Inviting Former Pastors Back

9548467-standardI Corinthians 13:11  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.

I received a telephone call today from the interim pastor of a church I served years ago here in town. He informed me that the family of a member had requested that I return to help with his mom’s memorial service on Sunday. Unfortunately I am already assisting with a memorial service of a clergy member of our conference, a retired District Superintendent, who was part of our congregation in Pleasant Garden, which I served for eight years. So I had to decline, and I really hated to decline because this lady was one of the sweetest ladies I have ever been fortunate enough to have known.

Her name was Louise Marshall. Many years ago I held the service for her husband and then one for her niece. One of the things that made Louise so special was that she made you feel special no matter who you were. On our birthday, anniversary, Christmas, thanksgiving, every holiday or special day we would receive a card from Louise. She hardly ever missed. She brought cheer, she touched our hearts… and kept touching them over the years. And it made us feel so good to know that someone took the time to remember us.

Something so small brought such deep smiles… We will forever remember her and remain thankful to her.

That brings up a touchy point with us weird clergy people. I have always made it a practice to invite former pastors back to assist in Memorial services because they have a relationship with the members that I do not have. My relationship with the members is deep and special but so are the relationships built with former pastors. They were there when family members went through deep and troubling events in their lives and it built a special bond between them. If I were to deny them coming back to help, I am denying the family of a depth of ministry I cannot give.

For some of us clergy types it appears as if we are not in charge when we allow former pastors to come back, or somehow it impedes the building of pastoral relationships. I have had families ask for me to come back and the pastor has told them “It is against Conference policy.” Other pastors would call me and ask me not to come back so they can build their relationship with the congregation. Then there are those political pastors who say: “This would be a good time for a new pastor to build relationships but you do what you feel is best.” What they really mean is I want you to tell me you can’t come so I can tell the family you SAID you can’t come, but I really don’t want you to come into my garden. Is it immaturity? Is it insecurity? Is it that someone may like another pastor more than they like you? I really don’t get it!

I thought we were in the vocation of ministry not stardom. Aren’t we seeking to help those in our flock… or is it help only if the help comes alone from us? I am afraid that the human-ness of our brother/sisterhood in ministry is showing way too much, and not enough of our unity in Spirit and love.

I also know the other side of the coin where every time you turn around a certain former pastor is visiting your members. The only thing missing is they are not in the pulpit with you on Sunday mornings… or are they? There is a clergy family I know of who are death to any clergy who follow them. They are always back in the work. They know of a death in your church before you do. People always call on them, stay in touch with them, even vacation with them. They are the “most loving people you could ever want to know.” Nothing is ever done about it… just talk. So what do we do?

For me I try not to be insecure or jealous or any of those things that keep ministry from happening in and around me, through me or others. When I am in doubt I do question why I would not want this person to come back. If they have an ax to grind or were particular trouble makers at the church I am serving the invitation probably would not be forthcoming. If they are pastors with a good heart and a caring spirit, who care about this church and the people, I would invite them to come home. There is not really anything I can do about whether I am invited back or not. That will always be up to the current pastor, as it should be. I pray that I will be gracious and understanding when the invitation doesn’t come or comes in a way that actually says no. I have been less that gracious sometimes when that has happened in the past, and I am working through that in my own soul now.

Brothers and sisters we need to find a way to get along for the sake of the kingdom and the ministry we seek to proclaim. If our people see us at odds with each other, how can we expect them to listen to us when we say to them… come together in love.

Forgive us Lord, when we clergy act too much like little children fighting over a toy or a place to play. May we put away childish things and come together in love, in and through Jesus. Amen.


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5 Responses to Inviting Former Pastors Back

  1. Jamie Westlake says:

    Well said, and well done. As soon as I am appointed to a new church, I call all of the former pastors for their insights and to invite them to come back any time- for weddings, funerals, or just to visit. I then ask them to give me advance notice, so I will be able to properly honor them when they arrive. If the pastor retires and stays in the community, I ask them to be Pastor Emeritus. These are “former pastors”- they aren’t the current pastor there. We both know it, so it’s not a problem for them to come back occasionally. I am glad, however, I’ve never had bad experiences with this.

  2. Homer says:

    Well put my friend.

  3. Tom James says:

    From a congregant’s viewpoint, I think the Conference policy about not allowing former pastors to return to a congregation or individual members, especially when requested in a time of need, is a silly one. Why would anyone want to restrict the sharing of God’s love, comfort and peace? Why would anyone want to limit an individual’s expression of sympathy and solace? A former pastor can be seen most favorably as a compassionate and spiritual bridge, connecting the shared memories, conversations and time spent with a congregation or its members that enable the current pastor to have a better understanding of the situation. They shouldn’t be viewed as getting in the way or impeding on the current pastor’s turf. Most often, they are the loving tie that binds individuals or families to a closer relationship with the current pastor and, ultimately, with God. Of course, pastors are human and, sadly, some of them burn bridges along their journey that leave them no path to return.

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