THE ETHICS OF PASTORAL TRANSITION
Congregations and pastors need to understand the professional ethics of ministry relating to former pastors, interim pastors and current pastors. A pastor who resigns or retires from a congregational ministry setting no longer serves as pastor to members of this congregation. Former pastors should not agree to pastoral responsibilities that rightfully belong to the current pastor of the congregation.
The PURPOSE of this paper is to clearly state the proper boundaries for former pastors, interim pastors, current pastors, and members of congregations relative to on-going pastoral responsibilities and duties.
If a former pastor is asked to officiate at a special service by members, he/she should respond immediately by saying: “Thank you very much for asking me, but is simply NOT appropriate for me to do that since I am no longer your pastor.” The former pastor then encourages them to call their present pastor.
It is very natural that members turn again to a former pastor who perhaps baptized their other children, or performed other weddings and funerals for family members while serving as the family’s pastor. Again, with great sensitivity and love, the former pastor should graciously decline and direct the family to their current pastor. As with other family friends, the former pastor might attend the service as a guest.
Former pastors should avoid the comment to members, “You’ll need to speak FIRST to your present pastor about me doing this.” Such a comment places the current pastor in the very awkward situation of having to relinquish the pastoral role to the former pastor, or saying no to the members’ request and thus appearing insensitive, uncaring or insecure.
The interim pastor is the current pastor of the congregation until that time comes when the new pastor assumes the role of pastor and shepherd of the congregation. Whether part time or full time, the interim pastor should be contacted for all pastoral acts during the transition time. The former pastor should not be contacted by members to return to perform a pastoral responsibility during the transition.
Current pastors should speak as positively as possible of the ministry of former pastors even though their style and vision might be very different. The current pastor should never feel pressured to relinquish his/her pastoral role to a former pastor. When a current pastor feels it is appropriate and healthy to invite a former pastor to return to participate in worship in a supportive role, he/she can certainly extend such an invitation.
MEMBERS & FRIENDS OF THE CONGREGATION
Members should avoid placing both the current and former pastors in awkward positions by seeking the pastoral services of a former pastor. Members should simply not ask for such favors from former pastors. By showing high regard to the current pastor, members affirm the significance of the pastoral office which was once held by the former pastor.
If the congregation, council or current pastor experiences difficulties with proper boundaries being maintained, the bishop should be contacted.