God Used Your Predecessors
I have pastored two churches over my forty plus years in ministry. The common denominator of both churches was that I followed other men who had pastored before me. Unless you start a church you are faced with having predecessors, men who have gone before you. Tragically often predecessors are villainized by their successors. It is easy to identify weaknesses and problems when you take a church.
Often we see things differently than men to of gone before us. Rather than merely correcting their mistakes or adjusting things we want to change we find fault in them and become critical. The easiest thing to do is to criticize and even villainize predecessors. I have seen many relationships hurt because a pastor came in and developed a poor spirit towards his predecessor.
If I learned anything from Dr. Hyles it was to always manifest a gracious spirit. It is interesting that we can show grace to many people, but pastors often find it difficult to show grace to their predecessors. Dr. Hyles was one of the most gracious men towards his predecessors of any pastor I’ve ever known. The way he treated those before him was unprecedented in his kindness and generosity.
He never sought to lift himself above those men even though they were very different from him he was gracious in the extreme towards them. His example taught me how I should treat my predecessors, so let me share with you some of those principles.
1. Quickly find the good of your predecessor and keep those things in the forefront of your mind. My predecessors did good things and I wanted to remember them for those things rather than to demonize them for things in which I may have differed. It is tragic that we find the bad rather than the good. Identify the good things they did. They purchased land and built buildings that aided growth. They fought battles that only they could have fought and won. Admiration was the least I or you could do for these men. Honoring them is a sign of strength not weakness. It is a sin not to show respect for their labors of love. Without those battles, wars, tears, and labor there would be no ministry for us to lead.
2. Be grateful for the people they left you. The people that I pastored when I took a church were there because of the men before me. How foolish for me to ignore that. Those were his people before they were mine. I should be grateful for any contribution he made in their lives. Often I would remind the people to write or contact the one who labored for them to express their gratitude. Ingratitude for those who preceded us is one of the worst sins committed, not only by men of God but the people of God.
3. Find ways to honor your predecessor. Do not be threatened by what he did or the love that people have for him. Honor him. Allow your people to show their gratitude to him. Lead the way in treating him right. Never belittle those who preceded you with derogatory comments. Never do anything to hurt them especially as they grow older.
4. Do not expect your people to immediately love you more than they love him. Do not be jealous. Be grateful that they love their former pastor, because one day you may be their former pastor and you will hope that they still love you. Dr. Hyles used to say, “I don’t need to be loved most, just put me somewhere on your list of ones you love.” The more one can love the greater the capacity to love one possesses. Tearing down a predecessor will come back to haunt you no matter how right you are.
5. Do not accentuate his mistakes. This happens far too often. Men take a church and immediately begin to put a spotlight on the mistakes of their predecessor. That is so little and small. Do not be so trite. Of course you are going to find mistakes. You are going to find weaknesses. Do not point these out. Make your adjustments without being critical. Never discuss with others the condition of the members as you found them, nor the financial condition you found when you became pastor. Thank God for what you have to work with and go to work.
6. Seek counsel from him. One way not to develop a poor spirit is to call him occasionally and seek his advice. You do not know everything about pastoring and you certainly do not know everything about that church. You do not know everything about that city. Pick up the phone about once a month and call him for advice. Let your people know that you sought his advice. He probably knows some things with which he can help you. This creates a great atmosphere of trust and love for all concerned.
7. Fight your jealousy. When I say fight, I mean fight with all your ability. Jealousy will destroy you. Do not allow yourself to be jealous of him in anyway. Do not compare yourself to him. Do not try to beat him in your preaching or in your organization skills. God placed you there and intended for you to learn from your predecessor. There are things he knows that you do not. No matter how he did or did not excel in his preaching or teaching there is no reason to place questions on his abilities. Be the best you can be for those members while thanking God for the investment of those who preceded you as pastor.
8. Do not tear him down to build yourself up. This is a mistake but far too many pastors make. Never tear down the former pastor. Never speak ill of him nor allow others to be critical of him to you. It is easy to allow a critical statement to made in your presence, for it feeds your flesh and makes you look better, you think. The truth is it allows the critical person permission to do it not only to you, but also to other leaders. If you allow this to be done to your predecessor, you will have it happen to you one day. The work of reaching souls suffers when the workers are assailed.
9. If he left under bad circumstances, do your best to help the people recover without bitterness towards him. If there was a moral failing, lead the people to forgiveness and a desire to see him restored. If he left the church with financial problems, do not assume that he was dishonest. Fix the problem without casting a negative reflection on the man. Accentuating his failures will not fix the problems. If you feel he did not handle the finances properly, keep it to yourself. Do not make his failures an issue. Sometimes pastors leave under negative circumstances, but you should live in the positive, not the negative. Some people will be hurting. Help them deal with her their hurts without pouring gasoline on the fire of their anger and bitterness. Never blame the former pastor. Both the members and the pastor must take responsibility. You will sabotage your own ministry if you do other wise.
10. Seek ways you can be a blessing to him and to his family. You will be glad that you do this. Lead your church to do positive things for their former pastor. Take an offering form occasionally. If you find out that he has a need lead the church to meet that need. Find ways to be a blessing. If he retires take care of him financially.
11. Don’t talk to other preachers about the problems you inherited. Whether you like it or not that is derogatory and critical. They knew who the former pastor was. Your negative remarks may not mention his name, but they still cast reflection on him and more than that they cast reflection on you. That is not the way for a Christian, especially a pastor to behave. Speak highly of your predecessor to preacher friends. Do not make it sound like he failed or left a bad situation. Always remember where you succeed and he failed there will also be areas in which you failed and he succeeded.
12. Be a gentleman. I guess the best way to say it is just be a good Christian. Why is it so difficult for a pastor to take a church without feeling that he must cast dispersion on his predecessor? Brethren, it ought not to be. Brother Hyles was the epitimie of graciousness to his people, but also to his preacher brethren.
I am grateful for my predecessors and I am grateful for the example of Dr. Hyles in dealing with these men. They left me with people, buildings, ministries, and even the heritage upon which I could pastor my churches. They were not perfect men, but they were good men. They did not do everything the way that I did things, but they did them the way they thought they should. They may not have preached the way I preach, but they preached God’s Word. It is not my job to come in and undo what they did. It is my job to come in and build upon what they did.