Here’s a game for Beloved Former Pastors who want to have friendly contact with friends from their former church.When is casual contact fraught with jeopardy? Let’s play, shall we?
The Answer: “It’s just lunch!”
The Question: “What does a Beloved Former Pastor (BFP) believe about her/his friendly contact with a former parishioner?”
Well, yes, BFP. Your lunch with that Former Parishioner might very well be “just lunch.” You didn’t perform an FP’s wedding or baptism or relative’s funeral. Indeed, there are no pastoral services involved.
It’s just lunch, for goodness sake!
A lunch shared between a BFP and a Former Parishioner just might pass the “just lunch with just friends” test if:
The Former Parishioner (FP) initiated the first contact between you after you left the congregation. FP called you because s/he thinks of you as a friend. FP misses you and wants to see how you are. FP might have no idea of what healthy pastoral boundaries require of a BFP, no matter what you may have said when you left her/his church. FP just wants to have lunch. You said yes.
The conversation topics did not include church life. The two of you can be friends because you have other areas of common interest: family news, current events & politics, hobbies, food, etc. Talking and laughing about those things is the very definition itself of “just lunch” with “just friends.”
You will have, or have had, “The Friends Talk” which goes like something this: “We aren’t going to discuss church things or faith things. Our active friendship will continue as long as you, Dear Former Parishioner, are enthusiastically active in the congregation and unconditionally supportive toward the Current Pastor.” You take the time to say this, care-fully, at each first-time “just lunch.”
You have already taken the Current Pastor to lunch — on your dime — and continue to take her/him to lunch — on your dime — in every single month that you have “just lunch” with one or more of her/his current parishioners. You reap the rewards of that investment.
Beloved Former Pastor, even if you have every good intention, it’s highly likely that it’s not “just lunch” if:
You, Beloved Former Pastor, initiated the contact with your Former Parishioner (FP). You made the first phone call. You extended the invitation to “just lunch.” This reveals that you need them more urgently than they need you. Because you called FP first, you will never know if FP would have called you at all. That’s not “just lunch”; that’s just feeding your own need(s).
You talk, or listen, about church matters. Former Church talk is off limits at “just lunch.” No talk about the pastor, the programs, the problems. Nothing on the table related to Former Parishioner’s faith journey, questions about life and faith, or pastoral care needs that are not being actively cared for by Current Pastor. If your FP is currently in any process like ordination or licensure, that journey’s story and process is not for your ears unless you have the OK from Current Pastor. An exception: Your FP lunch buddy can’t help but share with you a very short, very positive piece of news from church. You rejoice! Any other conversations with one’s BFP about church &/or faith journey &/or potential pastoral care needs go back to her/his Current Pastor, or it’s not “just lunch.”
You will not &/or did not have “the talk” about expectations. You sympathetically listen to woes about the Current Pastor. Or, you are less than openly enthusiastic about your on-going support of the Current Pastor. You don’t think you need to spell that out. That means that you do need to, or it won’t be “just lunch.”
You have no plans or desire to take the Current Pastor to lunch, much less every month that you have “just lunch” with a parishioner from her/his congregation. Ask yourself, “Why not?” If you have time for a former parishioner or two in any given month, surely you can make time to nurture and care for a colleague. When lunch with the FP doesn’t inspire you to reach out to your colleague, then is it “just lunch”?
“Just Lunch” Double Jeopardy
— or —
Two Too-Likely Outcomes You Can’t Control:
Former Parishioner still sees (uses) you as pastor, even if you don’t see it that way
Others claim you are interfering, even when you take care not to be involved.
For you, Beloved Former Pastor, to actively and generously be-friend the current pastor might seem to be either unreasonable and impossible. This is not a hoop to jump through. This is not faking your care for a current colleague while you have real friendships with your former parishioners. This is a powerful de-triangulation move.
On Ordination Day, each of us was surrounded by colleagues, like the Current Pastor of your former congregation. Their hands were laid upon us. Their prayers surrounded us, sealed us, and sent us. We move on from each congregation we leave; colleagues always remain colleagues.
Playing Final “Just Lunch” Jeopardy:
When you are in closer contact with any former member than you are with her/his Current Pastor, then it’s not “just lunch.”
It simply can’t be. Professional church leaders play a different game.