Friday, July 20, 2018

Hey Fletch … I just got out of a meeting with my XP. He told me that the church has a policy that pastors have to retire at age 65. I don’t get it. I’m effective in my role, love it and have a good five to ten years of ministry left in me. What should I do?

DRF—Ouch. I’m so sorry to hear this. I strongly disagree with such a policy. You have great ministry ahead of you … somewhere!

When it comes to non-pastors, there are many rules about age discrimination. When it comes to pastors, the rules are different.

Richard Hammar cites a case from a federal appeals court. The ruling said: “We believe that the free exercise of religion clause of the First Amendment also prohibits the courts from deciding cases such as this one. Personnel decisions by church-affiliated institutions affecting clergy are per se religious matters and cannot be reviewed by civil courts.” Richard also cites other cases that show a more mixed posture on this issue.

A Supreme Court case noted, “Requiring a church to accept or retain an unwanted minister, or punishing a church for failing to do so, intrudes upon more than a mere employment decision,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts on behalf of the entire Court. “By imposing an unwanted minister, the state infringes the Free Exercise Clause, which protects a religious group’s right to shape its own faith and mission through its appointments.”

I strongly recommend against age-based retirement for pastors. Older pastors have enormous wisdom and experience. They are vital to mentoring younger pastors and doing effective ministry in the church.

You could appeal the policy to your governing board. Ultimately, they are responsible for all policies in the church.