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?

First, before answering, we need to establish something.

Sometimes the retiring pastor will feel that he does not fit in any other church in the community.  He and his spouse will feel they have no alternative but to remain in the church they have served all those years.

And they may be right.

After all, as the wife of a pastor friend reminds me, all their friends are in that church.  Why should the family have to give up their friends just because Dad has given up that job?  Good question.

All of this is to say that every situation is different.  No one piece of advice will fit every situation.

So, please take of what follows anything you can use and ignore the rest.

I think we know why the retired preacher hangs on.  All we have to do is consult our own heart.

One. –We all have to contend with insecurities.  Our ego is fragile and needs bolstering.  For a pastor, he feels affirmed when people ask him to minister to them in the important events of their lives.  Likewise, when a retired pastor sits home and the phone never rings, no one invites him to do anything, he feels useless.

Two. –If our identity was bound up in our role as the “Senior Pastor of the High-Strung Church of Hill Street,” then who are we when we are no longer that? But if we are still holding funerals and doing weddings and preaching, we ministers can still look ourselves in the mirror in the mornings.  We’ve still got it.

Three. –Preachers sometimes forget whose church it is and think because our name is on the sign and the Sunday services revolve around us that this is “my” church.  It ain’t.  See Matthew 16:18 for confirmation.

The pastor who thinks this is his church and whose identity is bound up with his role as the hot-shot of High-Strung Church is asking for all the heartache he is going to get.  And in trouble for all he’s going to cause.

Four. –We pastors sometimes mistakenly think we are indispensable.  No one is.

I’ve known pastors who would not let anyone else preach from their pulpit. One said, “My people expect to hear me every Sunday.”  He’s wrong, of course. The problem is himself.

Five. –Retired pastors need something to occupy their time, to challenge them.  While some will say ministers should never retire, we respond that while we should never retire from ministry, it is perfectly legit to retire from the pastorate.  The simple fact is retirees need ways to use their gifts and express their calling. Some minister in retirement homes, volunteer for hospice ministry, and the like. Some write books.

Six. –Some of us just cannot tell people ‘no.’  So, when people call asking us to perform funerals or weddings, turning them down can be really tough.  A young woman from a church I had served 10 years previously called to ask if I would return for her wedding.  After all, she had been away at college and working in another city and did not really know the pastor.  After I told her I would be unable to do that–I had a demanding pastorate that needed more hours of my days than I had available!–I laid down the phone and wept.  It hurt that much.  But it was the right thing.

A church I know was constantly unhappy with the new young pastor.  The retired minister, a good friend of mine, told me his phone rang constantly with church members complaining and seeking his counsel.  I said, “Why don’t you leave?  You’ve paid your dues with that church.”  He said, “Joe, they keep saying they need me to stay.”  I said, “My friend, you don’t owe them anything.  And frankly, seeing you every Sunday reminds them of the glory days and the new guy suffers by comparison.”  He said, “I’ll pray about it.  Maybe we should.”

Not long afterwards, he and his wife joined a larger church in the area and he became teacher of a men’s Bible class.  The old church ran that pastor off and in time, forced out the one that took his place.  Meanwhile, the retired pastor is loving life and serving God.

Do yourself a favor, retired pastor, if it’s at all possible and practical:  see if the Lord would allow you to move your membership to another church.

But if you remain in the area, then ask the Father to show you how to bless the new pastor and in time, for the two of you to have a great relationship.

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