Why retired pastors hang on to become a problem

The longtime pastor was given a great send-off.  Lots of honors and festivities, a nice gift, and a couple of plaques for his wall.  Great things were said of him and spoken to him. Only one thing was wrong.

He didn’t leave.

He held on.  He stayed in his house, kept running by the church office, continued inviting church members to his home, kept his ear to the ground to learn what was going on with the new pastor, accepted lots of funerals and weddings, and in general, made a nuisance of himself.

Meanwhile, the new pastor is having the dickens of a time settling into his proper role in the church.  It’s not the ghost of the old preacher that haunts him, but the man himself.  The old guy is everywhere.

Then, as church members called or dropped by to complain about the new preacher, the oldster listened sympathetically.  Their unhappiness confirmed his suspicions that the new pastor would not be as loving, as dedicated, as gifted, as attentive, as compassionate, blah blah blah, as he.

Lord help us.

Question: Why would a retired pastor want to hang on and stick around and become a problem for the new preacher?

Continue reading

A slice of my journal: October 18-20, 1993

“When you take time to journal each day, it’s like snipping out 30 minutes of your life now and sending it ahead far into the future.”  –Joe McKeever  (Hey, if I don’t quote myself, who do you think will?)

“When was your daughter born?” I asked the mother of the bride.

“October 18, 1993.”

I said, “Was I there?”  “Yes, you were,” she said. “We still have the cartoon you drew for us when you came by the hospital.”

Then it hit me: I have that day in my journal.

Back in the decade of the 1990s, I kept a hand-written, daily journal, requiring a full half-hour of writing each night.  In time, it filled 56 volumes. For reasons long forgotten, I gave it up after the year 2000 arrived.  (Probably because it took up so much space.)

The journal says I did indeed go to the hospital when her daughter was born.  I photocopied the two pages and sent to her.  And decided someone might appreciate reading about that time in my ministry.

So, here goes….

Continue reading

The former pastor may not be able to help his successor. But he can sure hurt him.

“May those who come behind us find us faithful.”  –Steve Green

The pastor who follows me at a church is pretty much on his own there.  Which is to say, there is little I can do for him, other than to pray for him.

The best thing I can do for a new pastor is to have served well during my tenure and done my level best to disciple God’s people, leaving behind a healthy congregation.  But after I leave, there is little more I can do for that church or its new shepherd.

My words of affirmation to the new guy are nice, but nothing more.  My words of commendation to friends in the congregation are basically meaningless since the pastor is on site and they are getting to know him for themselves.  From here on in, he will be having to find his own path, set his own agenda, work out his own relationships with key leaders, and find ways of dealing with those who want to exert influence they do not possess.

I can pray for him.  But there’s very little more I can do.

Continue reading

Retiring pastor, it’s not your church, your pulpit, your office. Be faithful!

A pastor friend was serving a large church in a metro area.  Even though his staff had half a dozen ministers, he handled all the hospital visitation himself.  Every bit of it.  I said to him, “My brother, you are making life impossible for the pastor who will follow you.  Because no pastor is going to want to do all the hospitals, not when he’s got plenty of help. And the congregation is going to be unhappy with him.”

He smiled and said, “This is what I do.”

I know the rest of that sad story.  He retired, remained in the church, and the congregation called as pastor another friend of mine.  I watched from two states away as the congregation turned on the new pastor and criticized him mercilessly for not pastoring them the way they’d been used to.  The retired pastor friend wallowed in their misery, indicating, he was convinced, that he was so well loved no one could follow him.

He sabotaged a great preacher’s ministry.  (They’re both in Heaven now, so the Father will be sorting this out, but I’d hate to be in his shoes.)

Once when I announced my plan to write about retired pastors who stay on to make life miserable for their successors, people began sending me their horror stories.

Continue reading

Some necessary things about prayer

I had led a family to Christ.  They soon joined our church and were baptized the following Sunday.  My notes remind me of something the grandfather said.  He was chairman of deacons in a church 3 hours away, and of course, they were excited about what had happened.  He said to me, “We’ve been praying for this family, but one by one.  We had no idea they’d all get saved at the same time!”

Dale Caston, deacon in my last pastorate, told me something that took place in a high school class when he was a teen.  The teacher asked the students, “What do you expect to get out of this class?”  She looked at one student: “Eddie, what do you expect?”  Eddie said, “Well, I’ve had you before–and I don’t expect nothing!”  Dale tells it with a laugh because he knows the part expectations play in a thousand aspects of life.

What do you expect when you pray?  The curse of modern Christianity is that we expect little from the Lord, too much from the pastor, and nothing from ourselves.

Continue reading

Fearmongering: The cheapest kind of preaching

“Men’s hearts will be failing them from fear” (Luke 21:26).

“Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (I Thessalonians 4:18).

When I was a kid–sometime in the early 1950s–I recall attending a revival meeting with my grandmother in Birmingham.  The preacher scared the living daylights out of everyone with his prophecies about the future, his warnings about Russia and Communism, and his forecasts about what was about to happen.  Later, as Grandma and I walked down those dark streets to her apartment, every plane going over seemed to be carrying an atomic bomb with our address on it.

Scary preaching is foreign to the New Testament.

The great apostle actually thought teachings of the Lord’s return and the believers’ victory over and escape from this world should comfort us.

But listen to the typical prophecy preacher.   So many will use passages about the Lord’s return and the end times to strike terror into the hearts of the faithful.  They speak of the martyrdom of millions of the faithful, of the havoc to be wreaked throughout the world by the Lord’s death angels, of the Beast and the Antichrist and the desolation of abomination.

Matters of which they understand little.

Continue reading

Rescuing the sick church: Five Principles

Sometimes we have to enroll the entire school in the first grade and start all over.

Once when I had trouble in one of my ears, the E-N-T doctor prescribed, among other things, a bottle of pills with unusual directions: “Take 6 a day for the first 4 days, 5 on the 5th day, 4 on the 6th day, 3 on the 7th day, 2 on the 8th day, and 1 on the 9th day.”

Apparently, some meds must not be curtailed abruptly.

While some illnesses respond to simple, one-step treatments, others require weeks, months, even years of medications and applications. In those, regular repetition over extended periods is needed for healing.

Now, take the sick church…

The ailing church did not get that way overnight. Often, anemic, struggling churches result from the unhealthy teachings of warped leaders. In many cases, teachers have gone to seed on a pet doctrine and omitted altogether the basic principles of solid Christian living as unworthy of them.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the ABCs of the Christian faith…. (Hebrews 5:12 paraphrase).

The elementary principles. Basic Christianity. The kind of stuff we should have been taught in a new members’ class.

Continue reading

What laypeople need to know about speaking in church

By laypeople, we mean non-preachers.

Speaking in church refers to addressing large groups of the Lord’s people.

Many non-preacher types are outstanding on their feet in front of large groups. Schoolteachers come to mind. They are experienced and at ease. But the typical church member, even one who teaches a Sunday School class, may feel out of his element when asked to deliver a talk in front of the congregation.

Marlene said to me, “I’m sorry I took the entire service, Pastor. But the Lord was leading me.” Translation: She was unprepared, really got into her talk and couldn’t control it.  As a young pastor, I was inviting church members to share testimonies in the morning worship service, something along the lines of 5-7 minutes.  (Later, I learned to interview the individual and keep hold of the microphone the entire time!)

Once Marlene got going, she could not find a convenient stopping place. She kept on for a full 40 minutes. (I could have pointed out a half-dozen great places to stop!)

Now personally, I would not blame my failure to prepare for a speech on the Lord.

I see it happen all the time.  It can be almost embarrassing.

Continue reading

Grandparenting by faith

The just shall live by faith. —Habakkuk 2:4, and quoted in the New Testament in Romans 1:17;  Colossians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38.  That truth formed the basis of the Apostle Paul’s theology, and his Epistle to the Romans (on that subject) fueled the theology of Martin Luther and the Reformation, and two centuries later of John Wesley.  

I tell friends who are about to become grandparents for the first time, “You are about to be more in love than you have ever been in your life!”  I tell them, “Right now, you don’t even know that child.  But pretty soon, you will not want to live without them.”

It’s a marvelous thing the hold that the child of my child can have on my heart.  In many respects, my eight grands have given me more joy than my three did.  Perhaps it’s because we had our children when we were young–in our twenties–and our grands when we were in late middle-aged and were far different, even better, people.

We want to cherish these little ones and to do all we can to make a lasting difference in their lives, for now and for eternity.  So, let’s talk about that.  Let’s talk about grandparenting by faith.

Continue reading

What the pastor should say in the wedding

“…the  two shall become one….” (Matthew 19:5)

The wedding ceremony is a great time–once in a lifetime for most people–for the pastor to get something across to two people in particular while hundreds are eavesdropping.

Not that they will remember a thing you say.

Friday, April 13, 1962, when Margaret and I stood at the altar, our pastor said some wonderful things that I found fascinating and inspiring.  Alas, my mind retained his insightful words for exactly half an hour, so whatever he said is gone forever.

These days, someone is recording your wedding service. So, you’ll be able to listen later when life returns to normal.

Presumably, that’s when the minister’s words are finally heard and begin to sink in.

So, what do you tell them, pastor? What words of lasting value and incredible help can you utter during the ceremony which will make a huge difference down the road a year or two or ten?  Now, you have only so much time, and this is not the time nor place for a full sermon. Still, choose a few great points you wish to lodge in their hearts forever and give it a shot.

Here are my suggestions on what you want to tell the couple….

Continue reading