Some Wisdom on Retirement for Leaders Who Aren’t Ready to Retire

Published: January 10, 2024

Back in 2022 I shared a TED talk about the four stages of retirement and the things that those who aren’t ready to retire can still learn. I admit that my own upcoming retirement has me thinking about these things again. So this week I interviewed Rev. Steven Sohns and Rev. Dave Bahn, who with their wives Ursula and Diane were in the first class of PLI 25 years ago. Today, they’re both recently retired and sharing some wisdom that’s good for those who are years away from retirement.

Rev. Stephen Sohns

Rev. David Bahn

We want to talk about what you know and what you’ve learned shortly, but let me tap some wisdom! What would you say to pastors reading this who are 20 or 30 years away from retirement?

Dave: I would disciple people, my leaders. I would invest my life into other people.

Steve: Have a coach or some mentors in your life. PLI gave me access to understanding the hearts of leaders that were ahead of me, that I could learn from. Leaders like Mike Ernst, John Kieschnick, and Vic Hippe. What Vic taught me about creating a mission-focused culture changed me.

Dave: We overestimate what we can accomplish in the short term and underestimate what God can do in the long run. Trust God with accomplishing so much more than we ever could.

Steve: Understand transitions. They’re slow. They take time. Don’t try to microwave life. Build a culture that supports mission in your congregation.

Okay! What advice would you give to someone getting ready to retire?

Steve: Prepare. And don’t wait until you’re 60 to start preparing!

Dave: The best advice someone gave me was to get a coach. I told my coach that I wanted to finish well. Here’s the question he posed to me: What does finishing well look like 6 months after you’ve retired…and ended well?

For me, I knew I’d be doing something different, and I began to think about what that could be.

Steve: This is not just emotional for you. It’s emotional for the people you lead and have relationships with. They need a chance to talk about it…and not leave things unspoken.

Don’t do this alone. Reach out. Talk to people who have gone through this, too. Ask them what they learned. What they did well, or didn’t do well.

Talk some more about preparation. What are the big buckets to be paying attention to?

Dave: Let’s assume that spiritual life is important. And relationships are important. They’re a given.

You need to have a clear financial foundation and plan. It’s really important to get your financial house in order. Let’s not pretend it’s not important.

Steve: Start connecting with your neighbors missionally. Be a voice for the Gospel. If you want to do that when you’re done leading a congregation, why not start today? Get to know your neighbors. You can’t just say, “I’m too busy at the church.” Get to know your neighbors now. (PLI can help you figure out how to do this. Contact Raechel to learn more.)

We started sending people to Multipli’s Genesis Leader. People can get an introduction to what it’s about at one of the info sessions coming up. We sent Jody and Roger to the 9-month online experience. It transformed their lives. We had them over for dinner with another couple. The other couple was amazed when Jody and Roger started sharing about the ways their de-churched neighbors were being reached with the Gospel! It was sheer joy!

Dave: I couldn’t agree more with what Steve just said. It’s like a muscle most Christians have never developed. Start connecting with your neighbors or wherever and ask God to lead you.

I’d add: Take care of your health. I started taking that seriously a few years ago, going to the gym several times a week. It gave me fresh energy the last few years and now into retirement.

Steve: My mom and dad are now in a nursing home. My dad has already baptized two new believers in the nursing home and is probably going to baptize a third. That stirs me.

Steve you gathered a group of pastors a couple of years ago for the purpose of finishing well for themselves and for their ministries. Why?

Steve: There’s just too many examples of pastors not finishing well. It can be stressful on a marriage if a couple is not preparing together. Too many congregations messed up by not transitioning well. People getting anxious. Doing dumb things.

And, to ask the question of what comes next. I don’t plan to retire. I want to refire. I want to discover what God wants to do through me next.

Biggest surprise since you retired?

Steve: I don’t know how I had time to work before. I’m so busy right now!

Dave: Diane and I covenanted to stay away from our congregation for a year so the new pastor and wife could get settled in and connected. We are committed to their success. It was hard to be separated from the community of believers. I did a short vacancy in a congregation for a while. That was good for us to have some continuity in a community of believers while we were away.

Jesus said to pray that laborers are sent into the harvest. It’s a challenge to get pastors. We have 10 churches in the area I’m helping with that are long into the process of trying to get a new pastor. They get discouraged. When you pray, figure that you could be the answer! As a pastor or living like Steve described with Roger and Jody.

Steve: PLI teaches in Leadership Essentials the Stockdale Paradox. We have to be honest. Define reality but do it with hope. Don’t ignore the harsh realities, but remember that we’re people of hope. Don’t get isolated.

We’re going to see a lot of churches that just didn’t make it into the future or didn’t have the leaders to help them. They’re going to close or merge or they’re going to find their way forward into God’s mission. They’ll need pioneers or hospice chaplains or whatever to help them forward.

Steve and Dave would welcome your email questions or a “thanks.” Next week we’ll have the same conversation with their spouses and hear their side of the transition experience. And now, pass this along to several people who might benefit from hearing this, people who aren’t thinking about these things yet.