Is it okay for a pastor to hire a member of her church to paint her house?
Is it appropriate for me to send a birthday card to a former church member?
Is it wrong for you to be the keynote speaker at your former congregation’s Men’s Retreat without being invited by the current pastor?
Everybody knows that clergy are not supposed to have sex with their parishioners, right? (Right?!)
But every day I deal with different, ostensibly more innocent situations between churches and pastors/former pastors and I am honestly at a loss. I’m still trying to figure out my own boundaries with former parishioners for heaven’s sake.
Part of our issues are generational: In the 1950s, young male pastors regularly married women in their congregations. In the 2010s, it’s considered clergy malpractice even to date people in your congregation.
Part of our issues are geographical: If you now serve a congregation on the north side of town, but the last congregation you served is simply on the west side of town, it’s easier to meet former parishioners randomly or socially. Maybe you still go running on the same trails. Maybe you still frequent a restaurant in the old neighborhood. It might feel like “the old pastor” never left.
Part of our issues are familial: It’s one thing for the former pastor to keep his/her distance from the former church, but what about the spouse and kids? Can my kids go to church camp with kids from my former congregation? Can my husband play golf with old friends from our former church? Can my wife have lunch with her church lady friends?
Part of our issues are based on maturity and security: Am I afraid that the church loved my predecessor more than they love me? Why do I get that uneasy feeling when the former pastor makes a comment on the church’s Facebook page? Do I joyfully invite the former pastor to church celebrations knowing that many parishioners would love to see him? Am I retired and free from all the stresses of work, and therefore don’t really care how the current pastor feels when I invite myself to church functions? Do I insinuate myself in the business of my former church – because I can?
Here’s the essential question: What’s behaviors best serve the people of God?
What allows our brothers and sisters in Christ to flourish and grow? What chains them to the past? What sabotages current and future relationships? What shames people? What honors people? What honors God?
All this has come about because these are some of the issues I’ve already dealt with this week:
- A pastor was not happy when he ran into the former pastor who then said, “Tell __ (an elder church member) ‘Happy Birthday’ from me when you see her.”
- A pastor visited a parishioner in the hospital only to find her predecessor at bedside in prayer with that parishioner.
- A pastor is upset because the former pastor’s wife wants to continue to participate in her ladies group in their former church.
- A former member of a church wants to know if it’s okay for him to apply to be the next pastor.
It’s practically impossible to come up with a one-size-fits-all policy. So what do healthy boundaries look like where you come from?