Posts Tagged ‘pastoral successors’

There’s an old adage: “Never follow someone successful.”

It was hard for Steve Young to follow Joe Montana, or for Steven Tyler to follow Simon Cowell, or for Robert California to follow Michael Scott.  (I’m still lamenting that move.)

And it’s hard for some pastors to follow a predecessor as well.

Pastors are affected by their predecessors because (a) the way the previous pastor left the church, and (b) the shape in which he left it directly impacts the current pastor’s success – at least for the first few years.

When I arrived at my first church, I was their fourth pastor in five years.  While I met the first and second pastors, I never met my immediate predecessor.  Evidently he was only at the church for a year and then was unceremonially dismissed.  (I heard it had something to do with the way he acted at a bowling alley one night.)

For the next 16 1/2 years, I didn’t have to deal with any predecessors.

But a few years later, I was called to a church and served on staff right alongside their pastor for a while … and then he retired and became my predecessor.

What was my responsibility toward him?

I believe my job was to express gratitude publicly for his ministry, defend him if anyone criticized him, and make sure we remained on good terms … although as the church turned over, fewer people knew who he was.

What was his responsibility toward me?

I believe his job was to pray for me, support my ministry publicly, and to send any critics back to me without listening to their complaints.

If a pastor’s ministry is a failure, would that make his predecessor sad?

If a pastor’s ministry is successful, would that make his predecessor joyful?

The answer to both questions is, “It all depends.”

When Saul knew that David would succeed him as Israel’s king, he became jealous and tried to assassinate David several times.

But the biblical pattern is for a predecessor to support his successor.  Think Moses and Joshua, Eli and Samuel, Elijah and Elisha, and John the Baptist and Jesus.  (In fact, John said about Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”)

Why?  Because the kingdom matters more than its personalities.  Advancing God’s kingdom is everything.

Back in the late 1970s, the king of late-night talk shows, Johnny Carson, began taking Monday nights off.  (He had done 5 90-minute Tonight shows for years and was worn out, even when the show went to its current 60-minute length.)

Johnny invited a variety of guest hosts on Monday nights – David Brenner, Joan Rivers, and John Denver among them.

If you were Johnny Carson, would you want those hosts to succeed or fail?

The audience responded favorably to the guest hosts, which might have angered some Hollywood icons … but Johnny was thrilled.  Why?

In an interview, Johnny said, “When the show does well, I do well, and it makes me look good.”

Think about that long and hard.

Now let’s come back to pastors and their predecessors.

Let’s imagine you’ve been a pastor for 25 years.  You’re worn out.  You leave your church behind and do something else.

A new pastor eventually succeeds you.  Do you want him to succeed or fail?

If he succeeds, the kingdom looks good and advances.

If he fails, the kingdom doesn’t look as good and stalls.

Which would you prefer?

Wouldn’t a godly man want his successor to succeed rather than fail?

And wouldn’t he do everything he could to insure his success?

Then why do so many pastors behave in the opposite fashion?

Not long ago, I spoke to a Christian counselor who deals with wounded pastors for a living.

He told me that too many pastors undermine their successors.

They listen to the criticisms of former parishoners, giving their complaints legitimacy.

They agree with the criticisms of staff members, emboldening them to resist their current pastor.

They criticize their successor themselves, forcing people to choose between them.

While the ex-pastor may never witness the division that his interference causes, his involvement may negate much of the good that he did at that church – but few churchgoers have the courage to say, “Knock it off and go away.”

You might be wondering, “Is this really an issue?”

Yes … and I have the scars to prove it.

What do you think about this issue?

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