A Love Letter to Retired Pastors

Dear Retired Colleagues,

Thank you for your wisdom and professional ministry over the past decades.  I’m grateful for the time you loved God’s people in the particular congregations you served.

Although I’ve shared thoughts with you over the years, there’s something I need you to hear with an open mind.  Yes, some of you have excellent relationships with those clergy who serve your former congregations.  This is so good.  What you need to know that for every one of you who perceives your relationship with the current pastor of your former church to be excellent, there is at least one (if not ten) pastors currently serving other congregations as either the transitional or installed leader of your former congregation who wishes you would step back.  This is hard to hear and perhaps harder to believe.  I wish I could tell you I’m exaggerating.

Maybe it’s easier if you’ve moved to another town or another state.  And even then, it’s hard not to keep in touch with so many friends.  After serving a church for over 20 years, I moved half way across the country and still was asked to officiate at weddings and funerals.  They were willing to “fly me back.”  But I needed to say no.

The reason to say “no” the very first time you are asked to “come back” is this:

If you say “yes” to one family (or to six), you either have to come back for all of them OR you clearly show favoritism. 

And the hurt is real, my retired friends.

When you say “yes” during the Interim Time (whether you or another pastor recently left), it’s just like saying “yes” after the next Installed Pastor arrives.  I know you do not intend harm, but your are making it difficult (whether he/she/they admit it or not) for the other pastors who lead that congregation.

I get it:  you miss your friends.  You miss the pastoral calls and the holy moments.  You miss being the Biblical scholar.  You miss the identity.  But please believe me when I say that your continued presence, much less your continued leadership will one day be an event that the congregation will look back on as something that kept them from moving forward.

(This is the moment when some of you are thinking, “But they want me to come back.  Even the new pastor wants me to come back.”)  To quote Nancy Reagan: just say no.  Re-read the second paragraph if necessary.

The purpose of this post is to give you a way out.  Let’s say that you’ve agreed to do some weddings/funerals for former parishioners.  Maybe you did one.  And maybe you did half a dozen.  I’m inviting you to send a letter to the leaders of your former church saying this:

Dear (Name of Congregation here,)

I made a mistake.  In my love for your congregation, and so many of you individually, I thought it would be pastorally meaningful to accept your invitations to officiate at your family events.  But I was wrong.  It has only put me in the position of hurting others – including those who might want me to officiate at future events.  But – for the sake of your congregation’s health and in hopes of a thriving future for this church – I will no longer agree to officiate at any of your events, either within or outside the walls of the church building.  I made a mistake before.  Please understand that this is the most loving thing I can do for (Name of Congregation here.)

Yours In Christ’s Service,

Joe/Tammy/Bruce/Phyllis/Don/Warren/Dorothy/Whoever you are


Here’s another way to live into retirement:  if you long to lead Bible studies, preach, offer pastoral care/go on mission trips, we can find you another congregation in which to do this who would be thrilled to have your leadership!  Let somebody in your denomination know.

The #1 issue I hear at Boundary Training is about retired/former pastors continuing to show up and not-so-secretly continue to be involved.  Please know that you are loved.  Thank you for years of loving service.  But this congregation you love deserves a fresh start in order to be a 21st Century Church.  Please let them go.

Yours In Christ’s Service,



One response to “A Love Letter to Retired Pastors

  1. Amen. Thank you for saying this. I’ve not had this problem, but I know too many colleagues who have.


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