Over the two decades I've served as a pastor, I have seen that not every pastor's stated motive is their true motive. There are often hidden, selfish desires that obscure a clear focus on the kingdom. We all have the tendency to compare ourselves with others, and who better to measure ourselves against than the one who came before us at our church, or the one who whose ministry will follow ours?
I was fortunate in my early pastorates to have humble, Godly ministers serve before me. When I began my work at these churches, they pledged personal support for my leadership of the church they had led. Time proved that they meant it—each of them made periodic phone calls simply to encourage me and ask how things were going. They became men I could confide in and whose advice nearly always proved to be sound. I was never given any reason to question their motives. I never sensed any hidden agendas, but only pure concern for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ and for me personally. In my youth and pastoral naiveté I assumed it would always be this way.
Not always easy to connect
I made a move to another church, expecting the support I had known from former pastors. But, in my new setting my forerunner not only did not reach out to me but my attempts to reach out to him were met with evasiveness. I persisted, but to no avail. Time proved that this gentleman had bitterness toward the church I was now serving, which stemmed from his perception that he had been a failure in the eyes of the congregation. Sadly, it became clearer over time that my being a failure, at least in his eyes, would somehow achieve a sort of vindication for him. Presumably, at least in his heart and mind, he could say to the church "See, I told you so." There was an unsettling coldness about his attitude that disturbed me deeply. I felt strangely alone trying to come to terms, for the first time, that the one who served before me seemed to be (quietly) rooting for my failure.
Upon leaving that church later, I was resolute to not be like my predecessor. I actively sought to reach out to the new leader, but he was unwilling to return my supportive phone calls or emails. I didn't understand why he (seemingly) did not want to start out his ministry with as much insight into the church as possible. He seemed to be putting himself, and the church, at a disadvantage. Wouldn't he want as many tools in his toolbox as possible in order to minister with the greatest level of effectiveness? The most hurtful thing of all came when word got back to me that this man had actually been telling people that he, "Did not believe this church had ever heard the Word of God before."
Those words hurt me, knowing as I did that I had meticulously prepared to preach week after week. Where did that come from? Was it pride?
Pictures in the hallway
Two of my pastorates have been at churches in excess of 100 years old. One of those churches had a hallway displaying pictures of former pastors with their years of service. When my picture was added to the lineup, I had two distinct thoughts.
First, I felt a sense of unworthiness to be on the same wall with these ministers. Two of them had gone on to become well-known leaders in my denomination. A couple of the others were mentioned regularly (and positively) by the congregation.