The “love my old pastor, hate the new one” syndrome

For when one says ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not carnal?  — I Corinthians 3:4

I treasured that young couple in my church.  They were attractive, friendly, and faithful. That’s why their letter was so stunning.

We hated you for most of this year.  You took the place of the pastor we loved so much. But now, we are gradually coming to love you too.

I was not prepared for that.  And here we are, many years removed from that moment, and I am recalling everything about this letter that landed like a blow to the solar plexus.  (Note:  If you write a love note to your pastor, please do not tell him what you did not like about him at first or how long it took to warm to him. He does not need to know the obstacles you worked through to come to this point.)

The other evening a stranger  approached my wife in our church fellowship hall just before a Christmas program.

With no preliminaries or greeting, the lady said, “I’m mad at you.”

Bertha said, “Mad at me?  May I ask why?”

She: “You all took our pastor.”

Bertha  (smiling; thinking she was teasing): “I wasn’t on the search committee.”

Lady: “I don’t care. You were a part of it.  I don’t like any of y’all.”

She continued:  “And I’ve made up my mind.  I am not going to like the new pastor either, no matter who he is.”

My Bertha–as loving a human as God ever made–gave her a big hug and said, “Oh, yes you will.  You will love the next pastor.”

The woman appeared angry. “No, I won’t.”

Bertha said, “You can try.”

The woman walked away.

We pastors are not surprised to find that some who loved the previous guy are slow to accept us,  although we are saddened by it.

People get attached to pastors.  Having served six churches as pastor over forty-two years and another as a staffer for three,  I am well aware of this.  It’s a human thing and for the most part, I suppose, there is nothing wrong with it.

As a general rule, those who loved the previous pastor will love you also.

The problem arises when church members refuse to change, when they turn away from the new pastor and hold angry feelings toward him for the audacity of “trying to take our beloved pastor’s place.”

As though God had nothing to do with any of this.

Atheism can be found all over the place, sometimes in our churches.

With Paul, let us agree that it is indeed carnal, meaning “fleshly,” meaning it is typical of the unsaved or the spiritually  immature.

The question is, What do we do about the “love my old pastor/hate the new one” syndrome?

If anything.

–The new pastor can do nothing about it.  He’s the target of it, after all. He will do his job– serving God’s people, loving them, teaching and praying and giving, trusting that in time they will warm to him.  Hopefully, neither he nor his wife will be offended by the slowness of some to love him nor should they take steps to remedy the situation. Let them keep their eyes on the Lord Jesus and be faithful in all they do.

–Those who can do something positive are fellow church members.  They can speak to friends in the congregation who are slow to warm to the new leader.  They can address this in Sunday School lessons, in prayers, and in personal conversations.  They can protect the new pastor from the slings and arrows of the carnal and immature.

–In many cases, the former pastor can do something about it.  Prior to leaving, he should address this syndrome with the congregation.  Then, after leaving, he must not enable those who are unwilling to let him go.  He must not be running back to the former church for weddings or funerals (granted, there may be exceptions).  He should turn down invitations from former members to meet them for lunch when they visit his new city, refuse the invitations to use their lake or beach or mountain home for a vacation, as enticing as that may be, and be too busy to return calls from people who cannot turn him loose.  He has a new church to pastor, after all, and that is the perfect excuse for his refusals.

Given enough time–and if the former pastor will not feed their addiction–they will recover.

That’s one more reason for the retired pastor to make himself scarce. But that’s a subject for another piece.

Pray for your pastor, particularly if he is new.  In most cases, you will never know the treatment he is receiving in secret from some members who are rejecting his leadership.

God bless all pastors.


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