By Pastor Paul Ostrem, Assistant to the Bishop, Southeastern Iowa Synod

Not long ago I received more push back from a congregation council regarding boundaries for former pastors than I usually receive. This office at least attempts to make it clear that when a pastor resigns for whatever reason, it is inappropriate for that pastor to return to do pastoral acts such as weddings, baptisms or funerals. I often say something like, “It really places your former pastor in an awkward position when those requests come, so my advice is simply, ‘Don’t ask’.”   I usually am asked why that is the case, but this more recent time there was more challenge to it. “I don’t agree with that,” one said emphatically. Another chimed in “Some of us have grown really close with our pastor.” Around the table I could see many nods. Fortunately, I was able to say in this particular case, “I am quite confident your pastor will not accept those requests.”

In one way, I have to admit, it was like music to my ears. A big part of pastoral ministry is about building and maintaining strong relationships. The inability on the part of a pastor to do so almost always spells difficulty. When folks entertain the notion of their beloved pastor coming back for certain pastoral acts, it’s a sign that the relational aspect of ministry has been a strength. But it is a strength only when done within certain boundaries, including genuinely leaving when it is time to leave.

Pastoral ministry is about the office of pastor more than the person of the pastor. Sometimes is hard for both pastors and congregations to make that distinction. The head might say one thing, but the heart often says another. Since a big part of pastoral ministry is about strong relationships, it is essential that a departing pastor truly leave so that the new pastor as well as members of the congregation are free to establish new relationships.

John the Baptist said of Jesus “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30) An attitude like John’s would wear well as pastors move out of one setting to another.

ostrem_round Pastor Paul Ostrem has served as an assistant to Bishop  Michael Burk of the Southeastern Iowa Synod since  January 1, 2009, where he coordinates the mobility of  rostered leaders and the congregational call process,  works with people in candidacy, and works with the Commission for Church in Society dealing in particular with the issues of hunger and poverty toward the goal of manifesting what it means to be an “anti-hunger synod”.  Prior to coming to the bishop’s staff, he served parishes in Hanlontown and Preston, and as Senior Pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Muscatine for twenty-one years.  He has served on numerous not-for-profit boards including Lutheran Homes in Muscatine, Lutheran Services in Iowa and the Lutheran Services in Iowa Foundation. 

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