Advice to Retired Pastors

Retirement

Today’s article is titled Advice to Retired Pastors and Their Relationship to the New Pastors in Their Former Congregations by Rev. Fred C. Jacobi.

While you and I might not agree totally with these suggestions, they are worthy of consideration. I also understand that some pastors are easier to follow than others and that some succession plans simply don’t work as well as intended. Here we go:

  1. Stay away from the parish at least six months to a year, allowing the new man to “settle in.”
  2. Don’t attend Church Council or Voters Meetings. That’s the reason you retired!
  3. Refer all weddings, baptisms, funerals, etc. to the new pastor. The worst thing that can happen is for him to know you did something behind his back.
  4. If you attend a Bible Class he is conducting, keep a low profile.
  5. Treat him as your Pastor.
  6. Do not criticize him behind his back. You may think you have said something in confidence, but most often he will hear about it. He will obviously have some faults, but so did you!
  7. Do something that advances the ministry. Help with shut-in calls or become a Stephen minister.
  8. Treat him with respect.
  9. Let the vision and new ideas come from him and the church leadership – not from you.
  10. Feel free to help out with leading worship at other churches.
  11. If the new man feels uncomfortable with anything you are doing, back off!
  12. Sit down with him and assess your relationship from time to time.
  13. Allow him to do spiritual advising as much as possible.
  14. Keep him and his family in your prayers.
  15. Remember that each new pastor builds on the work of former pastors. Don’t allow members to extol their favorite pastor to the detriment of others.
  16. Enjoy your former congregation members, but remember they are friends, not your parishioners!
  17. Do everything possible to make the transition a smooth one.
  18. Go along with his new ideas about worship and ministry. Variety is the spice of life.
  19. Don’t talk about the way you used to do things.
  20. Do everything with a humble spirit.
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+Vernon Dale Gundermann+

vern-gundermannAfter a valiant battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), more commonly called Lou Gehrig’s disease, Rev. Vernon Dale Gundermann left this earthly life on Friday, September 16. He was 78 years, 11 months and 16 days of age.

Vern served for many years as pastor of Concordia Lutheran Church in Kirkwood, Missouri. Among other positions, after retirement he also served as Chaplain at the International Center of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).

My first contact with Pastor Gundermann was in 1991, when I was elected president of the Texas District of the LCMS. The 41 members of the Council of Presidents met at the International Center, near Concordia, so most of us walked to church for the 8:00 a.m. Sunday service.

We were privileged to receive assurance of God’s love and forgiveness from the heart, head and hands of Vern Gundermann, who had become Senior Pastor at Concordia that same year. He always seemed incredibly sensitive, spiritually mature and pastorally competent.

In addition, the man could preach! I’ve come to describe Vern as one of the best preachers in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. I never heard a bad sermon from this man and can think of few other preachers, including myself, about whom I can say the same.

Vern was also a sensitive and caring pastor. Particularly during some difficult days as national church president, I received communications from and attended meetings with people who my dear Terry aptly describes as “joy suckers.” They sucked the joy right out of life and ministry.

At such times, Pastor Gundermann had an uncanny, surreal, perhaps even supernatural way of knowing and feeling the struggles we were experiencing. Upon returning from such difficult meetings and encounters, I was almost always greeted with a phone message from Pastor Gundermann, assuring me, and Terry as well, of his prayers, love, support, encouragement.

Vern is survived by his beloved wife Betty, their four children, and 11 grandchildren. Memorial services will be held at Concordia Lutheran Church, Kirkwood, MO, on Sunday, September 25, at 4:00 p.m. and at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Fulda, MN, on Tuesday, September 27, at 1:30 p.m.

Well done, good and faithful servant!

The strife is o’er, the battle done; now is the victor’s triumph won; now be the song of praise begun. Alleluia!

Lord, by the stripes which wounded Thee, from death’s dread sting Thy servants free, that we may live and sing to Thee. Alleluia!

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dr. Martin Luther

MLKJThis Monday was an American federal holiday marking the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, around the time of Dr. King’s birthday, January 15. Martin Luther King was born Michael King, Jr. in 1929, named after his father the preacher, who was also born with the name Michael King.

In 1934, after becoming pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Dr. King, Sr. changed his name and that of his eldest son from Michael King to Martin Luther King after becoming inspired during a trip to Germany by the life of Martin Luther (1483–1546). We know this Luther as the German theologian who initiated the Protestant Reformation.

Dr. King, Jr. is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights, especially for African Americans, using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs. On October 14, 1964, King received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolence. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee.

My earliest perceptions of Dr. King over 45 years ago were not all positive. Since that time I have developed an appreciation for what he did and said. Here are some of his most famous quotes:

  • “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
  • “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”
  • “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
  • “I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.”
  • “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
  • “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”
  • “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
  • “A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live. No one really knows why they are alive until they know what they’d die for.”
  • “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”
  • “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
  • “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”
  • “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
  • “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other. We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
  • “Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says to love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”

My perspective is that a significant number of these statements sound as if they might well have also been spoken by the man after whom Dr. King’s father named them both. This Dr. Martin Luther lived in the 15th and 16th centuries. Here are a few similarities observed between the two men:*

  • A single issue for each of them was their lifelong battles for reform. For Martin Luther, a Catholic monk, it was his parishioners buying indulgences, purchasing their salvation to fill Rome’s coffers. For Martin Luther King, it was a black woman being arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. Both saw their parishioners struggling in the face of corruption and autocracy.
  • Both struggled with the laws and doctrines of their time. Luther King worked to eradicate segregation in America. Luther spent much of his life trying to reform the Roman Catholic Church.
  • Both were fathers and husbands who deeply loved their families despite their many other commitments and responsibilities.
  • Both lived controversial lives, suffered incarceration and death threats and died before they should have.
  • Martin Luther and Martin Luther King left the world a better place, leaving large tracts of their thoughts and beliefs through the written and spoken word.

Both were men whom God raised up in their own time to accomplish, each in his own way, much good that prevails to this very day.

Children of the Parsonage

Credit:  Milan Jurek

Credit: Milan Jurek

That’s a respectful term for people born into a pastor’s family, aka preachers’ kids or PKs. My father was not a pastor. Neither was my grandfather or great grandfather. So what I know about being a PK is purely observational and neither experiential nor hereditary. Our children know more about this topic than either Terry or I will ever know.

PKs have a sometimes well-deserved but often unfairly caricatured reputation of being misbehaved scoundrels and rebellious ne’er-do-wells. Some have been raised with unrealistic expectations of parents, parishioners or peers. Those expectations can result in overreaction from a PK who goes way out of his or her way to prove that he or she is not perfect, holy or pure.

In many other cases PKs are raised with a balanced understanding of who they are, both as children of the Heavenly Father and also as children of earthly parents. Such PKs come to understand that they have been brought into this world by parents who love them enough not to impose upon them unrealistic expectations of how they should dress or behave or live just because one of their parents happens to be a pastor.

My heart is heavy for PKs who come from homes with inordinate amounts of dysfunction or unnecessarily stringent parental expectations. My heart rejoices with PKs who have been allowed and encouraged to live life as normally as possible, in the freedom and forgiveness of God’s love and the unquestionable assurance of their parents’ love.

For all who read these words, whether a PK or not, I pray your life is blessed with unconditional love, not because of what you do but because of who you are, by God’s grace.

The Nine Toughest Leadership Roles

Leadership 1

Credit: Craig Parylo

An article on Leadership by Rob Asghar in the February 25 Forbes Magazine ranked what in that author’s opinion are the nine toughest leadership roles. These are not scientifically evaluated, just offered in the words of the author as “one educated guess.” Here they are, in reverse order:

9. Corporate CEO

Cons: Angry shareholders, low employee morale, media scrutiny, and an impossible task of balancing long-term goals with quarterly ones.

Pro: A generation ago CEOs made 25 times what the average worker made. Now it’s over 250 times. So one really cares what the cons are.

8. United States Congressperson

Pros:  Even though Congressional approval rates hover around 15%, incumbents get reelected 90% of the time. Even a monumental scandal may not drive a congressman from office. And generous donations from special interests give you a clear map for how to vote on even the most complicated issues.

Cons: Every so often you wake up at 4:00 a.m. with a clear sense that you’re the cause of the nation’s problems.

7. Editor for a Daily Newspaper

Pros: You’re at the cutting edge of change within the global communications revolution.

Cons: It’s mostly you that’s getting cut.

6. Mayor

Pros:  Chance to ban large sodas and/or deport citizens who picked on you in grade school.

Cons: Unlike most politicians, you actually have to make sure that garbage gets collected, snow gets shoveled, and things get done. And worse yet, you often can’t fire the people who are getting in your way.

5. Pastor, Rabbi, Mullah or Other Holy Leader

Pros: You’re seen as a man or woman of God and what you say gets taken seriously, at least momentarily.

Cons: “Being a pastor is like death by a thousand paper cuts,” says Rev. Dr. Ken Fong, senior pastor at Evergreen Baptist Church in Rosemead, California and a program director at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. “You’re scrutinized and criticized from top to bottom, stem to stern. You work for an invisible, perfect Boss, and you’re supposed to lead a ragtag gaggle of volunteers towards God’s coming future. It’s like herding cats, but harder.”

4. Football Coach

Cons: You never see your spouse or kids.

Pros: You never see your spouse or kids. And it’s your chance to finally get that 24/7 attention you crave, usually from bitter, underpaid sports “journalists” and psychopathically unhappy callers to AM radio shows who blame you for 4,037 things outside your control.

3. Second-in-Command of Any Organization

Pros: As the company’s #2, you’re insulated from much of the searing heat that the top position faces. And many people flatter you by telling you (out of earshot of your boss) that you should be the real #1.

Cons: You’re less ready for the #1 job than you think. Even though you think you’re doing the true hard work while your insufferable boss basks in all the glory, you have no idea how much more complex, lonely and pressure-packed the #1 position is.

2. University President

Pros: People are pretty sure you’re super-smart.

Cons: People don’t like know-it-alls. And in addition to managing a huge and complex physical campus, you have to manage a thousand unmanageable constituencies—including picketing students, partying students, zealous alumni, Nobel laureates, hundreds or thousands of highly opinionated tenured professors that you can’t fire, and 10 to 15 separate sports franchises that would drive any NFL owner insane. And bear in mind that public university presidents have all the problems above, while additionally needing to wrestle with governors and state legislators and political groups.

1. Stay-At-Home Parent

Little known fact: While there are some 5 million stay-at-home mothers in the U.S., the number of stay-at-home fathers has tripled in recent years.

Pros: Comfortable, stretchy sweat-pant uniforms. Showering is optional. Freedom from water-cooler gossip and office backstabbing.

Cons: Condescending tone in the “Oh, staying at home is a very important job” statements that others make. The knowledge that, if you do your job badly, you’ll be raising the next generation of psychopaths and U.S. congresspersons. While it’s been calculated that the value of your work is a whopping $100,000 a year, your overpaid CEO spouse flaunts his or her paycheck as a way of showing that he or she doesn’t plan to help around the house. Even if you do your job right, the little ingrates move on and leave you with an empty nest.

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Obviously the author is prone to a bit of stylistic sarcasm. In my humble opinion all the leadership roles listed in his article are legitimate expressions of Christian vocation that have significant value and are at least potentially important for the good of society. There are many more such beneficial leadership roles and vocational callings than the nine in this article.

Regardless of the level of difficulty or sacrifice of the vocational calling of God in your life, I pray you find meaning and fulfillment in that calling. As St. Paul writes, in an admittedly different context: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31)

And Martin Luther adds this little note about Christian vocational calling: “The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”