Yesterday I heard a great testimony about the supportive role played by one of our retired pastors. I preached at Battle Ground United Methodist Church as they celebrated their 150th anniversary. That congregation is served by a Local Pastor named Brian White who is relatively new in ministry. Prior to the service, Brian and I had prayer with Rev. Lew Ruman, who previously served that congregation and is now retired near that area. Lew was a part of the celebration, and Brian shared this wonderful testimony about Lew: “He is so supportive and helpful to my ministry. He doesn’t agree with everything I am doing here at his former church, but when he does have questions or concerns he comes to me directly rather than complaining to any of our members. I deeply appreciate his support and his counsel for my ministry.”
Wow! What a great testimony about how a retired, former pastor can play an important role as colleague, friend, and confidant to a new pastor. That is the way it should be, but unfortunately it is not always that way. Sometimes retired pastors get caught in the trap of criticizing the current pastor, or agreeing with congregants who criticize the pastor. Sometimes it happens in subtle ways, when a retired pastor notes that things at the church used to be different (better) during their tenure. Sometimes it happens in overt ways, and I am sorry to say that a few retired clergy even stir up trouble with their criticism of their successors. Either way it is inappropriate for any clergy to undermine the ministry of any other clergy. So, it was nice to hear a testimony about how Rev. Ruman is helping the ministry of his younger colleague Brian.
Here are some suggestions and guidelines for our retired clergy to follow that example:
- Don’t retire in the community where you last served, or if you do, then don’t associate with your old congregation. It is just too easy for you to get caught into the kind of “triangles” which can undermine the ministry of the current pastor.
- Don’t comment to former congregation members about the ministry of your successor, even when you agree with what he or she is doing. Putting yourself in the position of evaluating your successor can only lead to trouble for both of you.
- If you become aware of any serious issues or problems in a former church, share those with the Bishop or District Superintendent. We are the ones who have the responsibility for supervising that pastor and that church.
- Feel free to maintain your friendships with former parishioners, but make it clear that your conversations with them will not include talking about church.
- Pray for your successors and your old churches. Perhaps the best thing a former pastor can do is to offer prayers for the ministry of a former church and the current pastor.
Most of us active clergy feel supported and blessed by the retired clergy who surround us with prayers, support, advice, and encouragement. Sometimes we active clergy don’t express our appreciation enough for the example and the witness of our retired brother and sister clergy. Yesterday was a good experience of hearing that appreciation voiced and knowing that it was well deserved.
from Bishop Michael J. Coyner