Knowing When to Retire: Jonathan Yoder ’74

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Pastors often put a lot of effort into serving their churches, but they don’t always consider how to leave their churches effectively. As Pastor Jonathan Yoder approached 40 years in ministry, 50 years since attending Cairn in 1970, and 19 years at Pinegrove Church, he wanted to make sure his church in Bowmansville, PA, would continue on healthily as he entered retirement.

Having seen churches struggle through difficult transitions, Jonathan proactively approached Pinegrove’s leadership in 2015 about beginning the pastoral transition process. He wanted to make sure his church would be ready for his eventual exit; further, he wanted to be ready himself. “The way the transition will go really depends on the pastor who’s leaving,” he explained. “There’s a lot of responsibility on our shoulders to make sure it’s smooth, and it begins with a humble spirit.”

In June 2019, Jonathan humbly welcomed his successor for a six-month overlap transition. Then in January 2020, he officially stepped down to pursue other opportunities. “We as pastors sometimes hold on to the ministry too tightly,” he said. “We need to realize the church existed before we were there, and it will exist after we’re gone.” Now, he’s involved in several jobs, including reffing high school basketball, serving as chaplain for a hospice center, and serving as executive director for the Alliance of Mennonite Evangelical Congregations. “There’s so much to do in this part of life,” he said. “Don’t stay too long in your pastoral position. Be ready to go.”