Ask a YCW: Retired Minister Edition

Post Author: Askie

pews askie dec 2016

Dear Askie,

I’m a recently retired minister, and the church that my wife and I attend recently called a young clergy woman as the pastor. She is recently ordained, and this is her first call. Any advice for how I can support our new pastor (while also adjusting to my new place in the pews instead of the pulpit)?

Retired and Looking Forward to Pew-Sitting


Dear Retired,

Most new pastors learn quickly that a retired colleague can be either a great source of strength and encouragement or the bane of her existence. Since you care enough to be asking this question, I’m assuming you’re in the first category (or at least that you want to be!). That’s wonderful.

You don’t say whether the church you’re attending is one where you have had a pastoral role in the past. If you have (at any time in your career) been a pastor to this congregation, it’s important that you tread extra-carefully. Unfortunately, sexism and ageism are very much alive in the church, and there will be a number of folks who would prefer to keep the older male pastor they once had rather than learn to appreciate the gifts of the young female pastor they have now. Keep reminding them that she’s the pastor and you are not.

It’s likely that at some point a church member will ask you to officiate a wedding or funeral or other church service. Say no. Say, “It’s really not appropriate for me to do that, since I’m not the pastor here. I know Pastor Jane will do a wonderful job.” Do not say, “Well, maybe, if Pastor Jane lets me.” Don’t make her be the bad guy. Let her be the gracious one who invites you to take part in the service she’s leading, if that’s appropriate. One of Askie’s favorite retired ministers once said to her, “You’re the pastor. I’m happy to help you out with this funeral however you like, but you are their pastor now and you’re in charge.” For a brand-new pastor whose confidence is still a little shaky, that’s an incredibly valuable thing to hear.

Even if you never pastored this particular congregation, keep in mind that your words carry more weight than the words of the average person in the pews. Make your praise loud and public, and if you have constructive criticism to offer, offer it privately and directly to the pastor. I’m sure you know from your own pastoral life that the criticism from church members can be frequent, petty, and soul-crushing. Do your best to keep critiques to yourself and to offer your new pastor as much encouragement and grace as you can, and encourage other church members to do the same. Point out specific gifts you see in your new pastor—especially if those gifts are different than your own!

Finally, be her friend. Invite her to dinner with your family, or to have a cup of coffee with you. Remember how stressful your first Advent or Holy Week was, and send her a simple note during those times offering encouragement and prayer. Let her know that you are available if she needs someone to talk to, and that you will keep her confidences. Pray for her.

Thanks for asking this question, and for seeking to be a true friend to your new colleague in ministry as you move into a new phase of your life. Blessings on your retirement, and blessings to the church as they welcome a new pastor!


Image by: marcino
Used with permission
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