The new church trend: the retiring pastor
Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer

Tens of thousands of pastors and other church staff members are becoming retirement age each year. We have not seen anything like this phenomenon. These church leaders are reaching retirement age, but they still have many years of active ministry and life left in them. How will they respond? How will churches respond?

We are watching this trend with fascination at Church Answers. Let’s look at some of the key issues unfolding.

Some churches are fine with older pastors remaining in their roles. Others are not. We see many churches where the members don’t think twice about having a 60-something or 70-something pastor. They see their pastors as fully capable and fully energetic to continue leading. Other churches are ready for the older pastors to move on. This latter disposition is exacerbated when the church is struggling and/or in decline.

Too many retirement-age pastors don’t have options because of financial realities. I’ve addressed this issue in an earlier post. Though my observations are anecdotal, well over half of the pastors with whom I have conversed are woefully prepared financially when they hit their mid-60s. It’s usually a case of churches failing to care for pastors and pastors failing to plan for themselves.

The most common option for pastors leaving their role is to become interim or part-time pastors in other churches. The opportunities for this ministry are increasing regularly. At any given point, we could have over 50,000 churches seeking an interim pastor. Indeed, we created Interim Pastor University to train and differentiate those pastors moving into these roles.

More pastors are moving into the role of church consultant or coach after leaving their pastoral roles. Some of these pastors have 30 to 40 years of experience as a pastor. Their wisdom and experience can be incredibly helpful to churches. Our fastest growing ministry at Church Answers is Church Consultation University, created to train and certify leaders in this new role.

It will not be unusual for pastors to retire from their churches and have 20+ years left of vibrant ministry. These pastors may have chosen to go a different path, or their churches may have forced them out. Don’t let life expectancy numbers fool you. Once someone makes it to 65, the likelihood of them staying active to 85 is good. These can be some prime years of ministry for these former pastors.

The timing for this wave of “retired” pastors could match well with the need for part-time, interim, or revitalizing pastors. The demand could meet supply IF churches would look beyond the traditional profiles. Of the roughly 350,000 Protestant churches, about 349,900 want a pastor who is 35 to 49 years old and has 30 years of lead pastor experience (sarcasm intended). It’s time for many churches to look to the growing supply of older pastors who can still lead well.

The trend of retiring pastors who are not retiring from ministry will continue to grow. It will be fascinating to see how churches respond.


This article was written by Chuck Lawless and originally published at on January 20. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at