A Word for Preachers from a Preacher

A Word for Preachers from a Preacher

Classic car

My hair is silver and the odometer has now turned over several times. At some point, an automobile becomes a “classic car.” I like that word, classic. It makes for a good phrase. Maybe I’m a “classic preacher.” If so, there are a lot of us.


I see preachers and preacher’s wives my age who are hurting. It is not just physical pain. It is the pain of displacement. They are like an immigrant who under duress departs the place that has been home. Their new reality is uncomfortable.
I’m blessed and know it. I’m at an age when health factors, the wear and tear of decades of ministry, and exhaustion cause many ministers step into retirement. But I’m able to be busy locally and beyond the local church. I’m blessed to realize the power of writing, the developing of video training, to be pastor to 8 younger pastors scattered across America and be involved in organizational roles.
My scenario is not the norm. 

From Hero to Bag of Bones

The January 16, 2023, issue of USA Today had the tragic story of Charles Johnson, a former NFL football player who committed suicide. The story includes a quote from Hall-of-Fame Quarterback Steve Young, regarding how a professional athlete feels when he steps away from the game, “The day after retirement, ‘you’re at the bottom of a cliff in a broken sack of bones.’”

That phrase - “the bottom of a cliff, a broken sack of bones,” is a painful picture.

And is not dissimilar to what seems to happen to many ministers who retire. Suddenly, they and their spouse are not in the huddle calling signals, instead they are in the cheap-seats. Often, the cheap-seats in which they sit, is in an entirely different stadium than where they once played.

And over-night inclusion becomes exclusion. The man’s wise opinion once mattered, he may have grown several churches to exceptional size, but now the unsought wisdom has equal value to insight gained from others content to be average.

  • Ignored - their wealth of experience in dealing with people, which might be an excellent source of pastoral case-studies.

  • Ignored - a mental (or physical ) file cabinet full of sermons, sermon thoughts, Bible study ideas, and illustrations.

  • Ignored - Bible knowledge gained by years of study. Knowledge that would invigorate any conversation about a passage of scripture.

  • Ignored - a strength of resolve that helped them walk unmarked trails in ministry. And they now know and could be guides along those hard paths.

  • Ignored - How they endured the highs and lows of ministry. How they dealt with difficult people like those in my series of books beginning with, Pastoring a Narcissist.

And:  Days after retirement many former pastors may be able to join Steve Young in saying, ‘you’re at the bottom of a cliff, a broken sack of bones.’

Difficult Diagnoses

This is a problem. (1) Some who should retire hang on because being pastor is their entire identity. (2) Some remain pastor due to financial need.

Just as it would be hard for a 50-year-old quarterback to win many games, a church led by a “should-be-retired” leader seldom does well. Congregations suffer and usually shrink, a community goes unimpacted, and an arriving generation of capable leaders are put on hold for too long. Risk is restricted and innovation shelved. 

For those who retire, because they understand and want what is best for God’s work, it is a new world.

They are more-often-than-not unsought, disregarded and without honor. In time, their experiences, wisdom, and knowledge lose their freshness. And in time, the elder and a library of knowledge, stories, and experience settle beneath 6’ of soil.

Retired - “At the bottom of a cliff, a bag of broken bones.” No Easy Answers When I present a problem, I prefer having at least one or two solutions in mind. In this case, any solution is not wholesale. It does not fit every person, and therein lies some of the problem. Each retired minister is unique. But we need to develop an array of solutions. You can help. My role is to stir thought, and at my own behest pass ideas on to those who can put solutions to work. My email is carltoncoonsr@gmail.com. I want to hear from you. 

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