Church Ethics for Former Pastors

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Church Ethics for Former Pastors

Postby Dave Roberts » Wed Nov 22, 2017 10:57 am

When should a former pastor stop coming back to a former church to be part of funerals? I ask the question because of a current interim situation. What has been your experience as a former pastor? As a layperson? As a retired minister? As an interim minister?
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Re: Church Ethics for Former Pastors

Postby Tim Bonney » Wed Nov 22, 2017 12:44 pm

Dave Roberts wrote:When should a former pastor stop coming back to a former church to be part of funerals? I ask the question because of a current interim situation. What has been your experience as a former pastor? As a layperson? As a retired minister? As an interim minister?


After they are no longer pastor, they shouldn't come back for funerals of former members. It undermines the new pastor. If the new pastor wants to invite them, that is their business but much of the time you are better off not to.

I always refuse to come back even if invited because at least half the time the new pastor would rather I not step in but they are often not in a good position to say so to the family.
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Re: Church Ethics for Former Pastors

Postby Rvaughn » Thu Nov 23, 2017 12:16 am

As a pastor I have never thought twice about a family inviting a former pastor to conduct a funeral, and in fact welcome it if they so desire. As a former pastor I have never thought anything wrong with conducting a funeral of a former member. I'd say in most of my own experiences with this (from both directions, as pastor & former pastor) the family usually invites both to share the duties anyway.
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Re: Church Ethics for Former Pastors

Postby William Thornton » Thu Nov 23, 2017 8:52 am

I wish, Dave, that there was an accepted book of pastoral ethics for SBC pastors and churches. On many occasions I would have been helped by a funeral policy like Timothy advocated. Most of the time, funerals I did at a former pastorate were shared with the current pastor. I'd insist on "assisting" him, although we both knew it was a little scripted tapdance. Almost always my predecessors were very sensitive when returning to their former church, my current church, to do funerals. A few times I got stiffed...but that's life as an SBC pastor.

I'm curious what the pastor handbooks used these days say about this.

Since I retired and stayed in the community where I pastored for 15 years, I will assist the current pastor on an occasional funeral. I have a good relationship with the current pastor so it's no big deal. We can talk frankly if necessary. I don't do weddings...too much stress.
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Re: Church Ethics for Former Pastors

Postby Dave Roberts » Thu Nov 23, 2017 11:06 am

I have now lived in the community where I last served as a pastor for sixteen years. I have made it my policy to only assist when invited by or through the current pastor and only when sharing in my former church. What I am dealing with in my current interim is a former pastor, two back, who lives two and a half hours away and has now come back for two funerals since I arrived. What I am learning is that he has never let go of the church people, despite the fact that he has now been gone for more than a decade. He is making five hour round-trips to cultivate this situation and has done two funerals in the past three and one-half weeks. No wonder the last pastor never became part of the congregation's life.

As for books about ministerial ethics, I'm not aware of anything in current use. I too would be interested in what is being taught, but I know this individual knows better than he is doing in this. Indeed, he gets notified by church members before the current pastor hears of situations of need. He is also trained as an intentional interim where the training addresses this specifically.
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Re: Church Ethics for Former Pastors

Postby William Thornton » Thu Nov 23, 2017 11:16 am

Don't know what might be done on the guy who likes to come back. What approach do you think would be best as their interim?
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Re: Church Ethics for Former Pastors

Postby Dave Roberts » Thu Nov 23, 2017 11:44 am

William Thornton wrote:Don't know what might be done on the guy who likes to come back. What approach do you think would be best as their interim?


I think I'm eventually going to need to sit down face-to-face with this former pastor and let him know what he is doing to the congregation. He will eventually destroy his legacy by continuing to hold onto them and will probably set up problems with his current congregation by running back to the former one all the time.
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Re: Church Ethics for Former Pastors

Postby Rvaughn » Thu Nov 23, 2017 11:55 am

It seems to me that most of the funerals in this area are "family driven" (as opposed to church or pastor driven). There certainly could be some reform in that area for the better -- with the pastor and church (e.g. church policy) taking a larger role. Nevertheless, I've never felt compelled to try to make such reforms.

The two "newest" pastor's manuals that I have are The New Ministers Manual by Paul Powell (1994) and Pastor's Pal by William L. Banks (2007). Many of you know who Paul Powell is. I don't remember whether he addresses former pastors in his book, but it is linked if you want to check. William L. Banks is a retired pastor in the Philadelphia area. He addresses the topic this way:
Finally, some pastors have made it the rule that they alone will preach the eulogy of the deceased member, thus excluding former or emeritus pastors from doing the eulogy. The wisdom of such a policy is questionable. If the family requests a member other than the pastor, I acquiesce, although my concern would be that he preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. In case another minister preaches the eulogy, the pastor should be the presiding officer. In this way he may control the service and guard the pulpit with final remarks and benediction. [page 110]
Banks approach of "pastor as presiding officer" seems more about WHAT is preached that WHO preaches.
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Re: Church Ethics for Former Pastors

Postby Dave Roberts » Thu Nov 23, 2017 3:20 pm

I like Banks approach, and I personally have no problem with a former pastor assisting in a memorial service. Displacing the current pastor, however, and leaving that person to stand or sit in the crowd is where I see a real violation. As funerals move more and more from the church to the funeral home, we as ministers are able to exercise less and less control and are often handed a sheet with the wishes of the family. Fewer funerals are linked to the church's ministry, but when they are, we need to take care how we treat them.
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Re: Church Ethics for Former Pastors

Postby Tim Bonney » Thu Nov 23, 2017 10:48 pm

I understand one of our Bishops said, “Always offer for the former pastor to come back. Former pastor, always refuse.” :)

While having a denominational set of rules isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and I don’t always like every rule in my denomination, this is one of those places where I like there being rules about one pastor interfering with another pastor’s work. Retired pastors who do some of the things Dave has said above in the UMC get reported to their Superintented and it gets squashed pretty quickly. The denominational leader can be the heavy and take the burden off the pastor.

How you put a stop to this’s when pastors are autonomous and congregations are as well, I have no idea. But it caused me a lot of trouble in my last Baptist congregation when the former pastor who served 20+ years was invited to nearly every funeral I ever did. He also routinely interfered in my pastorate. But those are stories for other times.
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Re: Church Ethics for Former Pastors

Postby Rvaughn » Thu Nov 23, 2017 11:26 pm

To me it sounds like a great deal of the problem discussed is specific former pastors acting unethically, rather than that there is something inherently wrong with former pastors being invited to help with or conduct a funeral.
Tim Bonney wrote:I understand one of our Bishops said, “Always offer for the former pastor to come back. Former pastor, always refuse.”
I'm a former pastor who came back to pastor the same church again -- about 20 years later. It has been a positive experience. (I think I only conducted one funeral of a member of this church in that 20 year interval, though quite a few died during that same period.)
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Re: Church Ethics for Former Pastors

Postby Tim Bonney » Sat Nov 25, 2017 9:34 pm

Rvaughn wrote:To me it sounds like a great deal of the problem discussed is specific former pastors acting unethically, rather than that there is something inherently wrong with former pastors being invited to help with or conduct a funeral.


It is specific pastors. But enough of it has happened that, at least for Methodists, statements were added to our Discipline about clergy interfering in another pastor’s ministry. I understand it was largely aimed at former and former retired pastors. But it is also related to pastors who are intentional sheep stealers.

While it is a small group of people, I’ve seen the damage. I imagine in your case it is because you always choose to act ethically. That prevents the problems from ever arising.
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Re: Church Ethics for Former Pastors

Postby Rvaughn » Sat Nov 25, 2017 11:40 pm

Tim Bonney wrote:I imagine in your case it is because you always choose to act ethically. That prevents the problems from ever arising.
Tim, I would say that I have tried to do so, but make no determination of whether I have succeeded. In small churches, small church settings, and close community relationships, it may be that much of the time the two pastors already know one another and at least have an amiable relationship. I also tend to defer to older ministers, which probably helps as well. (Now that I am becoming one myself, I may have to reboot!)
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Re: Church Ethics for Former Pastors

Postby Jon Estes » Sun Nov 26, 2017 7:29 am

Dave Roberts wrote:When should a former pastor stop coming back to a former church to be part of funerals? I ask the question because of a current interim situation. What has been your experience as a former pastor? As a layperson? As a retired minister? As an interim minister?


I do not go back unless they are without a pastor. It is not my sheep to shepherd anymore and I hope gently teaching them to support their current pastor to do the deed will be a huge encouragement.

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Re: Church Ethics for Former Pastors

Postby Rvaughn » Mon Nov 27, 2017 12:30 am

Apart from seminary teaching, ministerial ethics books, and denominational rules, what Bible verses/principles teach that pastors should have neither concern for nor dealings with their former flocks?
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Re: Church Ethics for Former Pastors

Postby Haruo » Mon Nov 27, 2017 2:29 am

I'm glad that when Fremont Baptist celebrated the last special Sunday of this, our 125th year, Paul Poehlman, who baptized me in 1991 and who retired from our pulpit and from pastoral ministry in about 2001, was both able and welcome to preach. He preached on Romans 16, the first section on Personal greetings, on female deacons and on Paul's relatives who were in Christ before him, etc. Very interesting stuff.
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Re: Church Ethics for Former Pastors

Postby Dave Roberts » Mon Nov 27, 2017 9:31 am

Rvaughn wrote:Apart from seminary teaching, ministerial ethics books, and denominational rules, what Bible verses/principles teach that pastors should have neither concern for nor dealings with their former flocks?


Since the NT canon closed around 100 +/- AD, the issues of returning pastors and pastoral ethics probably didn't come up in that era. The only returning former pastor we have in the NT is the Apostle Paul, and he went on some occasions, met elders on at least one or two others, and sent very specific letters to congregations. There is nothing, IMHO, directly relating to our present situations except for Golden Rule applications.
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Re: Church Ethics for Former Pastors

Postby William Thornton » Mon Nov 27, 2017 10:39 am

Like much that relates to ecclesiology, pastoral ethics concerning a former church is not addressed in the NT. It might simplify things if some authority could declare that no pastor will return to a former church. The principle that best fits ethical baptists is that a church should have only one pastor at a time and a former pastor must be both sensitive and deferential to his successor. Heck, I live where I pastored for 15 years and still have many relationships but it is clear to the new pastor that he is the pastor now, same for the members.
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Re: Church Ethics for Former Pastors

Postby Rvaughn » Mon Nov 27, 2017 10:49 am

William Thornton wrote:...a church should have only one pastor at a time...
So, no plurality of elders and no multi-staff? Or do you mean in the sense of senior pastor? Something else?
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Re: Church Ethics for Former Pastors

Postby Rvaughn » Mon Nov 27, 2017 10:52 am

Dave Roberts wrote:Since the NT canon closed around 100 +/- AD, the issues of returning pastors and pastoral ethics probably didn't come up in that era. The only returning former pastor we have in the NT is the Apostle Paul, and he went on some occasions, met elders on at least one or two others, and sent very specific letters to congregations. There is nothing, IMHO, directly relating to our present situations except for Golden Rule applications.

William Thornton wrote:Like much that relates to ecclesiology, pastoral ethics concerning a former church is not addressed in the NT. It might simplify things if some authority could declare that no pastor will return to a former church. The principle that best fits ethical baptists is that a church should have only one pastor at a time and a former pastor must be both sensitive and deferential to his successor. Heck, I live where I pastored for 15 years and still have many relationships but it is clear to the new pastor that he is the pastor now, same for the members.

Does the fact that we can't find this addressed in the New Testament suggest that our ecclesiology might have developed along lines that do not take the New Testament in proper consideration?
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Re: Church Ethics for Former Pastors

Postby Dave Roberts » Mon Nov 27, 2017 11:37 am

I guess there is an applicable scripture for this: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to do his good pleasure." In other words, where the Bible is silent, we are left to work out how the biblical principles may apply.
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Re: Church Ethics for Former Pastors

Postby Rvaughn » Mon Nov 27, 2017 11:52 am

I think not. The NT church was an incipient church and a lot was left to develop.
(See two posts above.) Not sure where this came from?? I didn't write that in my comment.
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Re: Church Ethics for Former Pastors

Postby William Thornton » Mon Nov 27, 2017 12:24 pm

Rvaughn wrote:
I think not. The NT church was an incipient church and a lot was left to develop.
(See two posts above.) Not sure where this came from?? I didn't write that in my comment.


I hit the wrong button, sorry. Fixed it.
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Re: Church Ethics for Former Pastors

Postby William Thornton » Mon Nov 27, 2017 12:27 pm

Rvaughn wrote:
William Thornton wrote:...a church should have only one pastor at a time...
So, no plurality of elders and no multi-staff? Or do you mean in the sense of senior pastor? Something else?


Not saying that. Reference to the system of itinerant pastorates we employ. My former church has a pastor. He's the only pastor. As an aside, I never bought the labels of children's pastor, student pastor, etc.
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Re: Church Ethics for Former Pastors

Postby Tim Bonney » Mon Nov 27, 2017 12:40 pm

Rvaughn wrote:Apart from seminary teaching, ministerial ethics books, and denominational rules, what Bible verses/principles teach that pastors should have neither concern for nor dealings with their former flocks?


I'm afraid you won't find much in the New Testament as the structure/polity of the Church was pretty much in formation at that time. Once the Church became an organized structure, then we had to start thinking about where lines of authority and ethical boundaries needed to exist.
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