Mandatory Retirement: Friend or Foe —  September 30, 2014

The following industries have mandatory retirement ages:

Air traffic controllers.

Some government employees.



Why not pastors?

I was part of a committee that studied/analyzed/evaluated Adventist ministry. Contrary to many other committees I have been a part of, I didn’t feel I was wasting my time. There were several discussions and recommendations that came out of it, and just the fact that we are acknowledging the huge elephant in the room is progress. One of the discussions centered on the reality that in the next 10 years, 50% of pastors will be eligible for retirement. Notice I said eligible. We assume that pastors want to retire. Many don’t. Some do.

One of the solutions/suggestions talked about in some circles is having a mandatory retirement age for pastors at 70. You can retire earlier, but 70 is the limit. At first it sounded like ageism. As I debated it in my mind the pros and cons I decided to write about it. Here are three thoughts I have RIGHT NOW. My mind can be changed with better reflection and evidence, but so far this is my opinion.

  1. Mandatory retirement will give millennials an opportunity, not more lip service.

If you haven’t read this post from Chad Stuart please do. It is a call to the church to involve millennials at every level. The truth is that everyone wants to keep millennials but no one wants to retire so that they can have a job. Over 150 candidates graduated the seminary this year. How many will find jobs? The answer is…NOT MANY. Older pastors could be mentors, serve in less than FTE required posts, interim assignments, etc. We are not really serious about engaging millennials until we hire millennials.

  1. Implement a career long evaluative process.

Evaluation and pastors have not been great bedfellows. Usually a pastor is evaluated when some disastrous crisis has taken place, when the conference wants to make sure that the discontent coming from the church is real or when the pastor has been in a location for a while and a move might make sense. There is not consistent, intentional, grace and growth oriented in many conferences. That is just a fact. (a topic for another blog). I believe that if we implement a simple yearly evaluative process with a more comprehensive one every 3-5 years, it will determine early on the fitness of pastors for ministry. One of the hardest things to do (save for reasons of adultery or financial inappropriateness) is to fire an ineffective pastor. I’m on the pastors side. Yet I know of some that should have never been one. This way, we avoid ageism, but value effectiveness over purely an age decision.

  1. Retirement does not mean loss of effectiveness of lack of appreciation.

If it seems like I am wavering and kind of schizophrenic with my thoughts, you are probably right. I have seen some older pastors just biding time. Maintenance mode, without any new ideas and in fact resisting any new ideas. I have also seen some young pastors make extremely poor decisions that split churches and think they are the second coming of TD, Andy, Alejandro or Dwight. I have also seen older pastors that grow their church and younger pastors that do the same. So, where is the balance?

For me, a great example is Alejandro Bullon. Served his church masterfully for 40 years, to the day. When he retired he was extremely effective and could still do great things. Yet he retired. Now in retirement he is still busy, has produced several movies, holds stadium size crusades and writes extensively. All from the vantage point of retirement. Retirement is not the end. It’s more about providing an opportunity than a rejection of your ministry.


I want to know your thoughts on this topic. Especially I would like people that think differently than me to respond. It’s always good to hear all sides before forming an opinion.

Write me or comment below. Keep comments respectful but honest. Let’s talk about it.

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9 responses to Mandatory Retirement: Friend or Foe

  1. There are two points I’d like to add to this.

    1. Dr. Ivan Williams, current NAD Ministerial Secretary, has an awesome book (Keep the Flames Burning in Your Ministry) dealing with Pastoral Burnout. He wrote his dissertation on this subject. I would suggest, relative to this question posed by Joe Williams, that many pastors have reached and far exceeded the point of pastoral burnout. I would suggest that pastors/ministers read this book and study the signs that Dr. Williams lays out, showing the tell-tail signs that you have burned out in ministry.

    2. A friend of mine, who has over 35 years in ministry, shared a few valuable points to consider as I answer this very powerful question on mandatory retirement: Why not Pastors?

    First, one of the main issues facing the ministry, especially today as many Baby Boomers begin to retire, is that many of them did not plan their futures well. As a result, many stay much longer than they should have because they cannot give-up that ‘full-time stipend/pay’ that the institution gives each month, and the benefits associated with it. They have become so dependent on the Church, that it’s all they know, and all they’ve lived for. We won’t even count the number of minister who’ve died ‘in office’ or very shortly after retiring. We won’t count the ‘collateral damages’ of churches, personal health, family, relationships, etc., that has cost the minister over the years as a result of not know when it’s time to quit.

    Second, my friend mentioned the need for ministers to broaden their portfolios and ministry by stepping into other arenas of ministry that can help rejuvenate, refresh, readjust, re-prioritize, and re (everything) one’s career. Why not spread your wings and step outside your comfort zone and ask God to use you in other areas, e.g., Teaching, Chaplaincy, Mission Field, Evangelism, Marketing or Publishing, Writing/Research, etc. Far too often we find pastors who stay in the local parish their entire career and get burned out or lose their effectiveness. Ask some of them when was the last time they baptized someone. Many pastors are in the single digit (Baptism) annually, many haven’t moved into the 21st century with technology, etc., and many refuse to leave the pulpit for fear of not knowing what else to do!

    My answer: Yes! There should be a mandatory retirement based on the high intensity, very demanding job, and extremely stressful environment that comes with being a pastor/minister. All of those other career examples fall in these categories. I would even add that if one chooses not to retire, then at least choose another ministry setting that allows you to slow down.

    From examples and experience, we know far too many ministers who’ve had heart attacks, divorces, died, health issues, and many other issues precisely due in part to this question.

  2. How can someone measure a pastor’s efficiency? Tithe and number of baptisms per year? How about those serving small churches or difficult districts plagued by chronical conflict?

  3. Roger, you raise a question I am presently struggling with. My wife wants me to retire when I reach the 40 year mark of working for the church. I knew (but wasn’t happy about it) that God was calling me to the ministry, at the age of 9. I fought it, my Academy Bible teachers said I shouldn’t. The Chair of the Theology Department said I shouldn’t. But the call was there, burning inside me. Four guys out of the 40 students that graduated from our Theology program had calls. I was told I wasn’t called because I wasn’t married. I taught church school, the fire burned. I became a pharmaceutical rep for Loma Linda Foods (baby formula). The fire burned. Three years later with the highest increase in sales, I was let go because my heart was to much in the church. I became a bi-vocational pastor, the fire raged. I’ve now pastored for over 30 years. My daughter’s married to a pastor. My son’s married to a pastor. And the fire still flames high. God graces my churches with growth. I didn’t choose to be given the gift of “pastor”, so, how can I tell God that His calling no longer applies to me? I have gladly sacrificed my “self” and my “health” to His calling. I’m His, period. So? How can I quit? It seems to me that the need for pastors has been cyclical since our inception. And yes we need younger pastors. Then again that’s what I thought when I was the younger pastor 30+ years ago. Here’s another question. Would you make the mandatory retirement applicable to all those who are in leadership, or only to the local pastor? And what happens when you reach 70? You’ve started me thinking again about why we do what we do? Where does God fit into our decision making? I’m at peace with God over the stopping full time pastoral ministry when I reach the 40 year mark. But in the meantime I still have souls to reach for Jesus and church members to help find and fulfill their calling too. Sorry about the rambling, short on sleep, and it’s been a long day already.

    • October 1, 2014 at 6:27 am

      thanks for your heartfelt and honest response. as you grapple with those real questions, God will lead. The reason I personally would like to work not more than 70 is that I plan to enjoy my children and wife even more. I want my life not to be defined by work. I can still accomplish much for God, without full time employment. Blessings on you my friend.

  4. I personally don’t believe in retirement because the last day of my life I want to be preaching a sermon on the second coming, making an appeal for baptism, watching people come forward…what I do believe in however is transferring the leadership and direction of the church to the next generation.

    I look at corporations like YAHOO, a multibillion dollar company…maybe I should say that again…a MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR COMPANY, who in 2012 appointed a 37 year old CEO.

    Some time ago, I heard a certain organization in our church was appointing its new leader for one of its most essential departments and they were over 70 years of age…

    Seriously? Seriously? You mean to tell me that we don’t have at least a 28 year old qualified young person with passion, zeal, integrity and enthusiasm who can serve in this role???

    Believe me when I say WE are reaping what we are sowing. We do all the ‘hand-wringing’ about how the young people are leaving the church and yet we are not transferring the leadership and direction to them.

    Ellen and James were teens and twenty-somethings when they started this thing!

    I don’t ever want to stop preaching, I don’t ever think the need will ever arise where a need for my leadership will expire at the local church where I can mentor and encourage the next generation. I need to be willing to step aside and become an encourager, mentor, and counselor when the time comes but I will never stop preaching the gospel, giving bible studies, counseling, and being effective.

    I challenge myself continually by asking myself the question, “What am I doing right now in ministry that I could be mentoring, and empowering a person younger than myself to do and do it excellently?”

    Maybe what you should write about next is term limits for leadership positions.

    • Totally agree. There is a general disconnect in training the next wave of leadership. Self-preservation, business and/or ignorance (in the sense of lacking the knowledge on how to train and mentor another) are part of what I think keeps established leaders from passing the baton.

  5. J. Fred Calkins October 3, 2014 at 11:56 am

    It seems to me we need to analyze and apply Numbers 8:24-25. I still wrestle with it and have long planned on retiring at 70 but remain very ready to look harder at the issues.