“May those who come behind us find us faithful.” –Steve Green
The pastor who follows me at a church is pretty much on his own there. Which is to say, there is little I can do for him, other than to pray for him.
The best thing I can do for a new pastor is to have served well during my tenure and done my level best to disciple God’s people, leaving behind a healthy congregation. But after I leave, there is little more I can do for that church or its new shepherd.
My words of affirmation to the new guy are nice, but nothing more. My words of commendation to friends in the congregation are basically meaningless since the pastor is on site and they are getting to know him for themselves. From here on in, he will be having to find his own path, set his own agenda, work out his own relationships with key leaders, and find ways of dealing with those who want to exert influence they do not possess.
I can pray for him. But there’s very little more I can do.
What I can do, however, is hurt him.
And oh, man, can I ever hurt the guy. (And myself at the same time, by the way. But that comes toward the end of this little piece.)
Every “former” pastor can give the present guy major headaches. Here are some ways that come to mind…
–When members of that church call to report on how the new guy is doing, the former pastor can a) be silent. (Amazing how much silence communicates when a helpful word is called for.) b) speak negatively, harshly, unkindly. Or c) pass along something questionable he has picked up from another caller. “That’s the same thing Bill Shiftless said. So, looks like you have company.”
The image of vultures picking at a carcass comes to mind.
When they start this business of criticizing the new guy, let the old pastor interrupt to say, “Please don’t tell me this. I think he’s a wonderful pastor. I hope you will encourage him and support him.” Once word gets around that you are not going to play the back-biting game, the calls will dry up.
–The former pastor can phone members of that congregation to check up on the new guy. The very fact that he is making this call is a negative. He should stay out of it.
New pastors often have a rocky time of it during their first year, as they try to learn who this church is and find the best way to do what God has called them there for. He needs the old guy to stay out of his way.
The golden rule applies here, as it does most everywhere else. Cut the guy some slack. You would not want the former pastor intruding into your space, interfering in your first attempts to find your way.
If you’re going to make a phone call, it should be to the new guy’s harshest critic, if–and only if–he/she is someone you have a long history and good relationship with. Church people are so misguided about the loyalty thing, some will think they are affirming you when they oppose your successor. So, a phone call to the new pastor’s severest critic could possibly help. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you.
–The former pastor can learn who in the congregation are most critical of the new guy and then befriend them, question them, listen to them, and affirm them in their unhappiness. Only a sick mind would delight in the sufferings of a fellow soldier.
Any pastor who would do such a thing is unworthy of the name and violating his calling.
If you as a minister hear that some other pastor is interfering in the processes in his former church, consider picking up the phone and calling him. And once again, you can do this only if you and he have a fairly strong connection. You could start with, “Bill, could I ask you something? I’ve heard that you are troubled over what’s going on in your former church.” And he’ll take it from there. At some point, after hearing him out, you begin to urge him to stay out of it, reminding him of Matthew 16:18, that this is the Lord’s church and He is in charge.
–The former pastor can keep inviting members of his former church over to visit, and then feed on their discontent about the new guy. As the malcontents feast on one another’s unhappiness, the old preacher smiles to himself and thinks, “They are now learning how good they had it with me. I tried to tell them.”
Stop it, preacher. You are sinning against God. This is not about you.
You think no former pastor would sink so low, be so mean, do such ungodly things.
And you’d be wrong. They do it every day.
Some of those who will read this little article will write to tell me their experiences, as their predecessor interfered and undermined them. Everything about that is sad. All we can say is they will someday answer to the Heavenly Father.
In hurting the new preacher, the former pastor is shooting himself in the foot.
When a new pastor comes, pray for him and send him a welcoming note, then stay at home and mind your own business.
Anything you do or say can be used against you.
So, give no support or encouragement to the naysayers. Even when they tell you that the new guy cannot preach as well as you, does not have your wonderful bedside manner, is no counselor, and is firing all the church staff whom you brought in at great expense and considerable trouble.
Stay out of it.
Even if the new pastor gets up and says disparaging things about his predecessor (you!), the best thing you can do is to stay out of it. Be quiet. Take no calls from your former church members wishing to report to you. (Or, if you take the call, as soon as they start in attacking the new guy, interrupt and stop it. Immediately.)
Let me remind you…
–Anything you say, former pastor, will be repeated. It will, I promise you.
–Anything you say, former pastor, will be repeated again and again.
–Everything you say, former pastor, will be repeated again and again, and will be used against you. It will circulate the earth before you know it.
Even if you did not leave the church in sound condition, even if you made some glaring errors in your ministry there, now that you are gone, leave it alone. There is nothing you can do and no explanation to your successor is needed or will help.
Oh, and one more thing. If you are the new guy and being savaged by your predecessor, keep in mind that you are the predecessor of the new pastor of your former church. Got that? So don’t make the same mistakes with him. Encourage the one who followed you, pray for him, and speak well of him.
What goes around comes around.