Leader to Leader, Leadership

Retired Pastors Who Stay Around

August 8, 2016 | Posted by Art Scherer

Is it a good idea for a retired pastor to remain a member of the congregation he last served? Probably not. Is it always a bad idea for a retired pastor to remain a member of the congregation he last served? Probably not. I’ve seen retired pastors who create problems at whatever congregation they decide to join, whether it be the one they last served or not. I’ve also seen retired pastors who have remained a member of their former congregations and been a blessing to the ministry there or in the broader church. Frankly, it all depends on the ability of the new pastor and the retired pastor to form a relationship of trust and support. But there are some guidelines that it would be wise for all to follow:

  • The retired pastor needs to keep away from the former congregation for an extended period. The new pastor needs to develop his own identity as shepherd and leader. That usually happens when there is no presence from the former pastor. When people call “Pastor,” there will be only one pastor to answer—no confusion as to who is the Shepherd of the flock. How long is an “extended period?” It depends on many factors, but at least six months, and many recommend a year. In general, the longer the tenure of the retiring pastor, the longer the break. The LCMS may have district guidelines you should check.
  • Former pastors (retired or not) should not try to be the pastor to church members. Requests for help, official acts, etc., should always be directed to the current pastor. This is often difficult for both the retired pastor and the parishioners since there is a deep bond of love between them. My response, particularly for official acts is, “I care very much about you, and am honored that you would ask me, but I am no longer your pastor. Let Pastor ______ be your pastor in this special time. It will allow him to form the same kind of bond we have had.” I always let the current pastor know that I have received such a request and that I have referred the person to him. In special cases, he may ask me to participate in some way, but that is at his invitation.
  • Put the best construction on everything. Retired pastors should not be expressing displeasure with the actions of the new pastor or get drawn into taking sides against him. Keep away from voters meetings. If you have a problem with something the new pastor is doing, go talk with him, expressing your concern, but also your respect for his office. And current pastors: Don’t put down the work of your predecessor. It does not make you look any better.
  • Find some ministry outside the congregation. Retirement enables a pastor to serve in ways he could not while a full-time pastor of a congregation. Explore other ministries: Vacancy service, hospital or nursing home visitation, hospice work, meals-on-wheels, pulpit supply, etc. This allows the pastor to continue to be involved in a ministry of the Word or of service, while maintaining some distance from the former congregation.
  • In the end it all depends upon relationships. If a retired pastor and the current pastor are mature and healthy enough to have a caring relationship that places the welfare of the ministry first, the presence of a retired pastor can be a blessing in terms of wisdom, experience, history and a trusted advocate. If that relationship does not exist, it may be best for the retired pastor to move on.

Art Scherer
Art Scherer is President Emeritus of the Southeastern District, LCMS, and a consultant in stewardship and capital funding for LCEF. Dr. Scherer is developer of LCEF’s popular Consecrated Stewards series and author of the Living as Children of a Generous God Bible studies.