Prepare the Church for the Next Guy
Although it’s easy to develop tunnel vision in the crush of daily ministry pressures, pastors should always be thinking ahead. How far ahead? To when you’re either gone or dead and your church has a new pastor.
How you pastor your church now will have a serious impact on whether the church continues to prosper under that man’s ministry or whether it folds after you leave. With that in mind, here are seven things (and six more) that a pastor can do to prepare his church well for the next guy:
HOW TO PREPARE YOUR CHURCH FOR THE NEXT GUY
1. Preach the Word
First, preach the word. “Of course!” you say. But what I mean is that you should make sure you’re building into your flock a love for the Word of God. You want your congregation to be so hungry for the Scriptures that it doesn’t matter whether you or another man is preaching—they want the Word! Be a conduit of faithful expository preaching and you will pave the way for the next guy.
2. Let others preach
Second, let others preach. By letting other men preach, you will subtly teach the congregation that it is the (living) water that matters, not the faucet from which it flows.
3. Let others lead
Third, let others lead. Break down misplaced dependence on you by demonstrating your own confidence in other church leaders. Let them lead in prayer, Scripture reading, leading meetings, and more. If you’ve been a one-man band till now, it may take some time for these other leaders to get their sea legs, so persevere with them and see how both the church and the other leaders grow.
4. Recognize the good work of others
Fourth, publicly recognize the good work of others. Have you ever been in a church where only the achievements or good work of the pastor are recognized? It wrongly exalts his position and carves out a kind of “super-priesthood” among the brothers and sisters. Instead, frequently recognize the good spiritual work of others in public and in private. In so doing you will better prepare your church for your absence.
5. Build the practices of the church around biblical principles, not personal preferences
Fifth, build the practices of the church around biblical principles, not personal preferences. How many times have I heard the line, “We’ve never done it that way because Pastor always wanted…” Building your church’s practices on personal preferences rather than biblical principles builds the church around you instead of God. If you build your church on biblical principles, the next guy can comfortably slide right in.
6. Clean up your (and your predecessor’s) messes
Sixth, clean up your (and your predecessor’s) messes. Here are a few crucial areas:
a. Membership: Clean up the membership rolls such that the membership closely aligns with those who regularly attend. The membership rolls (should) represent sheep. Remove wolves as well as you can, and take non-attenders off. Help the new guy get off to a good start by knowing exactly which sheep he is called to shepherd.
b. Church leaders: Strive to appoint qualified leaders and remove unqualified ones. I’ve known too many cases where the last pastor never did the hard work of removing a corrupt leader. In fact, sometimes the pastor departed because he didn’t want to deal with the corrupt leader anymore. Not a way to help the next guy!
c. Staff: Same as “b” above. Don’t let a bad employee sit for the next guy. Take one on the chin for the sake of your church and for the sake of the next guy, and in so doing build the kingdom.
d. Debt: Nobody feels the burden of debt like a new pastor. Sure, he loves the new building the previous pastor built, but he is hamstrung by the debt: it consumes too large a portion of the church’s budget and it blocks necessary initiatives for building a healthy church. Do all you can to pay down or remove the debt.
7. Get elders
Seventh, get elders. This might be the most important thing you do. A plurality of elders will help in the transition so that the knowledge of the congregation’s spiritual state doesn’t disappear with the moving van.
ONCE YOU’VE DECIDED TO GO, CONSIDER…
What if you’ve decided to move to another church? Once you’ve decided to go, consider the following:
- Hold your tongue, theologically speaking. Don’t inoculate your congregation against a biblical doctrine or practice they’ve not yet embraced by blasting them with it on your way out. If you do, it will build up their immunity against that good teaching in the future.
- Limit your knowledge. Don’t keep taking in and storing up knowledge of the congregation once you know you’re leaving. That has to go to the next guy or a fellow elder who is staying. Yes, take the pastoral calls, but bring another leader with you so that care can be given after you’ve left.
- Hold your tongue about “problem sheep.” Don’t sour a new pastor’s fresh beginning by demonizing your church’s members. In other words, don’t prejudice the new pastor against any existing sheep; give them an opportunity to change and grow and re-build pastoral trust.
- Warn the new pastor. Having said #3 above, you should warn the new pastor about immovable wolves.
- Get out. Make the transition wisely brief. Take enough time to help the church transition smoothly, but don’t create a traffic jam for the new pastor.
- Be available to the new pastor after you’ve left.
THERE’S ONLY ONE CHIEF SHEPHERD
In all of this, your goal is to lead your church in a way that demonstrates that there’s only one chief shepherd: Jesus (1 Pet. 5:4). So prepare your church for the next guy and pray that God will grant your church to faithfully proclaim the gospel long after you’re gone.