Former Pastors: Just Say No

It’s a common issue – so common that few are disciplined or held accountable. But it damages congregations in the long term, even though intentions are good.

I’m talking about pastors who leave a church through retirement or resignation, and yet they don’t break pastoral ties with the church.

Believe me when I say that I understand. You marry young couples, baptize their children, sit with them in ERs, bury their loved ones. You sit through fertility tests, court procedures, unemployment, and graduations. They are your family.

But if we really love those people in our former church, we have to say “No.”

When your favorite parishioner whom you baptized as an adult finally finds a life partner and wants you to marry them? You say no.

When the older couple, who took you in and supported you as a young pastor, die together in a car accident and you are asked by their grown children to officiate at their funeral? You say no.

When the ladies of the church tell you that “nobody does Bible studies like you” and they want you to keep doing them in the local diner- because you’re still in town? You say no.

It’s not that you don’t love them. It’s not that you don’t care. It’s that you are no longer their pastor. And as long as you act like their pastor and do pastoral things, they will not move forward. They will not identify someone new as their pastoral leader.

It’s not about the new leader’s insecurity. It’s about yours. You don’t want to be forgotten. You don’t want to be replaced.

But you are no longer their pastor. It’s not up to the new pastor to say no for you.

If you love your former church, let someone else serve them. You left. That was a good thing.

And now God is doing something new.

9 responses to “Former Pastors: Just Say No

  1. and when a nearby church asks you to step in and lead them “for a time,” free of charge or at a radically reduced rate because you are retired, you say no.


  2. Patricia Franks

    I am a witness to the damage this causes…


  3. Kenneth Wonderland

    The end goals of these remarks are true, but be careful of the simplicity. It’s never quite that simple and those who make dramatic declarations are ones who have certainly felt the pain, destruction of the unhealthy continuations. I agree, fully, but there is definitely the need for firm, clear caring, for all parties. Also, depends on the models and history of the presbytery and colleagues around.


  4. Leslianne Braunstein

    Yes, and . . . Say “no” with a smile. Say “no. This is the perfect opportunity for you to get to know your new pastor more deeply.” Say “no. I appreciate your trust in me and I know that same trust will grow in your new pastor as you get to know them through the process of this wedding/baptism/funeral.” Because that is the goal. Encouraging a deep and abiding relationship with the new pastor. I am not your pastor and I know your regard for and trust in your new pastor will grow as you build the new relationship.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes and no. I am thankful that when my Mom was in the hospital for surgery 3 hours away from our home that our former pastor who lived only 20 minutes from the hospital came along with his wife to visit Mom. She was comforted by their visit.

    I know that when a pastor leaves your church it is for the best and that they should encourage you to form a relationship with the new pastor.

    In my case our church had been part of a 7 church parish. The parish had a senior Pastor and every 2 churches had their own pastor. The Parish folded. At that time I felt that our former Senior Parish Pastor should have moved on. However, our church decided to fire our current church pastor and hire the former Parish Senior Pastor as our pastor. This made for hard feelings in the church because myself and others could not accept the change.

    I feel that churches in this case need to cut ties from the pastor and start fresh. I also feel that there are cases when Pastors should be involved with their former church if members ask for them to do so.


  6. Cheryl Homsher

    Especially tough to say no when the former church is between pastors and there are not other pastors around to conduct funerals.


  7. Our minister retired and planned to leave, The new minister insisted he and wife stay. He remained in the background, she was a valued choir member.


  8. Jeremy Campbell

    So as clerk in 2 different presbyteries where transition is myriad… first thanks to Jan for saying a bunch of things in a friendly way which really needed to be said… and to the retired folks, or recently left that call folks, please know that regardless of local custom and complex relationships and whatever else might being going on contextually there truly is always and only one answer… “I’m so honored that you would ask me to do that for you (wedding funeral baptism whatever) but I can’t, I’m busy that day, and you have a new pastor/temporary pastor who is great woman/man of God and will do a great job. They deserve your support and affection. It will be perfect. I know it.”


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