Should an Outgoing Pastor Mentor the Incoming One?

Does the Christian Reformed Church recommend that when a pastor of long-standing service in her or his congregation retires, that she or he mentor the incoming pastor for a period of time?

Some denominations do not allow retired ministers to remain members of the church they last served, knowing that all too often problems can ensue. Either congregations cannot give up their reliance on or affection for the former pastor, or retired ministers have difficulty letting go of the involvement and influence they enjoyed, or subsequent pastors are unable to establish themselves while facing the constant presence of the former pastor. Or sometimes all of the above! 

The CRC has been aware of those concerns, but also recognizes that not every situation with a former pastor goes sour and believes that rules should not prevent people from flourishing in the churches that best suit them, their families, and the church.

Synod addressed this matter in 2009 in response to an overture that raised these concerns. Synod did not create specific rules but did adopt guidelines for pastors and councils who need to discern a healthy approach to this kind of situation. The guidelines recognized the potential benefits and hazards of the ongoing presence of a former pastor. Some of the benefits include continuity of relationships, pastoral care assistance, and wisdom that could be shared from one pastor to the next—perhaps the kind of mentoring this question suggests. Hazards include a lack of boundaries, a congregation too attached to the former pastor, or an undermining of the new pastor. 

The CRC’s guidelines recommend a signed agreement to manage the relationship and to ensure that the new pastor is well supported. In this agreement, former pastors pledge to support the new pastor, not undermine their ministry, and agree to officiate in formal acts of ministry only with the approval of the council. All requests for pastoral care should be referred to the new pastor.

Back to the original question: the CRC does not recommend that a former pastor mentor a new pastor. It could be a wonderful opportunity, but it might not work in all situations. Where and when possible and beneficial for all, it sounds like a good thing!

About the Author

Rev. Kathy Smith is senior associate director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, adjunct professor of church polity at Calvin Theological Seminary, and adjunct professor of congregational and ministry studies at Calvin University. She is a member of First CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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