A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Some Thoughts on Moving to a New Church

As I prepare to move to a new appointment that will begin July 1, I am not only preparing to move, but I am also readying my current congregation for a change in pastor. I feel quite like I am in limbo straddled between two worlds. Ah... this too shall pass.

In helping the new pastor of Smithville UMC get acquainted with the church and the congregation, I am planning to meet with him, and I will, at some point here shortly, schedule a meeting with him and the lay leadership of the church as well as the staff. It is important to me that he hit the ground running on July 1, and that his tenure will be one in which the church will continue to move forward in ministry.

In these kinds of times when the church experiences a change in leadership, it is important to emphasize the continuity of ministry that pastors and churches have as disciples of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, some folks in the pews think only of their church in relationship to certain pastors they liked. In a previous church I served, there was a wall in the main hallway that held photographs of the current and former pastors. I referred to it as the Wailing Wall because it was the place, where (so I said) parishioners stood and wailed over the former pastors they loved and the current ministers they did not like. Laity can tend to define eras of the church's ministry by the tenures of pastors.

The same thing is also sadly true of some pastors. They come into a new church and see the previous pastor as a threat or as irrelevant to their current ministry. I know some colleagues who have made a habit of running down their predecessors in order to build themselves up in the eyes of their parishioners. Not only is such behavior unprofessional, it does not glorify the God who calls those who precede and follow us in our ministries.

We must never forget that the church of Jesus Christ was around long before we were born and it will be around after we are dead. No pastor and no disciple sitting in the pew is indispensible when it comes to God's Kingdom work in this world. As important as each of us is to Jesus, each of us can and will be replaced. In every church I have left, someone has come up to me and said, "I do not know how this church will make it after you are gone." Every church I have left is still doing quite well. It's amazing how that happens!

So, if as a pastor you are preparing to move to a new congregation, or as a parishioner, you are preparing to receive a new pastor, allow me to offer some thoughts:

To Pastors:

1. Do not publicly criticize your predecessor. It is unprofessional and no one will be impressed with you. It may indeed be the case that you would do some things differently than she or he did, or you may become convinced that the previous pastor failed in some things, but keep your thoughts to yourself. When you criticize the former pastor your own insecurities will be revealed for all to see.

2. Make sure that you publicly express the appreciation you have for the former pastor. All pastors make some important contributions to the ministry of the church. Do not fail to mention such things when it is appropriate. Such compliments will discourage people from criticizing the former pastor to your face, and those who really appreciate your predecessor's ministry will begin to appreciate your professionalism and your acknowledgement of the importance of the pastor's ministry before you.

3. Continuity of ministry means that while there are things that you will do differently, there are also things that should remain the same. Pastors should not change things for the sake of change. If you change things without prayful consideration or if you change things too quickly, you will send the message to the congregation that the way they have been doing worship and/or ministry is wrong. Make sure that you do not simply brush aside the things they have come to deem as important. At the same time, the church moves forward most effectively when things change. Do not let the status quo who desire that nothing be done differently, hold you captive to moving the mission of the church forward.

To Parishioners:

1. Do not complement your new pastor at the expense of her or his predecessor. To do so is a sign of immaturity and you put your pastor in the uncomfortable position of having to respond positively to a compliment without appearing to agree with your criticism. A compliment without a swipe at the former pastor will be greatly appreciated.

2. Do not criticize your new pastor by comparing her or him to the former pastor. It doesn't take a Ph.D in biology to know that your new pastor is not your former pastor. Whether you like it or not, that it is the way it is. Get over it. Most pastors I know are more than willing to hear constructive criticism, but offer such criticism in love and on its own merit, not in comparison with another pastor.

3. Continuity of ministry means that there will be some things that your new pastor will leave the same and it also means that there will be changes made over time. The existence of the Christian Church is a reality only because of the new work that God has accomplished in Jesus Christ. Some things are meant to be done the same way over a long period of time, other things need to be changed or gotten rid of completely. Do not fall into "We've Never Done It That Way Before," mode. Had God listened to Peter and the other disciples, Jesus would have never journeyed to the cross; after all, the Messiah was not supposed to secure salvation in that way. Be open to the new opportunities that God is presenting you in a new pastor.

Over time pastors come and go, parishioners live and die, but the mission of the church in this world as it proclaims the gospel remains the same.

Thanks be to God!


Keith H. McIlwain said...


Jason Sansbury said...

I agree. Some very good, thoughtful advice for people as they enter this season of change.

Willie Deuel said...

Great post, Allan

A guest lecturer in seminary once told us all that we should never criticize the previous pastor even if it is agreed that they were miserable failures.

It doesn't matter what the circumstances are; even if they were removed due to adultery or embezzling or whatever, they also married someone's son and buried someone's mom and held someone's dad's hand while he died.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Keith and Jason: Thanks for your comments.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Some wise words from that guest lecturer.

Thanks for passing them on.

Matt said...

These are great thoughts Alan. People like me who are in our first appointment really need to hear the wisdom of those who've been at it a bit longer. So, thanks for sharing.

DogBlogger said...

Valuable post, Allan. Thanks.

Don Yeager said...

I heard Fred Craddock say recently that we should be happy to follow a good preacher rather than a poor one because the people learn to listen to a good one. They stop listening to a bad one, making it that much harder to get them to listen to us when we arrive.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Allan, Great thoughts. I enjoy and benefit from reading from a different experience. And what you say is so right on. God warns us that we'll be judged the same way we judge others. And that he has mercy on those who have mercy on others. And we need that.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Blessings as you serve your first church.




Craddock always has thoughts worth considering.


Good point. I certainly do not want my successor publicly criticizing me, so why would I do the same thing to my predecessor?

Andrew Conard said...

John - Thanks for the resources for transitions. There are also some great resources for pastoral transitions here. Enjoy and blessings on your move!

Anonymous said...


My congregation also has a "wailing wall" with pictures of pastors that go back 100 years. I'm moving after being here 9 years and my picture has never been added. Do you think that says something???

Allan R. Bevere said...

John B.:

It likely means that someone just hasn't gotten around to hanging your picture yet. There are many thing that get done late or not at all because of this.

Michelle said...

Well put. I just sat down with the one who will follow me today, and we shook hands on how to support one another in the process. "We're in covenant relationship" we agreed.

Allan R. Bevere said...


What a blessing it is to have that kind of relationship with your successor. Unfortunately, not all pastors who are leaving or coming do.

Lois said...

I got to this blog following a link on Michelle's blog.

She has brought us many talents --what a gifted pastor! However, she has prepared us to follow our vision. I think that our congregation will continue to thrive with new pastoral leadership.

Your advice is excellent! Blessings in your new appointment

Allan R. Bevere said...


Thanks for your comments on Michelle's ministry. Your congregation has obviously been blessed to have her as their pastor.