Postponing retirements


Here’s one for the disturbing news file.

A friend, who’s on the verge of retirement, just came back from a denominationally-sponsored retirement planning meeting, with two interesting pieces of information.

(1) There are incentives for putting off retirement. Big incentives. For every year that a minister puts off retirement, he or she gets a 5% increase in pension.

(2) It was communicated by those leading this meeting that it’s good for the denomination to do this, because older ministers are so much better than the young ones who are coming up.

The latter was conveyed, not over coffee, but in a seminar.

Now… far be it for me to cause intergenerational tension. I mean it. I try to build bridges. I appreciate the wisdom that can come from experience. I know that retiring pastors have seen a huge decrease in their portfolios, and many of them who would like to retire, simply cannot do it. I understand this. I know people who have been counting down for retirement for years, and now they’re stuck resetting the clock.

Yet, in light of the economic crisis, in light of the many people who have to keep working and do not have the luxury to retire and who are already filling the pulpits that our seminary grads would normally be moving into, do we really need to be giving incentives for people to hang on longer?

And, really. Are ministers who are past retirement age better than young pastors? We need to think long and hard about this one, because we are driving off our young pastors because we don’t have jobs for them. Conversely, we are hoping that our older ministers, who only have a few post-retirement years left, to hang on. How is that good for our denomination?

Let’s be clear. Post-retirement-age ministers are not better for our churches than young pastors. They are just much better for our pension funds. It’s much better for the board to have that big, fat, premium from the pastor who’s at the end of his or her career, and to cut down the pay-out by a couple of years, than to be collecting the measly percentage that young pastors can provide.

While the whole business world is dealing with job shortages by trying to give incentives for retirement-age employees to leave, we are giving incentives for them to stay.

Could we please stop with the ageism? Could we please begin to appreciate the innovation, energy, and vision that young clergy can bring to a congregation?

Research shows that the age of a congregation usually reflects the age of the pastor. It is the case in our denomination. So… is it the smartest thing to keep giving incentives to post-retirement ministers?

The photo is by burlap jacket


48 thoughts on “Postponing retirements

  1. It is outrageous, but not surprising from the pension board. Remember they told us coldly that the reason for two medical plans in poor, small churches was that we were probably going to get divorced someday and need the two plans.

  2. I sense the frustration here… no wait, I experience it myself. When I began searching for a call I was told in so many ways that churches were searching for a second career first ordained pastor, that way they could get the “life” and “administrative” experience but still pay presbytery minimum.

    For young-er-ish pastors that don’t feel called to youth ministry (even these positions are being replaced by non-ordained youth directors) it is difficult. Now as pastors nearing retirement but choosing or having to stay in ministry in perpetuates a large age gap in leadership that is reflected in our pews.

  3. This can only go on for so long.

    One of the traits of Emerging Adults that I got from the Princeton Seminary conference is that they demand real responsibility. If they don’t find it, they go elsewhere.

    Where do you think they’re going now? Where will those 3 out of 4 seminary graduates that can’t find a church accepting a first call go?

    And where are the young people in the pews?

  4. Okay, I can see the point you are making, Carol. But let me respond a bit. I am 54, so at least 10 years from retirement, and I really like being a pastor. I was ordained when I was 30 so I have been at it for 24 years. I am not burned out, but really enjoying what I am doing. I hope that I can go on doing this for maybe 15 to 20 years more. So maybe I shouldn’t get extra insentives to hang in there that long, but I would hope that as long as I have the energy and joy I could continue to serve. I would hope I would not be regarded as dead wood that needed to be cleared out. That is just my reaction to what you wrote.

  5. I was afraid that it would sound like that, Howard. But… it was not my intention.

    My concern is not for those who have the energy, or for those who need to do it. My concern is for those who would ordinarily retire, those who are ready to retire, those who are burnt-out. You know, those who need good incentives to hang on for more years.

    You know the pastors I’m talking about, and I can’t imagine you ever being one of those pastors!

    But, aside from that, my main concern is for the belittling comments that we allow to persist against our younger clergy. It’s a shame. I don’t want to put down older clergy, and I don’t want others to put down young clergy either.

  6. I love mission and ministry but what I can’t figure out is why someone wouldn’t want to retire by 65??? What’s with that? Finally getting to do the kinds of ministry and mission you’ve always wanted but were too afraid to take the financial risk on…

    -52 years old and countin’ the days.

  7. As a 60-ish second career pastor, it seems to me that churches all want younger (male, married with two children) pastors. It’s hard finding a call for all of us. I suppose it just depends on your perspective.

  8. I’m sure that it does.

    I was in a Presbytery once, where they were trying to have better introductions for the new ministers, so they asked the PNCs to speak. One PNC chair stood up and said,”We were looking for a man, in his forties, with a family….”

    I was shocked. But, I suppose I shouldn’t have been. He was just verbalizing what so many other PNCs would not say out loud.

    I’m not worried about people like me, though. I’ll be 40 soon enough, and I have 10 years of experience. Things aren’t getting any better for women, but I’m scrappy, so I’ll be okay.

    I’m worried about what we are doing to the clergy who are graduating right now, and there are no positions available. And I’m worried about a denomination that seems so short-sighted.

  9. As someone who is 52 years old, I too have read what the pension people have said. I’m not sure how I, say after age 60, will be able to keep up with the changes that are going on in ministry- I try now (I’ve very tech savy and use it as much as I can get away with.)

    My plan (which may not be God’s) is to retire sometime after 60 and try to do interims until I really am ready to retire (no matter what the pension may look like).

    And rememebr, its all about a call to serve the Lord and his people – no matter what age we may find ourselves… or in. I think you may not have reflected enough and that aspect….


  10. It pains me to read about this, but like to many others, it isn’t surprising. When we have pension boards pushing their weight around like this and making non-justified comments aren’t we in a situation where the tail is wagging the dog?

    Additionally, I know that there are many young first-time pastors coming out of seminary and I hear you say, Carol, that there aren’t any positions for them, but that isn’t entirely true. I believe there are positions out there. Some are not in places or church-sizes that younger first-time pastors would like: namely, small rural congregations desperate for someone to infuse them with some new life.

    My first “call” was to a smaller church in the middle of no where. No one wanted to go there and everyone asked me why I would. We can’t have our cake and eat it too! Our younger pastors (of which I still consider myself-34) can’t always take the great Assoc. position in the large church or the new church development in the growing area. I believe there is something to be said about gaining experience in preaching weekly, providing care for a smaller flock, trying out new ideas and learning how to work with people…

    Just a thought…

  11. I get a kick out of the assumption that second career ministers will always be able to hack serving a church. I mean, there are definitely second career folk who bring tons of life experience and are able to cope with the nuances and dysfunctions of church life and politics and then there are the horror stories of second career folk who are used to bossing others around or giving commands that must be followed or else who bring those command and control attitudes into the pulpit and leadership.

    Perhaps I feel that way because I have eleven years experience and am just 38, maybe I’ve simply been thoroughly churched.

    I too am at a loss for why statements are made by denomination officials and articles appear that cite concern over the risk taking of calling a “young” pastor. Perhaps its just a lack of trust across generational lines or signs of misunderstanding? And I always wonder if there weren’t elderly clergy saying the same things about younger clergy in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

    The reality is that there are wonderful seasoned clergy with forty years experience and younger clergy who give the rest of us a bad name and vice versa.

  12. I agree with Carol and I am a retiree (from academia) – at age 67. Anna Quindlan, in her last editorial on the back page of Newsweek a few weeks ago said essentially the same thing about journalists as Carol does about pastors. Anna Quindlan was retiring from doing the back page of Newsweek (but not from writing). She wrote that journalists who are at retirement age need to move on so younger journalists can have jobs.

    The question is, what is a proper retirement age. There is no good one answer to this. There are many examples of those who work into their seventies (or more) and do it well, but there are also many examples of those in their sixties or early seventies who have reached a point in their careers where they are just “treading water” and it is time to let a younger generation come in and move forward with new ideas and ways of doing things.

    I agree, that if we want to move the church to a place where younger generations than mine will come to worship and be together in Christian community, we need to let our younger leaders/pastors move in and up. Younger leaders/pastors are exciting for my generation too.

    Somehow we also need to help and support those who cannot afford to retire. I do not know how to do this, but a broad general statement about not retiring, such as Carol describes above, is not the best solution for anyone.


  13. “It was communicated by those leading this meeting that it’s good for the denomination to do this, because older ministers are so much better than the young ones who are coming up.”

    Am I the only one for whom this quote does not pass the smell test? I don’t know how many people this went through in the telephone game, but I don’t buy this summary. At all. I’m picturing people twirling their mustaches when I read this.

    I would be curious to know exactly what was said. I can think of several ways this conversation might have gone down… not that ageist attitudes don’t exist in the church, of course.

  14. Responding to Carol’s response to me:
    I did not really think you were saying that once a pastor hit a certain age, they were deadwood and needed to get out. But I did want to stress that while there are those who are burned out and need to move on, there are also “older” pastors who still have joy and energy and sometimes are more open to new ideas than some “younger” ones.

    I also wanted to respond to Glen as to why wouldn’t you want to retire– It all depends on the situation, what you are doing and what opportunities are open for you. If you are serving a healthy church with exciting things happening and you are able to contribute to its ministy, why would you want to leave just because you are 65? I have talked to a few recently retired pastors and they are bored out of their minds. Now, that really is their problem I admit. But after a few months of fishing/bowling/traveling/playing with grandchildren, they are ready to climb the wall. It sounds good until that is all you have to do.

    Finally, another comment: I don’t know where I heard it, but I thought there was a statistic out that currently a vast majority of pastors in the PCUSA were over the age of 45. Therefore within 20 years there will be a shortage of pastors. I cannot give you a source, but if that is true, won’t it be better for some pastors to put off retirement?

  15. Why not just ask the source what actually was said, not what was heard? Or who made the statement? Ask the maker of the statement to comment. I’m with reverendmother. I’ve been to two retirement seminars by our PC(USA) Board of Pensions and never heard anything but “how to” information on working our way into retirement… The seminars were informative and helpful and seemed to assume that people wanted to retire…

  16. In response to Howard: I know others find in enjoyable, but I don’t plan on wasting time fishing/bowling/traveling/playing. Can’t imagine how that would play when Jesus asked me to account for my time.

    I’m headed back to Africa for work – volunteer work. The PC(USA) is screaming for long term volunteers. Drs. Stan and Mia Topple are in their 80’s and still going. John and Martha Butt, Rob Collins, Bill Yoder, etc. are all retirees still actively engaged in mission and ministry just on a volunteer level which allows the denomination to send out younger folks who need the salary…

    Contact Shannon Langley for more details:

  17. Check out the demographics for the US, Carol. In a couple of years the majority of people will be over 65. Our helter skelter youth culture will change…and the church had better be ready for it because with greater life expectancy, there’s a whole new mission field out there just waiting to be harvested amongst the blue hair dos, and the potential old geezers like me.

  18. Carol, I appreciate you sticking up for people my age, but I think you go too far. I think that there are plenty of churches to go around, that churches mostly pay enough, and I really doubt that someone from the Board would suggest what you report them suggesting. Perhaps someone was making a sarcastic joke that was taken out of context?

    I really do think that people our age need to be more frugal. My cell phone bill last year was $20, I had limited cable (more basic than “basic” cable), I had the one-at-a-time Netflix plan, I don’t own sunglasses, I’ve purchased one car in my lifetime (and married into the other one). I have no college or graduate school or seminary debt. I find my salary more than adequate.

    Things like cell phones, laptops, DVDs, DVRs, cable, microwaves, cars, these are luxury items. A pastor working 100 years ago did not have these things. Heck, a pastor working 30 years ago probably didn’t have most of them.

    I also think that a lot of young clergy simply refuse to live in rural areas. Its like we are too good for it.

  19. By the way, “Rick” isn’t really my name, so I’m being a bit less humble than I normally would 🙂

    I did a little internet research, and from what I could find, the average American is about 35 years old. So, as someone that age, I’m not young anymore. I’m middle.

  20. True. I think a lot of the issue you’ve hit upon are valid. But I also think that our generation really does feel entitled to a hip lifestyle. Trust me, I’d like to sip the lattes and chat away on my Apple, and shop in the local Farmers Marker as much as the next person. But I literally have friends who, while searching for churches, have confined their searches to about a 100 square mile area. And, if you look on CMS, there are loads of churches looking for pastors. Some have been looking for a long time. Many pay more than $2.37 an hour. Something is amiss here.

  21. One more thing… I was told that this happened. I’ve asked, but I cannot use the person’s name.

    I’m sorry if it goes against your sniff tests, or you don’t believe it. But I generally believe people who have actually witnessed something, over a general gut feeling that someone, who wasn’t there, says can’t be true.

    True or not, why are we giving incentives for people to stay?

  22. Well, to argue agaist my own point, I think it is odd that expect younger pastors to serve rural churches (where the demographics are older) and we expect pastors to have lots of experience before we call them to churches in growing areas full of young people. Perhaps the Board could perk those 65 and older to serve those lonely rural churches (when a working spouse would be less of an issue if said spouse is retired), allowing younger pastors to serve younger people.

    Flip side: is it really harder for non-clergy to find jobs in rural areas? Unless someone has very specialized skills (like a college prof), I bet that many rural areas would like to hire on a new lawyer, doctor, teacher, dentist, automechanic, what have you. In fact, I bet its easier for a 27 year old inexperienced college degreed professional to find a job in a small town than in Portland, Oregon, which is overrun with young adults.

    I guess my short take is that I think we need to encourage people (young and old) to be more willing to serve rural areas first, and then worry about 70 year old pastors second.

  23. Carol-
    We met recently at the Transitions into Ministry event.

    I am 29 and a solo pastor of a Baptist church in the DC area.

    Most of my congregation is over 60, but they hired me “hoping that young people would come.” And, some now are.

    I think that there is a place of ministry for pastors over sixty and those in their 30s. Not all young pastors are ready or interested in their own churches and not all 60+ pastors still want to be serving the church.

    But some pastors under 30 are very eager to pastor and some 60+ pasors are not ready to life the local church.

    I think following the Spirit is our guide here. And, I’m very thankful that my congregation is giving me this wonderful opportunity to pastor, no matter my age!

  24. I stumbled across your blog. I think you are talking about the PCUSA pension board saying old guy sshould stay in the pulpit because it is what churches want. If someone said that in a seminar they should apologize. I’m offended, and I’m 44.

  25. I’ve asked Ernesto Badillo, Regional Rep (for the Synod of the Trinity) of the Board of Pensions if he’d like to comment. I don’t know if he’ll join us or not…

  26. Dear Carol,

    I understand per the information posted, that your source stated that he/she heard from the staff person at the Board of Pensions that “… for every year that a minister puts off retirement, he or she gets a 5% increase.” With all due respect, please note that the source may have misunderstood the information communicated. Our staff, workshops, seminars, publications and web site state that when a Member decides to take “post normal retirement benefits”, their pension shall increase by 6.5% per year, not to exceed age 70. Please follow the link to our web site to learn more (please see page 5) at:

    To chose “post normal retirement benefits”, does not necessarily mean that the individual will continue working, although they may opt to do so if the congregation, the Committee on Ministry and the individual continue to agree that this is feasible and acceptable to all three parties. You must also bear in mind that many retirement plans, including that administered by Social Security, have adopted a similar provision as to late as well as early retirement. In fact, if a person makes a decision to delay her/his social security pension beyond her/his “full retirement” age, Social Security grants a permanent pension increase of 3% to 8% per year. Please see the table as furnished by the Social Security Administration web site at:

    I would also add that once a person delays retirement, they cease to receive their “normal” benefit for up to five years. That post normal retirement benefit provision helps the retiree slowly “catch-up” with the pension benefit of a member that decided to take retirement benefits at age 65. As an example, suppose that at age 65 a member would have been entitled to a pension of $10,000 a year but decided for the post normal retirement benefit and initiated withdrawing pension at age 70. The benefit (I am excluding good experience apportionments and five years of pension accrual as these may vary and are not predictable) the pension would subsequently be $13,250 per year. We need to take into consideration that the now 70-year-old retiree delayed a benefit of $10,000 per year for five years or $50,000.00. This example implies that the 70 year old retiree would have to receive the late benefit for some 15.3 years (at about 85 years of age) in order to “catch up” with the retiree that initiated his/her benefits at age 65. The trend has been that because anyone with a birthday of age 65 in 2009 would be granted “normal retirement benefits” at age 66, most people both in Church and secular employment decide to continue working the additional year. Please see the link posted after this paragraph for specific information. Early Retirement Benefits also has its particular “catch up” formula.

    One of the objectives of our seminars for retirement is to provide our Plan Members with enough information to make an informed decision as to how, when and where is it best for them to retire. That includes the options of early, normal or post normal retirement. Over the years, many individuals have expressed how these gatherings have been important to map out and plan for their financial, health, social and spiritual future. Each person has her/his own set of unique life variables, family situations and values that requires of him/her to adopt (most of the time) a different action plan than their colleagues in ministry. At the end of the day, it is an important decision to make because many factors, other than money, contribute as to when they leave their last service and when they plan to initiate benefits.

    Carol, I regret that the person that shared these comments with you did not seem to have undergone the best experience at the seminar. Although I understand that he/she would like to preserve anonymity, I would encourage you to suggest to your friend that she/he be in touch with me or with his/her respective Regional Representative. As there seems to have been some misunderstanding with the first piece of information that was shared with you, there is also a possibility that the second piece of information may have been misinterpreted as well.

    The two Education Specialists that conduct these events are both Presbyterian Ministers that I have worked with for many years and are known and respected for their ethics and care for all Plan Members, regardless of age. I have to state that I have never heard them declare the comments allegedly expressed during the seminar that your friend attended. In any case, a statement of that nature is unacceptable, would have been received by the participants as inappropriate, must had been referenced in several if not all the evaluation forms for that event, and would be addressed internally with the seriousness merited.

    I am hopeful to have addressed most if not all the concerns expressed here. I thank you for your time, and those that have interest in this topic, in reading my response. Thank you for your ministry and allowing us to serve you.


    Ernesto Badillo
    Regional Representative
    Synods of Boriquen, the Covenant and the Trinity

    The Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church, (USA)
    2000 Market Street
    Philadelphia, PA 19103

  27. I find the reaction to this post fascinating. I think Carol is stating the obvious. I think the statement that triggered all the responses reflects a prevailing attitude in our denomination. Why would the board of pensions be any different than PNCs who routinely view younger clergy as not yet ready for HOS positions. Younger clergy weren’t much sought after when I started in the ministry in 1974. 35 years later, they remain the most under-utilized group in the church today. I just don’t get it. Of course, the church isn’t the only place guilty of this practice. Professional sports teams routinely hire older managers who have proven themselves to be less than stellar in multiple previous managing jobs, turning their back on young coaches who might be able to do a much better job. Corporations hire CEOs who have failed in other CEO positions.
    Whenever asked, I always tell PNCs the following: you can hire someone who has proven they are capable but average or you can take a chance and hire somebody who might be spectacular. Just routinely called the latter to work with him.

  28. John W,

    I think we have differing experiences. I notice as much of a prejudice against older pastors by the younger congregants and pastors as I do against younger pastors with the older congregants and pastors.

    The choice for a HOS may just as likely be between an older person who has proven to be not just capable but outstanding and a more youthful person who has destroyed other congregations due to youthful and impulsive behavior…

    We pass on younger dysfunctional pastors as readily as we do older ones. After only 20 years of ministry, my sense is that the numbers of dysfunctional or unsuitable pastors is pretty equal across the age brackets. It may be more a matter of tweaking the CPM and COM processes than anything else. (McDonalds and others have, for years, marketed the grandparent and teeneager team strategy in their employment practices.)

    Maturity in faith is the measurable standard in ministry: spiritual, emotional, behavioral, etc. I think this is what we all long for, isn’t it?

    The local congregation is an amazing mission field for both the unbelievers who need to hear the gospel’s clarion call and the believer’s who need to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. And we are honored to be a part of it even and especially amidst the muck and the mire. I admire everyone’s passion for a healthier more God honoring ministry and denominational setting. May we work toward that end in love.

  29. The ageism of the practice of pastoral ministry is apparent and anecdoctal and experienced in many ways. However, have you ever noticed how ageism is even more prevalent in our structure? Take a good look at presbytery executives and synod executives and PCUSA staff and there’s a living history of entrenched longevity. It is probably realistic to probe the perspective of how younger pastors, younger perspectives, fresh voices, are threatening to those who have been around quite awhile and have created the mess we’re in. I’d be surprised and excited if everyone over 50 would develop a “succession plan” (sic) to mentor someone younger to do what they do, sharing their knowledge generously and freely. We are missing out on a lot of potential and possibility because we cling so tightly to “our place”. How to gather people for a conversation in a church system that is so reactive is an ongoing challenge. Any ideas out there?

  30. Glen: There are lots of older competent sports managers as well as older competent pastors. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about something we all know: congregations hire a lot of pastors who have proven that they are loving, caring and very limited in pastoral skills. Oftentimes, congregations choose these folks over younger, less experienced, more talented pastors. Is there age discrimination regarding pastors over the age of 55? You bet. In many regards, pastors over 55 and under 40 face similar barriers when it comes to PNCs. One group is considered too old, the other too young.
    Healthy organizations identify outstanding young talent and move them up systematically and fairly rapidly. In its hey-day, GE was famous for this practice. Many successful high tech companies do this. The church, in contrast,makes talented young people wait until “they are ready.” Just as bad, we put them in highly dysfunctional church systems where they may learn the wrong things.
    I feel blessed to have spent a long career serving three congregations. I just wish we would do a better job of sharing the blessings with the younger generation. And Helen, I like your ideas. Personally, I have a succession plan. I will retire at age 65 so a young person can experience the joy of serving this congregation.

  31. Elizabeth,

    Thank you for visiting the blog! It was great to meet you and it’s wonderful to see your site and find out what you’re doing.

    Great story, and I find it’s very true. As my first congregation said when they hired me at age 26, “Youth attracts youth.” They were much older, and knew that they wanted the church to be there for their children. They could have hired one of their friends, but they sacrificed and called me. And we had the same experience–younger people came.

  32. Of course I wasn’t there. My point is that you and I both know that it is possible for two people to sit in the same room and hear the same words and come to completely different conclusions.

    What you have provided here is secondhand at best, and all I’m saying is that your argument and writing are strengthened by being as scrupulously fair as possible in portraying the other side.

    I know this is peripheral to your main point (which is a good one) so I’ll let this go now.

  33. If I had the money I might. But I need my full retirement plus social security. However, I also feel like I should work to the date that has traditionally been defined as a retirement age—65. At that point, I will gladly step aside and pray that our congregation does what they did when they called me—call somebody in their 30s.

  34. Pingback: Are older clergy better? « The Tour Guide Pastor

  35. My attitude has changed about this in the past few weeks. A rural church and I were in late discussions about the possibility that God was calling me to ministry there. That is, until a pastor they know personally came out of retirement and put his PIF in. They are calling him to this position now. So, yes, even in small rural churches, younger clergy are being bumped by pastors who should be retired.

  36. Pingback:

  37. I am amazed that the call of Jesus Christ wasn’t mentioned once in this post. I am also amazed by this statement “post-retirement-age ministers are not better for our churches than young pastors. They are just much better for our pension funds”. I am 59 years old work in youth ministry as well as mens ministry. I have been working with youth since 1974. I use computers for everything. I have had several blogs. I text with my kids. I am in the schools everyday. I see every movie the kids see and I love the music. I answer my phone at 3 a.m. And when I answer it I go. I am a single man having lost a wife and child in an automobile wreck. Your statement is simply an offensive broadbrush generalization that does not seem to make the ability of the person to communicate the True Gospel of Jesus Christ. It isn’t age, it is effectiveness. I have worked with Youth Pastors in their twenties who were lost at sea. A little humility would work well here.

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