Retired pastors don’t usually get to hang around
What to do with the old pastor? Keep him around or ban him from the premises lest his presence stymies efforts to go forward under new leadership?
Denominations vary sharply over their policies related to ministers who resign, retire or are dismissed. Pastors loom large in the life of a congregation. The framework of the leadership model could make them all-powerful heads of staff or more as teaching pastors amid a team of assistant/associate pastors with strong elders. More often than not, the pastor commands such a major place in the church’s life and operations that there are consequences when he or she departs for whatever reason. Whole books have been written on the phenomenon. Issues of grief and loss, issues of uncertainty and reorientation, healing and new direction. The case against letting pastors remain with their congregations after they stop getting a paycheck largely focuses on not letting church people take sides and not letting them hang on to loyalties and friendships that could hinder or compromise the church’s work under a new pastor.
When the pastor steps down, should he be allowed to take a seat in the pews each Sunday and be a bystander to observe his replacement? Should he be permitted to mingle with the congregation during coffee hour afterwards and hear members fawn over him and tell him how much he is missed? We hear of companies that let the old boss keep a desk in the office or be given some emeritus role that take use of his experience.
But as collegial as pastors are, having the revered, retired preacher hanging around creates issues and shadows of the past — worst than old boyfriends hanging around till the end of a wedding reception or the old house owners coming back again and again to see what you’ve done to “our house since we sold it to you.”
It is fascinating when churches hold milestone anniversaries — 50th or 75th — and bring back the stable of former pastors to speak and reminisce. Current members who never knew some of them may wonder what the church was like under this or that type of leader who seems too flippant or too stiff.
Many churches are the “landing places” for retired pastors barred from worship with their former congregations just miles away. They tend to be greeted and received well because 1) they tend to freely volunteer to help pastors as pulpit stand-ins when they go on vacation; 2) help serve communion; 3) volunteer to teach classes or short Bible series; 4) handle some visitation to the sick; and 5) give some stature to a church to be a place that retired pastor deem worthy for their continuing spiritual journey.
Sometimes a church will attract a cluster of a half-dozen retired pastors and spouses. They know their limits and their place. They serve as special Christian witnesses. They transition from long, robust lives of active ministry to more passive roles. For lay people, it is heartening to have them in their midst as the faith’s senior statesmen.