The strangest day of my life was November 21st a decade ago. That was the Monday following my last Sunday at the church I’d served for fifteen years and from which I retired. Monday morning with no sermon to think about for next Sunday, no hospital visits to make, no office to go to, no Christmas events, revivals, vacation Bible schools or other church events to think about. No budget to worry about…and…no more paychecks to pick up semi-weekly.
Weird, but your humble hacker and plodder blogging pastor managed to cope (and is anything more retro than blogging?).
Ten years later, not much of anything was like I had envisioned but I’m a happy and fulfilled guy, though I can’t hear all that good and my eyesight isn’t so sharp. I’m told that my tongue is a sharp as ever (en garde, Twitter blowhards, you don’t know squat).
My experience isn’t normative. We all have a unique path and story. Here are a few items of interest, though, if you are looking at either a long or short horizon and retirement.
Financially, if you haven’t played the long game, either hit the lottery, marry a rich woman, or be in line for a sizable inheritance.
I’m a second career pastor who worked, went straight through three years of seminary for an MDiv, then landed at my first median sized SBC church at the age of 32. I had built up some savings on my own and a pension from my previous employer. Leaving that job prior to being vested ditched the pension and I used savings on seminary. I pretty much zeroed out both, but the first week at my church I set up a retirement account and arranged for my church to make small but regular deposits.
I never stopped making deposits in my retirement account. Many times I took part of a pay raise and put it in retirement. I never stopped working. I never stopped saving. I never withdrew any retirement savings for any reason. It sat there and, by fits and starts, grew over the years. Ahem! Discipline, kind of like discipleship, right. Exercise both.
I know what the average SBC pastor makes. It’s adequate, but not a lot. Having served average sized churches (put the numbers between 70 and 150 in weekly attendance) for my entire time, I understand financial stress. Somehow, by God’s grace and sensible decision making, we always had vehicles, even kids when they got to driving age, always paid the bills and all that. We never borrowed money for a car or any other consumer item. Never had a credit card balance that couldn’t be paid off every month. We even had enough to make those back breaking quarterly self-employment tax payments.
As a seminarian, I didn’t envision supplementing my income with a variety of non-preaching/pastoring sources of income…but I did when I needed to. Being called to the Christian ministry doesn’t mean you hold your hand out and expect people to drop cash in it. Ask Paul.
No church ever gave me a car, sent my family on a cruise, or anything like that. I worked, served, loved the Lord and the congregation. I never got fired. I never was forced to resign with no place to go.
The best clergy retirement line ever heard was from a state convention guy who asked the question, “What’s the principle most pastors follow in retirement planning?” Pastors would tell him, “I just figure someone will take care me when I’m older.” Bad principle. You take care of your own retirement. Stupidity isn’t a great foundation for retirement planning.
Social Security and Medicare take a lot of criticism but are good programs.
Do the math and you find that my retirement date coincided with my 62nd birthday. There are good reasons for delaying Social Security benefits but 62 worked for me. It was the right time to leave my present church in good condition and let them move on with younger leadership. We Southern Baptists are big on criticizing gummit but SS is here and not going away (this isn’t a forum for those who have decided to lie and opt out). It’s one leg of my retirement stool. I’d starve if it was the only leg.
GuideStone was incredibly expensive for health insurance for the lonely pastor. If you worked for a state convention or seminary or denominational entity, you had it better. The SBC is a convention of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots.’ Have you heard? My state convention promised retirees health insurance for life. Ask your church to do that. State conventions spend the churches money, not their own; whereas, your church spends the money given by pewsitters. When my wife and I hit Medicare age, our health expenses were slashed.
Financial stress is real stress and it is cumulative. The sooner you alleviate it the better for your health.
I didn’t quite envision retirement as it has unfolded.
The GuideStone retirement rep said, repeatedly, that most people work in retirement. Sure. For pastors that likely meant pulpit supply and interim or other church pastorates. Didn’t work that way for me for various reasons. I’ve preached, taught, and served in churches in various capacities, almost all as a volunteer, i.e., gratis, no paycheck. God providentially opened doors for income I had no inkling about. Skills that I had acquired in college at age 20 or so, were renewed at age 65 or so and provided an income stream. Stuff that was unimaginable until 20 or so years ago worked to my financial benefit.
God be praised.
For those in similar circumstances I’d suggest the usual, reliable principles: work, save, defer enjoyment. Don’t borrow. And don’t presume you are a just a megapastor waiting for that big church that pays well. Ninety percent of SBC churches are small. Few are large. Rare is the megachurch and you probably don’t have the right stuff for that.
State conventions, seem to me, are on the cusp of irrelevancy but I value those workaday guys whose jobs include helping pastors make sensible financial decisions. Fire some of the higher level state people, those who are likely to get a life-sized portrait and a car for retirement. Keep the less visible people, the ones who actually help pastors.
That’s me a decade ago. Bit of hair loss since then but I still wear that orange shirt, when I want to express sympathy for the UT Vols. I feel your pain brethren.
I think I’ll take today off to celebrate.