Considering the Pastors Who Will Follow Us

I know of a pastor who was independently wealthy and, while serving a small congregation, refused to accept a paycheck.  This seemed like a good and generous idea until it came time for that pastor to move on.

The next pastor serving that parish had an impossible situation on her hands.  She was not independently wealthy and she definitely needed her meager paycheck.  For her entire ministry, though, she heard over and over  (and over) again about how generous her predecessor had been.  The congregation resented every paycheck, every cost-of-living allowance, every reimbursement that their new pastor earned.

Frankly, it never occurred to me as a parish pastor that my work baton.250w.tnpractices, my personal habits, and my boundary-keeping (or lack of boundary-keeping) would have an impact on the clergy person who followed me.  We are all too preoccupied with the daily grind of ministry – and often dealing with the issues left over by our own predecessor – to spend much time considering the pastor who will follow us.

Consider this:

  • If we have the habit of working seven days a week – even boasting about how “pastors shouldn’t take a day off”  – then we are making it difficult for the person who comes after us to take a Sabbath.
  • If we return from vacation for every emergency, we are ruining the next pastor’s vacations.  Or at least we will cause him/her to spend enormous energy re-establishing those boundaries.
  • If certain church leaders are our special friends and we share “everything” with them – including confidential church information – we are making life miserable for the next pastor who does not share confidential information with those leaders.
  • If we fail to take our study leave or if we refuse financial reimbursements, we are making the pastor who follows us appear lazy or greedy.
  • If we accept lavish gifts from wealthy members (e.g. vacation homes, used cars) the next pastor who doesn’t accept such gifts could be considered cold or ungrateful.

God-willing, we are not the last pastor to serve in our current call.  How are we making it easier – or more difficult – for the ones who will follow after us?

5 responses to “Considering the Pastors Who Will Follow Us

  1. Really helpful thoughts to consider and keep in mind. I’m also wondering how congregations and co-workers in a church setting can be brought into the conversation of the evolving nature of the church (and Church)’s systems.

    Thank you for writing!


  2. Jeri Viera Dahlke

    Thanks for this important reminder. I discovered this truth when I stepped into my first full-time job as a Director of Christian Education. So it is true for other church workers as well. Setting healthy boundaries is often part of the work Interim pastors have to do. A new pastor is going to have a different set of strengths and weaknesses. That is enough change without having to add on the establishment of appropriate boundaries. To be honest, with human nature the way that it is, over the course of time it is normal to slip into unhealthy behaviors. What has helped me to consciously and concientiously decide how to behave in every job I’ve had is to ask myself, “Is this going to prepare the way?”


  3. I think some of these issues become magnified in part time staff positions in the church. The part time DCE who regularly works 40 or 50 hr weeks instead of the 20 hrs the signed on for really makes life tough for the next DCE who can only work 20 hrs a week due to other commitments.

    It also applies to non professional church leaders too. I always have encouraged committee chairs and others to take the reimbursements for things they purchase for the church. They are free to give it back to the church if they want. But the congregations expenses will accurately show what is actually spent on things. The current fellowship chair may be able to pay for all the coffee out of their own pocket. But the next one may not be able to do that.


  4. Great points. As I move into my second call, I am discovering yet again that I am inheriting the consequences of some prior pastoral actions that will be difficult to counteract. And so I’ve indeed been wondering for the past few weeks: What have I done that might make life difficult for my successor? And reminding myself to be sure to take that into account in my future decisions.


  5. I learned about this the first time I served as a Youth Director. My predecessor injected her personality so deeply into everything, it was as if she wanted to make herself irreplaceable.
    I tried to create systems there that were not dependent on my personality, but it is a tough job. When I left, no matter how many times I had told people to let the new person try new things and create new programs, he heard again and again, “Marci didn’t do that.”
    So, now I trust that my predecessor wasn’t trying to set me up to fail, but people attach to personalities and we can mitigate that as we can, but it won’t completely go away.


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