From “When Pastors Wonder How” – by Howard Sugden & Warren W. Wiersbe. © 1973 – Moody Press. Used by permission of the author.
What should be my relationship to former pastors of the church, especially my immediate predecessor?
Stories about former pastors are often like stories about mothers-in-law: they are only stories. Make up your mind that you will not become jealous of any other servant of God, and that you will never consider a former pastor a threat to you or your ministry. It sometimes takes much grace to achieve this, but it is absolutely essential that you succeed.
To begin with, keep in mind that there is no competition in the Lord’s work: we are all laborers together with God. No two men have the same gifts; no two men achieve the same goals; but God can call and use both men. One man plows, another sows, another waters, another harvests, but it is God that gives the increase ( 1 Co 3:3-9). So, your first step toward getting along with your predecessor is a clear understanding of the meaning of the ministry. He has his gifts and (we trust) has used them to make his contribution to the church. You have your gifts and will use them to build the church even more. The next man will come and make his unique contribution.
Always say something good about your predecessors. When members praise them, encourage their praise. Even if your predecessor was a failure in some areas (and aren’t we all?), find something good to say about him. Do this sincerely, and not as a gimmick to make friends and influence people. If you are praying for him as you ought to be, you will have no problems.
When you hear criticism, try to cover it with love and kindness. The member who criticizes his former pastor will likely criticize you when you leave. Let the word get around that you will not tolerate unjust criticism. After awhile, it will probably stop.
Make friends with your predecessor if at all possible. If he is a man of God, he will not invade your field, visit your people, and deliberately cause trouble. But you cannot help but expect him to want to see the people if he visits the area, especially if they loved one another. Professional ethics would demand that he contact you first, but not all pastors know about ethics. Each pastor will have two or three families in the church with whom he was especially friendly; no good can come from trying to break up these friendships. Trust him not to cause problems. He should be wise enough not to visit the field too soon after you arrive, unless invited by the church. If he suggests visiting too soon, don’t hesitate to tell him you would rather he wait. Openness and love usually prevail among men who walk with God.
The former pastor can be of help to you, but don’t run to him with all your problems. Some of these problems he may have helped to cause himself! Furthermore, you don’t want to start your ministry adopting his prejudices and viewpoints. Getting a run-down on all the members of the church could be the worst thing to happen to a new pastor! If this pastoral gossip starts, lovingly suggest that it not continue. This does not mean he cannot warn you about serious troublemakers (2 Ti 4:14-15), but it does mean that he refrain from sharing his likes and dislikes.
What about the older pastor who retires and stays on the field? This is a special situation and it requires an extra measure of grace. If he had a long ministry, he must be a good man in many ways, and the people must love him. Share this love. Minister to your older brother in love and kindness and he will be a help to you. Also, your love for him will help to win the love of the church family. The instant any jealousy or friction appears, take it to the Lord and get it settled. Otherwise your whole ministry will be poisoned and the only result can be disaster. If the people prefer him for weddings and funerals, just be patient. Suggest that you open the service, or share some other way; but be willing for him to serve. In due time you will win the love and respect of your people and the problem will be solved.
When the right opportunity comes along, invite your predecessor to come back to preach. But keep in mind that not everyone will agree with this idea, because he will have left behind enemies as well as friends. Make it a happy occasion of homecoming and you will reap benefits in the years to come.
What do we do when the pastor left under a dark cloud? Quietly investigate the situation and come to your own conclusion. You have every right to talk to your predecessor and get his point of view. If there was a serious breach of morals, then you must be cautious in relating to him lest you open up old church wounds. You can certainly be a friend and Christian brother, but this does not mean you will necessarily invite him back or encourage the people to reopen the case. He will be happy if you just let the dust lie.
Some day, you will be a former pastor, so be careful how you act today. It is not easy, particularly if your successor seems to be tearing down what you worked so hard to build up. Leave it with God; don’t meddle; don’t write letters and gossip. Sometimes God gives a church just what they deserve!
To what extent should I fellowship with the other pastors in my area? What if a pastor belongs to a denomination that is not true to the Word of God?
The word fellowship means “to have in common”; and you certainly have little in common with an unsaved preacher. However, this does not mean you should treat him like an enemy. It is possible to be friendly with him and even help him better understand the Word, but you would not want to compromise your testimony in any way. Kindness is always in order, even when you disagree.
If you limit your friendship and fellowship to the group to which you belong, you may die of loneliness and you may rob yourself of enrichment from saved men of other groups. If a pastor is born again and seeks to serve Christ, regardless of what his denominational ties may be, you can fellowship with him. In fact, he may need you more than you need him. Just about every major denomination today has its evangelicals and its liberals, and we are better off judging (in the best sense) the man himself than judging the man by what he belongs to.
Before we conclude that our own group is pure, let’s remember that there was a Judas among the Twelve, and even Peter did not know Judas was of the devil (Jn 6:66-71). And before we reject those who don’t belong to our special group, let’s read Christ’s admonition in Mark 9:38-41. We may think that our local church is the only true church in town, but in Revelation 2 and 3, Jesus called groups churches that had some serious flaws and weaknesses in them!
It has been our experience that we need the fellowship of other pastors. The pastorate is a difficult work, and God’s servants can help to hold one another’s arms up as we fight the battle together. We recognize the fact that there is a vast difference between acquaintanceship, friendship, and fellowship; and that having a cup of coffee with a pastor friend is not quite the same as asking him to preach in your pulpit. You will find men in your area who may not agree with you on every detail of theology, but whose fellowship will enrich your life and ministry. Get to know them; pray for them; pray with them. Major on the important facets of the faith, not the minor things. Learn to listen and you will learn from them.
Even where churches may not be able to cooperate, pastors can still be friends. The unsaved people in our communities enjoy nothing better than a war between pastors. Some pastors, sad to say, thrive on such activities, and even build their crowds by attacking other men publicly. We should certainly defend the faith, but let’s make the focus of attention doctrines, not people. And, pastors have a way of moving on!
What guidelines should I use for building and working with a church staff?
As a church grows, the pastor needs more help. Usually the first staff member to be added is a full-time secretary; then an assistant pastor. Ask God to give you a secretary right out of your church family if possible. If one is not available, perhaps a sister church in the area has a dedicated woman who will do the job.
As you add staff members, be sure to spell out in detail in writing: the responsibilities, the benefits, to whom the worker is accountable, and the financial arrangements. Be sure to be businesslike in these beginnings, because they will set the pace for staff additions in future years. Get started right!
The three basic factors in leadership are: responsibility, accountability, and privilege. Every staff member must be accountable to somebody else; usually this person is the pastor. If you do not balance responsibility with privilege, you may break a man. Too much privilege means no work is being done; too much responsibility means the worker is getting frustrated. There must be balance.
Many pastors find it helpful to meet with their staff first thing Monday morning. The previous Lord’s Day is fresh in their minds, and they can share what they have picked up. Go over the week’s schedule; make sure there are no conflicts. Update the sick, shut-in, and hospital lists; and assign calls. An hour or so spent with your staff at the beginning of the week will save you hours of extra work later in the week.
Have definite regulations for the staff: lunch hours, coffee breaks, expense accounts, and so on. All of these should be approved by the necessary official boards of the church. In other words, run the staff and the office just the way it would be run if it were a business office and not a church office. “Let all things be done decently and in order.”
Don’t add too many staff members at one time. It takes time for the church family to assimilate new leadership. A staff-run church can turn into a staff-ruined church if the members are left out. You don’t want the church to get the idea that they pay the workers and watch them do the work!
You should spend time personally with staff members and give them opportunity to share their problems and plans. Don’t permit the church’s ministry to become problem-centered. It must be purpose-centered. Their problems are only opportunities for you to see God at work. It is good for staff members to hand in weekly reports of their ministry. This helps to keep the staff up-to-date on each other’s activities.
As you add staff members, or replace them, beware of assigning jobs. Job descriptions are helpful, but they are not the last word. In the ministry, we match gifts to opportunities and needs. For example, each youth pastor will have a different approach with the young people: one will use sports, another music, and so on. To expect each man to do exactly the same thing is to embalm the program. You can never duplicate men, but you can discover gifts and give opportunity for their use. The pastor’s task is to create the kind of challenge and atmosphere that will make it easy and exciting for his staff to use their gifts.
One of the hardest things a pastor must do is deal with a staff member who is not doing the job. We would like to postpone such a meeting, but we dare not, for his sake and for the church’s sake. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Pr 27 : 6). You must pastor your staff as well as the members of the church. If you have a set schedule for meeting with the staff members individually, you can bring the matter up. If not, you must ask to see him at an opportune time. It will be painful at first, but then God will go to work and you two can face the problem and start finding a solution. Never permit your close personal relationship with a staff member to blind you to his needs.
There are burdens that a pastor who has a growing staff carries that the pastor working alone does not bear. For one thing, it takes time to work with a staff; and time is a precious commodity in the ministry. Ideally, the time you invest in your staff enables all of you to get more work done. If this is not the case, something is wrong. A worker’s value is indicated by the amount of supervision he requires. If you must do all his thinking, he is of no value to you.
Another burden is the problem of developing staff faithfulness on the job. It is easy for a church staff to become one big happy, family so that time is wasted on long lunch hours, coffee breaks, office chitchat, and so on. We must constantly remind our staff members that they are working for the Lord, and that the Lord expects them to be as faithful in the use of their time as if they worked for some factory and punched a clock. Set a definite time for all of you to be in the office in the morning. You must set the example. We owe it to the Lord and to our people (whose sacrificial gifts pay our salaries) to be faithful and to work hard.
Many pastors get a real hang-up because they usually work harder than their staff. Ideally, a staff member exists so that the pastor can get more done; but this is not always true practically. Just about the time you need him, he is not there! (Of course, the opposite would be worse-a staff member who works harder than the pastor! ) Don’t get critical; you do not always know the effective ways your staff members are ministering. If you feel you cannot trust them, then you owe them a frank admission of your concern. But don’t expect young, beginning assistants to have the same sense of urgency and concern that you have. Occasionally, there are exceptions; but, for the most part, our assistants will never discover the full scope of the work, unless they go out on their own. If we have built into them the basics of the ministry, they will make it.
One final word: there is a difference between delegating responsibility and passing the buck. Staff members resent it when a pastor shoves over onto them the disagreeable tasks he does not want to do. We must be fair with them. When we delegate responsibility, we are giving a man a chance to use his gifts. We keep in touch; we encourage; we provide the backstop when there are problems. Passing the buck means getting something out of our way and forgetting about it!
©2002 WWW Used by permission. This article is copyrighted by the author and is for your individual use. Reproduction for any other purpose is governed by copyright laws and is strictly prohibited. This material originally appeared in Prokope, January-February 1988
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).