I remember what it was like to grow up in an era that had real style. Who could forget the huge bell bottom pants with two-inch cuffs, not to mention the large print silk shirts garnered by large collared shirts, and whatever you do, don’t forget the platform shoes! Those were the days of freedom and real style!

President Jimmy Carter, describes in his book, The Virtues of Aging, that there are only two times in our lives where we perceive exceptional freedom, once when we leave home and venture out on our own and then when we begin retirement and realize that we are again free to choose the path of our choice.

Erich Thurman in his book, Thrive in Retirement postulates that there are three stages to life.

 Season one: Childhood. It’s when you grow up, acquire most of your education, and eventually move out on your own to work, start a family or both.

 Season two: Adulthood. This covers your most productive years when you build up your net worth, make purchases like a home and cars, and rear your family.

 In due course, you come to season three: Retirement which will last for decades. Truly a time of freedom and a change in lifestyle.

The question is, “Will this third season be the exhilarating capstone of your life or a dismally long, slow decline?”

The poet, Emily Dickinson said this when she entered into this last threshold, “Old age comes on suddenly, and not gradually as is thought.” There are no mulligans in life, so you only get one chance to finish well as this season sneaks up on you.

There is a desperation when approaching this stage in your life. I remember two specific thoughts on the day after turning my life’s work of 40 years over to the new, younger pastor. One, “Now, what am I going to do with myself?” and then, secondly, the terrible feeling of going from a hero to a zero! Did I really turn over my ministry too early?

Even though most would deny it, most pastors have huge egos. After retirement, it would be so easy to have cynical attitudes like those two old men sitting in the balcony in the Muppet’s Movie griping about all the change. A pastor must choose to focus on the positive.

So, what am I to do now?

Most remember the great war time hero, General Douglas MacArthur. After being fired by President, Harry Truman over a clash of disagreements about how to handle the Korean Conflict. It was then that he gave his famous address to a joint session of Congress. Most remembered that he ended with the infamous statement, “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away,” Most pastors can relate to that feeling, except there is no place to “fade away”, because you never really retire from a “God called” ministry.

All our identity is tied up in our ministerial profession. It’s a two-edged sword, the absolute elation of being out from under all the pressure of the day to day grind of ministry and the regret of feeling that you gave up the eternal impact that you were making.

Most pastors have no idea of the pressure that they are under. Paul said it best as he unwrapped that phenomena. There were the beatings, death all around him, being robbed and all the perils of dangerous travel…the list seemed to go on and on. Then, in a seemingly throwaway line, he added, “Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.” It seemed that all the physical trials were incidental compared to the stress of caring for the church. Only pastors can related to that feeling.

So, we come to a very important question. Is there a fulfilled and happy life after ministry?

Again, Eric Thurman (Thrive in Retirement) gives great insight. He says, “To be a happily retired person, they must absolutely adopt three secrets to happiness.” I want to warn you that these three secrets open a vital viewpoint that will change your perspective. First, Thurman defines happiness as, ”Being able to feel delight, joy, discovery, energy and fulfillment”.

Let me offer you some of his great wisdom in pursuing happiness after retirement in ministry.

  1. PURPOSE: Meaning for your life.
  2. PLEASURE: Positive feelings and satisfaction
  3. PEACE: A personal sense of well-being and contentment

Allow me to unpack these in future blogs and I would strongly recommend that you purchase Eric Thurman’s book, Thrive in Retirement (Simple Secrets for Being Happy for the Rest of Your Life) Waterbrook Press. 2019.

Maybe we’ll never get back to the cool styles of yesteryear (even though I’d love to sport those bell bottom pants and platform shoes), but there are some wonderful choices ahead that will free you to have a joyful and happy retired life.

[about the author]

Dr. Keith A. Gillming founded and pastored Lighthouse Baptist Church for 40 years in St. Louis, MO. He also served in various leadership positions in the BBFI as well as being elected 3 times to the Board of Education in Pattonville School District. He also served several terms as a commissioner in various positions in the City of Bridgeton, MO. He continues to serve at Lighthouse with his wife, Becky, two children, Kit and Keri, and three grandchildren, Owen, Hudson and Piper.