How To Avoid Curtain-Call Syndrome


By: Herb Miller

NOTE: The following two stories are true. Names have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty.

A highly capable pastor, Rev. Eveready served seventeen years in one congregation. A loving, gregarious person, he became the
unofficial pastor of many other citizens in the small farming community. The church grew in members and vitality. Then he
accepted the call to serve a congregation twenty-three miles away. After that, he reversed the good he had accomplished in the first congregation. He succumbed to the harmless-looking but deadly “curtain-call temptation.”

Most pastors handle this dilemma appropriately. He did not. During the next fourteen years, he returned to perform 78 percent of the funerals and 67 percent of the weddings held in the sanctuary of his former church.

Once each week he came back to the community for visits to members’ homes and the local coffee shop. The congregation changed ministers five time in fourteen years. Each new cleric began with enthusiasm. Each gave much energy. Each had gifts and skills. But each failed. They all had a key to the pastor’s office, but none became the pastor. That spot was already occupied – by the former pastor.

Rev. Eveready’s curtain-call temptation is also faced by the long-term pastor who retires in the same town. The better liked he is,
the more often it happens. Experiencing the adjustment shock of retirement and the emotional “need to be needed,” he may fall into a behavior pattern for which he criticized others all his life.

Who can solve this problem and save the church from losing years of effective ministry? Not the parishioners! Very few members see the long-range destructiveness of a former pastor’s behavior. They are likely to keep on inviting him back.

The church board cannot solve it! This issue always divides leaders (as it did the Corinthian church). Most board members lack
the experience needed to see the negatives in this behavior. Other board members like Rev. Eveready more than their new minister. Still others fear that taking a stand will offend relatives who have already invited Rev. Eveready back for a wedding or funeral.

The judicatory staff person cannot solve it! In denominations with bishops, of course, these matters are easily handled. Rev.
Eveready changes his behavior or faces charges of ministerial misconduct. But in congregationally governed denominations, a word from the regional pastor rarely helps. Rev. Eveready often uses suggestions as additional quotation fuel for his “poor me”

Only one person can protect a congregation from the “curtain-call syndrome.” Rev. Eveready! He is in complete control of this
ethical matter. Instead of trying to pretend that his holy role forces him to say yes to all requests, he can say what thousands
of former pastors say every day: “I am honored to be asked. I want to attend the service as a friend (if the distance makes that
possible). But since I am no longer your pastor, I feel it is not appropriate for me to assume that role. It is best for you to
allow your present pastor the privilege of serving you in this way.” In some instances, the former pastor may want to add, “I
would be glad to assist in the service if you desire. But I would want you to discuss this with your pastor. Then, he/she can call
and invite me.”

A much-loved pastor served a large church for twenty-seven years. He retired on a nearby lake. He resisted all invitations for
funerals and weddings – though this was an emotionally difficult decision. After fourteen years, the next pastor is still there.
The church is healthier than ever.

Which of these two pastors, do you think, was a neighbor to the congregation and members he loved?

(The above material appeared in the June 1992 issue of New Ideas in Evangelism and Church Vitality.)

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