One of the most interesting things to watch in the institutional church is the time when a former pastor shows up at his former church. The reactions of all involved are rather unique. I've had opportunity to be on both sides of the situation. When an extremely popular pastor comes back to visit after moving up in the clergy pecking order, the current pulpit occupant(me in the story) immediately goes into a slight panic. After all you've had the opportunity to hear how wonderful Rev. SoandSo was and what a shame it was to lose him(I came from that sort of men only group). He and his family were the best and his wife could play piano like......blah,blah, you know the rest. You feel guilty even daring to occupy the same pulpit space as this gifted icon! So you put on the beaming happy face and invite him to open in prayer, share his testimony, close the service etc. all the time praying that he's not moving back into the area. You preach like there's no tomorrow and hope the aisles clog with repentant sinners, and the former pastor arises before all and calls you blessed and loosens your sandal(never seems to happen). It usually ends well though as people remember that the former pastor did have flaws and maybe you aren't so bad after all. What about the time you find yourself in the opposite position?
Before I continue let me clarify one thing about former pastors. If you have moved on or up in church circles you are acceptable even though you left your previous church. If you leave the professional ministry altogether and work in the "secular" world you are to be most pitied. You've not only left your previous church, you've abandoned the call of God, and probably become a reprobate. Your morals are open to suspicion and whatsoever thou doest shall not prosper. Woe to you if you are divorced because now (as the wagging heads acknowledge) you could not control your own household so how could you control the house of God? There is only one reason for you to ever show up to your former church and that is to fall on your face and admit your guilt. It won't change your situation but it will prove your accusers right. Remember we are dealing with folks who may have descended from those previous saints who determined that persons accused of witchcraft were guilty if they floated and thus were subsequently burned. Or they were innocent if they drowned, causing the departed much joy I'm sure. There just is no other way of saying it but the stigma scarlet letter EX-PASTOR seems to follow us all of our lives. So when you do venture back into the institution as I did you find one office that has been prepared for you and is awaiting your arrival. Come with me next time and survey the sign on your office door which says in bold scarlet letters: ECCLESIASTICAL TAMPON. By the time we're done I hope many of us EX's will rejoice to be there.