Whether we are 25 years old or 95 years old, Boundary Training is required for all pastors in our Presbytery who serve congregations in any way.
Some scoff at this because it’s required every three years. If we have been serving churches for 3 years or 43 years, we still have to attend the same training. Most of us get it: Don’t have sex with parishioners.
But, of course, there is much, much more to it than that.
Among the boundary issues that come up regularly involve retired pastors. We have several gifted retired pastors who:
- Continue to love the people they served prior to retirement (not a problem)
- Miss the practice of preaching, teaching, and leading God’s people (understandable)
- Feel adrift without their previous pastoral identity (also understandable)
- And are inadvertently hurting the ministry of the churches they’ve loved (not okay).
It occurs to me that maybe we need to start early in preparing our pastors for Life After Retirement.
What if – starting at age 55 – all pastors (already-retired and not-yet-retired) were invited to a different kind of Boundary Training?
Military personnel – prior to retirement after 20+ years – are treated to workshops from How to Dress (when your wardrobe no longer includes military uniforms) to How to Find Work in Civilian Life.
Clergy need the same kind of preparation as we look forward to or find ourselves already in retirement. Carol Howard Merritt shared at a recent conference that, in the next 10+ years, a huge number of Baby Boomer clergy will be retiring. (Note: While many say that there are too many clergy, there will be a huge need for gifted clergy in the coming years. Get thee to a seminary, young spiritual leader.)
We get financial preparation from our Board of Pensions. But few of us are prepared for retirement emotionally and spiritually. Imagine if we had conversations/boundary training before and after retirement around these issues:
- What do we do if all of our friends are in our last congregation? (Tip: make friends who have nothing to do with your church well before retirement.)
- What do we do if all our spouses friends are in that last congregation? (Tip: see above)
- What if we miss our former church so much that we really, really want to drop in on church functions, get together with former parishioners, continue to offer pastoral care? (Tip: When you get the urge to connect with former parishioners, remember what this does to your former church – the congregation you love so much: It confuses people. It keeps them looking back at the past. It sabotages the ministry of the current and future pastors.)
- What if the new pastor has finally arrived to our former church and we want to partner with her/him because – after all – we have a lot of information about that congregation and we could help? (Tip: Don’t do this unless asked.)
- What if we left under a cloud and we are still bitter/angry? (Tip: Vent to a therapist. Don’t shred your former congregation or former colleagues.)
- What if we were elected Pastor Emeritus and we are still connected to the church from which we retired? (Tip: Being Pastor Emeritus is an honorary status. It doesn’t mean you are still on the church staff or that the church is obliged to invite you to preach, teach, or attend church functions.)
Healthy pastors of every age have a life outside the church. Healthy pastors of every age have interests and friends who are not part of their congregation’s activities. Healthy pastors of every age don’t make church about themselves.
But we need to help each other be healthy.