Multiplication Center

What Can Older Pastors Learn from U.S. Presidents?

February 8, 2016

By Warren Bird

carter in office

After an American president’s term of office ends, is whatever comes next a step down professionally and a let down personally? The recent historical pattern is perhaps a surprise: many have poured themselves into a new mission, and with amazing results.

That same question could be framed of older, long-term pastors still brimming with ministry heart, skills and connections: is there meaningful life after stepping out of your current role? My research says yes. 

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Outgoing presidents have survived the crushing pace, stress, and even food diets of a presidential campaign followed by four or more years in arguably one of the most stressful jobs in the world. Lately, not only do they develop a new life, but they tend to outlive the rest of us, so they’re at that “new” life for a long time.

Jimmy Carter, now 91, has taken his place in history as the president who has lived the longest after leaving the White House – 34 years so far. He’s done everything from championing Habitat for Humanity to teaching to writing 21 books about, among other things, how to find a second career! “When I got out of the White House,” Carter recalled, “I had a life expectancy of 25 [more] years, and so I needed to figure out how to use it.” (See Time magazine’s “Why Do Presidents Live So Long?”)

carter center2Ronald Reagan lived until 93, as did Gerald Ford. George Bush the elder is 91. Even in the 19th century, when the average man died at age 47, U.S. presidents lived an average of 69 years.

The application: outgoing presidents have leveraged their reputations, connections and skills to do good. Herbert Hoover engineered an immense humanitarian rescue effort in the years after World War II, Ford and Carter partnered to promote reform and democracy. George W. Bush has focused on veterans. They leveraged their fame for a cause they believe in.

Pastors can do likewise. I’ve seen long-term pastors shift over to strategic roles in global missions, teaching, mentoring of other pastors, fundraising for ministry, and more. And they’ve transitioned in a way that’s a win for their families, for their churches, and for the Kingdom of God.



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