5 Biblical Truths About Pastoral Retirement

At first glance, the Bible seems to be silent on the subject of retirement. However, the scriptures do contain a detailed account regarding the retirement of the priests who facilitated worship and ministry surrounding the temple. The Israelite tribe of Levi was set apart to be priests and facilitators of worship in the Jewish temple (Numbers 3:5-11). In addition to giving meticulous details about their job description, God also gave Moses instructions concerning a plan for their retirement from active service.

23The Lord said to Moses, 24“This applies to the Levites: Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the tent of meeting, 25but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. 26They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the tent of meeting, but they themselves must not do the work. This, then, is how you are to assign the responsibilities of the Levites” (Numbers 8:23-26 NIV).

The ministry of a Levitical priest was extremely demanding, especially during the time when the tabernacle was portable. In addition to overseeing the furnishings of the tabernacle and facilitating community worship, the Levites were also responsible for setting up, dismantling, and carrying all the fixtures for the tabernacle. This would include the Ark of the Covenant, the lampstand, the altar of incense, and many other pieces of furniture that were part of the portable tabernacle. Being a member of the nation’s ministerial community was hard manual labor and the kind of work that younger men would be more suitable for than older males. In a way, the prescribed retirement plan for the Levites was God’s gracious provision for them after decades of faithful service. It appears that after the age of 50, their ministry transitioned into a mentoring role and a break from the more demanding tasks associated with priestly service.

Although this passage has its own specific contextual meaning, the principles behind it give us five transcultural truths that can be applied to the role your board plays in ministerial retirement.

1. God is concerned about retirement planning. The same God who was attentive to all the details of creating the universe (Genesis 1-2) as well as the meticulous planning of human redemption (John 3:16) was also concerned about how His ministers planned for retirement. Through thousands of years, the Holy Spirit has preserved this passage that specifically speaks to the realities of aging limitations, honor, mentoring, and ministerial retirement. If ministerial retirement was important enough for God to include in the Levitical laws, it should be important enough for church boards to include in meeting agendas, budgets, and prioritized spending.

2. We all must prepare for the inevitable loss of stamina. Although there are still aspects of ministerial life that require physical labor, leading churches has never been so spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and intellectually demanding. We all reach a time when our service to God is impacted by aging, limited stamina, emotional weariness, and the gradual loss of cultural relevance. I find it encouraging that the Lord understood that, at some point, those in ministry must transition from working hard to working smart. God created a system where the Levites would be required to make the transition from “doing” ministry to “being” mentors. The fact that the Lord gave criteria for this transition shows us that retirement does not happen by itself and requires intentional steps and planning. Your pastor may be young and full of vision, drive, and physical stamina, but the day will come when they are not. That day may even come long after they have left your church and transitioned to another ministry. However, God requires you to invest in the kingdom of God at-large by investing in that transition no matter when it occurs.

3. A minister’s worth is not diminished after retirement. Retirement was not the end of the Levites’ work. God’s purpose was not to remove productive ministers from service but to redirect their service to a more mature and needed purpose. After retirement, they could still assist their brothers in performing their duties at the tent of meeting (Numbers 8:26). In very much the same way, a minister’s worth is not diminished upon retirement. As a matter of fact, a retired minister’s stock has never been higher! We live in a time when youthfulness is overrated, and trend-chasing is perceived as relevant. Conversely, by the time a minister reaches the age of retirement, they have a unique perspective from the top of the mast. They have been seasoned by pain, perseverance, and faith. The body of Christ does not need more knowledge from them; it needs their wisdom. The body of Christ does not need them to be proficient in technology; it needs their perspective. The body of Christ does not need their mastery of facts and data; it needs their mentoring, prayers, and coaching. By investing in your pastor’s retirement, you are making a profound and powerful contribution to the greater body of Christ. You are also widening and lengthening the mentoring pipeline of the Assemblies of God.

4. We must model dignified retirement for the next generation. The fact that God required ministers over 50 years of age to transition into a role of assistance and mentoring is important. This transition was not optional but part of the Levitical law. It shows us that God wanted the older Levites to model what a healthy life and ministry transition looked like in its working gloves. That concept is a powerful truth that transcends culture and time. In very much the same way, ministers should model what retirement planning and a healthy life transition look like for the next generation.

A 2017 survey conducted by Grey Matter Research and Consulting for the Assemblies of God on Ministers and Finances found that 40 percent of senior pastors have under $10,000 of retirement savings, 37 percent of ministers under the age of 45 have no retirement savings, and the median retirement savings of AG lead pastors is $20,000. We cannot help but believe those statistics would be greatly improved if each local church became more involved in helping their pastor be prepared to model successful ministry transitions to younger ministers. Outside of the minister, no group has a greater potential to achieve this than church boards.

5. The community of faith must have a formal system to facilitate retirement. The most profound truth from this narrative is the way God codified this Levitical requirement for the entire nation. The Lord could have limited the obligation of carrying out this requirement to each priest on a personal level. However, by instructing Moses to make this arrangement part of the nation’s Levitical law, God was expecting the entire community of faith to own this obligation. In other words, the entire nation was mandated to become part of the retirement plan for those God called to minister to their spiritual needs. By making this retirement plan part of the Levitical law, God was requiring the entire nation to ensure it was obeyed.

God created a system that allowed the nation’s ministerial community to retire with peace, freedom, and dignity. As a pastor and church board, you can do the same.

To learn more about the retirement plans available through Church Extension Plan, visit https://www.cepnet.com/retirement/403b or call 800-821-1112 or email retirement@cepnet.com

Also, check out this helpful article titled, “10 Options for Church Boards” https://www.cepnet.com/church-board-options/.

By Gene Roncone, Network Superintendent – Rocky Mountain Ministry Network.