mpd01JOLet’s take a moment to call to mind, with deep appreciation, the saints in our congregations who give their time and energy to our congregations’ ministries, sometimes for years. Especially beloved are those who selflessly serve the children and youth of the church. Can we talk about how to shift their role and honor their contribution to church life when ministry needs change?

* * * * * *
Dear Matriarchs:

I’m looking for some helpful ways to move a beloved volunteer into retirement.

Here’s the situation: One of our children’s ministries has been lovingly led by a true saint of our church, “Mrs. Jones,” for almost three decades. She has loved — and been loved by — generations of children of our church. For many, she has been the heart and soul of their young childhood church experience. We love her. Likewise, this form of service has been a source of joy and significant meaning in her life.

In recent years, though, participation in this ministry has dwindled even as our family membership numbers have increased. A recent survey about all of our children’s ministries confirmed our previous suspicions. the meeting time for this ministry — a stand alone time separate from all other church ministries, requested by Mrs. Jones — is not working for a huge segment of our families. In addition, her health is declining and she struggles to manage the children in her care. This is not a hazard, just not a very controlled environment. All of the above have lead us to believe that it is time to move the ministry to a better time and find new leadership.

How do you balance the conflicting needs of the obvious target audience for the ministry with the feelings of the volunteer who leader of that ministry?

* * * * * *

Jennifer Burns Lewis:

You’ve framed the dilemma well: balancing the needs of target audiences and the feelings of the longtime sainted volunteer.

Another way to frame it is by asking “what serves the mission of the church/the purpose of the program?”

Can the saint fit in some small way with a new time/new leadership as a special guest conductor very occasionally? How might she bless and endorse a new day for a program in which she was so integrally involved?

Sharon Mack Temple:

I especially appreciate the intention of including the current leader in a significant way. Expanding on your wise approach, Jennifer:

As the pastor, I would want this process to begin by making a time to have a pastoral conversation with her. Given her long-term faithful service to the congregation, I might make it a treat by taking her to lunch, or bringing lunch in (or something). Ask her how it’s going, in her life and specifically in this program. What does she see is going well? What are the challenges? If changes are being seriously considered, you could start letting her know that it’s likely that changes are coming, and what those might be. Find out if she is willing to help lead those changes &/or support any new leadership. 

It might turn out that she’s tired and will be relieved to find out that others have energy for the program.Perhaps she would love to be someone’s assistant. And she might have hurt feelings. But better that she can start processing those with you than being surprised in (or when hearing about) a meeting where the future of this program that she has loved is determined.

How about you, dear readers?

Have you faced this tender dilemma?

How did you lead the process?

Let us know in the comments below.

Are you facing a ministry challenge? You are not alone! Other pastors dealing with the same thing will benefit from your experience. Send your question to AskTheMatriarch (at) gmail (dot) com so we can share ideas and resources.


Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor living in Austin, TX. She is a contributor to the RevGals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and blogs erratically at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.


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One thought on “Ask The Matriarch: How to “Retire” a Faithful Servant

  1. I faced a similar conundrum with a director of children’s ministries. A saintly woman ran this ministry for decades, but the program was now stagnant, and it was time to change things. Ms. Director had mentioned retirement but never put any plans in place. I had a friendly chat with her in my office and suggested that, for her own peace of mind, she should pick a retirement date that felt good to her. It could be tomorrow, or a year from tomorrow, and she could change it if need be, but putting a date on the calendar would help her sort out what she wanted to do. I framed it as a way for her to think about retirement in a positive way. She seemed relieved to have help with her decision. She retired the next month, and we crafted a celebration to thank her for all she had done, and to bless this new stage in her life.

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