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Following The Long-Term Pastor/Youth Pastor

By Don Nordin

I have been in ministry a little over 29 years. During that time I have followed four long-term pastors. I define a long-term pastor as one who has stayed in excess of 15 years.

I pastored my first church when I was 19 years old. In that church I followed a lady pastor who had been in that church for 16 years. I had preached for her on numerous occasions, and had a wonderful relationship with her. In fact, more than 20 years later I was invited back to that church to conduct her funeral. In following her, I made a number of mistakes, mostly out of inexperience. (I heard “When Sister Blankenship was our pastor” until I could scream.) One night in a board meeting a deacon said “When Sis. Blankenship was our pastor,” I replied, “Sis. Blankenship is no longer the pastor, and the sooner we accept that, the better off we will be.” I regretted that statement before I got it out of my mouth! The board members never said a word, but I knew it was disrespectful, and I am sure that it negatively affected my stature in their eyes.

As I look back on the fact I was so young, and Sister Blankenship had been such a long-term pastor; I am shocked I was able to follow her successfully. We had a wonderful ministry in that church; the church grew tremendously; and we left on our own.

Five years later I followed another lady who had pastored the church for 16 years. In this particular case the former pastor stayed in the church, taught a Sunday School class, and remained very involved. In addition, her son was the head deacon, and she had a large extended family that remained in the church. (You can see disaster coming can’t you?)

I should say, that I did not directly follow this pastor. The pastor before me only stayed 6 months. Pastoring that church was, without doubt, the most difficult assignment of almost 30 years of ministry. On the other hand, it was probably the greatest learning experience of my life. I stayed in that church for only 3 years. During my time there, I was afforded the opportunity of honing my people skills.

Eight years after what I perceived at the time to be a total failure I was once again called upon to follow a pastor who had a tenure of almost 20 years as youth pastor and then as senior pastor. This minister was not only popular in the church, but also known by almost everyone in the county. I must say I was somewhat frightened at the prospect of doing such a thing; in fact, I almost refused to accept the invitation of the church board to be a candidate as their senior pastor.

Eventually, I allowed myself to be considered, was elected, and spent 11 wonderful, productive, years of ministry in that church. Incidentally, that former pastor and his wife remain good friends to this day.

In August of 2001 I received a call from the board of Christian Temple asking me to consider following a pastor who had spent 25 fruitful years pastoring that church. So, Christian Temple did not fit my criteria of what I was looking for.

Honestly, I had decided that if I was going to change churches I wanted to follow someone who had just finished a major train wreck. I thought it might be easier than following the long-term pastor. I have followed both heroes and train wrecks in my ministry and let me assure you a train wreck is much easier than following a long-term pastor. Following the long-term pastor or youth pastor is not an assignment that should be considered by the faint of heart, those who are easily threatened, or those who need constant affirmation.

I have a personal philosophy regarding long term ministry:

I believe there are three factors that determine the effectiveness of the minister who receives the assignment of following the long-term pastor:

The Attitude Of the Successor

The attitude of the successor may very well be the most important key to the effectiveness of the person attempting to follow the long-term pastor. The following checklist should be followed by the successor:

It would be well to note that the final outcome of your success or failure is not totally within your power. There are two other factors that will be part of the equation:

The Attitude Of the Predecessor

The attitude of the predecessor will be almost as large a factor as the attitude of the successor. Leaders sometimes have a difficult time with releasing responsibility and walking away. There are three reasons for this:

When considering the task of succeeding the long-term pastor the following questions must be answered with regard to the former leader:

As you can well see, the success or failure of the new kid on the block has much to do with the behavior of the adult who decided to move off of the block.

The Attitude Of the Church

In the case of a pastoral change the church is being faced with a paradigm shift in the way it is being administrated, and the way it approaches ministry. When I speak of the attitude of the church, I am referring to the attitude with which the church body faces the possibility of change in its leadership. The successor to a long-term leader must be cognizant of the fact that a pastoral change is similar to the change of leadership in a family.

When considering the task of following a long-term pastor the successor should determine the answer to the following questions:

All this must be done amidst the process of settling into a new house and community, learning a host of new names, and learning the personality of the church. This could possibly be the most challenging test of the successor’s leadership skills the successor will ever face. This can be an exhausting process.

Remember, the attitude of the church will be an extremely important piece of the puzzle that determines whether the successor and church will succeed or fail.

There are three areas of your association with the church and predecessor that you must ensure to be of the highest quality of dignity, integrity and humility.

Don Nordin is senior pastor, Christian Temple Church, Houston, Texas

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