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Retired pastors don’t usually get to hang around

Posted by on July 20, 2010 – 4:12 pm

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.


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  • WilliamB says:

    I found this article about Pastors who resign, retire or get dismissed rather alien to the Christian culture that I have grown up in.

    As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints there is no such thing as paid professional clergy. The Stake President (who usually presides over 7 to 10 different wards), Bishop (who presides over a ward congregation), Youth Leaders, Sunday School Teachers, Women Leaders, Deacons, Teachers, Priests, High Priests, Organist, Choir, Boy Scout Leaders, full time Missionaries, Clerks, Librarians, and countless other church positions are all nonpaid and volunteered positions. Having personally served in many of these positions I can tell you that many hours each week are donated by these nonpaid church leaders.

    In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints there is no such thing as retirement. You are called to positions by an “inspired” priesthood leader and you’re asked to serve until released. If you don’t think that the priesthood is inspired of God why would you want to be a member of that church? So as members of the church we believe that only God through priesthood leaders can call and release people from church positions.

    It is no unusual thing to see a past Stake President, a Bishop, Relief Society President, or Primary President, who have served faithfully in their callings for many years be released from their calling and graciously continue full and active participation in their congregation. It’s the expectation not the exception, that they will be there to continue providing service and ministering to those in need.

    It’s discomforting to see how other denominations may reject their paid professional church leaders, or have their church leader resign. It makes me stop and think, who really is running that church? God, man or money?

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