not being able to preach very often anymore. Nobody seems to miss deacons’ meetings and church business meetings. But they do long for the weekly routine of preparation and proclamation. Today, with hair that is turning gray or turning loose, the calls to preach are few and far between.
And that can lead to a feeling of uselessness.
Part of this rests with the preacher himself. All of his life, his identity was wrapped up in being a pastor and he didn’t prepare for what a new chapter in life and ministry should look like.
Instead of pining about how things used to be, it’s much more healthy to ask, “Lord, what do you want me to do NOW?”
There are many ways to serve Christ and the church in this new season without being a senior pastor.
If you’re an older pastor, consider ways you might teach the Bible, reach the lost, go on mission trips, and make disciples in a different capacity.
But also look at how you can be a better husband, dad, grandpa, neighbor, volunteer, citizen, and friend. You have the time to do these things. Also, find a hobby. Do something you’ve been putting off until tomorrow. Tomorrow is here.
Meanwhile, the church needs to reconsider how it views aged preachers and their spouses. They have a wealth of experience and wisdom, and many want to remain active in ministry. Often they are waiting to be asked, and we are not asking.
Put them to work. Give them something meaningful to do. Maybe even provide them a stipend.
If you are a young pastor or pastor’s wife, consider inviting these retirees to be mentors to you. You and they will both benefit from the experience.
Older pastors need provision in retirement
Many of our retired pastors served small churches during their active years. Salaries were modest with few, if any, benefits. Some did not participate in Social Security and often lived in a church parsonage with no equity built up.
Today they balance low retirement incomes with high costs of living. Some face daily choices between food and medications.
Our Mission:Dignity ministry at GuideStone helps nearly 1,800 retired ministers and their widows with monthly grants that help pay for the necessities of life. The generosity of individuals, groups, and churches is making life better for these folks.
But many who are in need won’t ask for help. They have been givers throughout their lives and ministries, often sacrificing for the sake of others. They prefer not to let their church family know they are having a difficult time.
In 1 Timothy 5:17, Paul writes, “The elders who are good leaders are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” That verse carries not only a personal obligation but also a financial one. Followers of Christ are to be generous toward all people—and especially to our retired pastors and their spouses.
Check on these retirees in your church. Look for ways to assist them. Refer them to GuideStone for a grant from Mission:Dignity. A little extra income might help them pay for groceries—and it can also allow them to continue serving the Lord in some way.
Older pastors need our presence in retirement
It’s easy to assume that someone who spent his life caring for others in challenging situations can deal with whatever comes along.
But I was reminded otherwise by a tearful conversation one afternoon with a man who had been in ministry since his late teens.
He had preached thousands of sermons, held countless hands at hospital bedsides, and comforted numerous family members after the funerals of loved ones. But now, this aged preacher was shedding tears of his own and exposing his grief-filled heart as he talked about the wife of 60 years he buried the prior week.
Ministry credentials don’t stop the pain of death, the loneliness of loss, or the weight of dealing with family issues or caring for children or grandchildren.
In his book Side by Side, Edward Welch reminds us, “Friends are the best helpers. They come prepackaged with compassion and love.”
Take some time to visit with a retired pastor. Listen to his voice and listen to his heart.
Allow the compassion of Christ to work through you as you remind God’s faithful servants they are loved and not forgotten in their declining years.
- How Old Are America’s Pastors?
- A Pastor’s Greatest Regret After a Lifetime of Ministry
- Mixed Blessing: Research Explores Lives of Pastors’ Spouses
John is director of development for GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas, Texas.