Thom Rainer recently posted Seven Thoughts about Retiring Pastors Who Stay at Their Churches. One of his suggestions was that the ‘retiring’ pastor leave their church for a period of time so that the new pastor could get established. While this sounds logical, I commented that I think it is pragmatic pandering to sin.
Here’s why (extended version)…
First, it is not ‘their’ church. It is Christ’s church.
Second, it is only because of our church culture in America that this is a possibility. Most US cities have enough churches to choose from so we can just move on for a bit so the new pastor can get settled in. This wouldn’t work in first century nor in much of the world today.
Thirdly, again due to our church culture, we have failed (most of the time) to disciple and raise up new leaders from within the church, necessitating hiring from outside and bringing in lots of potential changes (some good, some not).
Fourthly, and most importantly, the sin behind this pragmatism is not being dealt with. Can you imagine the Apostle Paul being told to leave the church so a new pastor can get the people’s support – oh wait, this kind of thing did happen (or at least close to it) and we have letters detailing Paul’s response. The sin of selfishness and competition within the church is what must be dealt with. This could be in the retiring pastor, new pastor and the congregation – and often probably in all three.
Philippians lays the issue bare – we are to live our lives worthy of the gospel of Christ (1:27), we are to stand fast in a united front against those outside the church (chapter 1) and those inside the church (chapter 2 and following) – all with ONE mind, united in Christ – and with Christ himself being our example.
Regarding the humiliation and attacks that may come – Christ endured them and so too must we.
Regarding the competition that rears its diabolical head – we must confront it as Christ and Paul did. What are we doing clamoring after this pastor or that pastor – the head of the Church is neither – it is Christ! This bickering, backbiting and taking sides is evidence of a church that lacks unity, that lacks the mind of Christ, that has forgotten what it means to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel – united together under Grace so that the whole world is filled with the knowledge of the Glory of God (Hab 2:14).
Sweeping the issue under the rug by sending the retiring pastor packing is both disrespectful and diabolical – that’s how I see it.
You don’t have to agree but can we really imagine the early church or any culture that doesn’t have the opportunity of choosing from dozens of local churches promoting such a thing?!
The American Church does not understand unity in the Gospel very well at all (I’m just barely beginning to understand it myself).