When I became the senior pastor of Mariners Church over three years ago, I made the decision to ask Kenton Beshore (my predecessor and long-time pastor of Mariners) to stay on staff and to be on our teaching team. One of the most common thread of questions I receive from other ministry leaders is around the thinking beneath the decision to ask my predecessor to stay involved. While others have suggested it is “more common” and even “wiser” to allow or encourage the predecessor to move, I believe it can be wise and loving to the people you are serving to invite the predecessor to stay. I am not suggesting it is always wise and good to invite the predecessor to stay. The predecessor and the context must be considered. Kenton never put me in a position where I felt pressured to ask him to stay involved. I wanted him involved. Here are ten reasons to consider:
1. The people get to see a healthy transition.
So many come from broken families and experience the pain of broken relationships. Can we give a more beautiful picture to a watching world?
2. The people receive love and care.
Leaders must ask themselves: “Does it matter more that I am the most loved or that the people are well-loved?” Your answer to that question really impacts this discussion. If you feel you must be everyone’s favorite, then you will struggle to ask your predecessor to stay, but if you care more that the people are well-loved then your predecessor staying helps.
3. The people are reminded to honor their leaders.
By honoring your predecessor, the people are reminded that leaders of character should be honored and treated with respect. In a world filled with anger and constant tearing one another down, this is refreshing and needed. If your predecessor is worthy of honor, honor him/her.
4. Your predecessor has wisdom to offer.
Your predecessor has served in your role in the exact same context, and has wisdom you can access if you are humble enough to ask for it.
5. Your predecessor knows the local community through the eyes of your role.
Yes, there are lots of people who can give insight into your local community, but only one can give you insight into your local community through the unique lens of your role, with understanding of the unique responsibilities that you are carrying.
6. Your predecessor has credibility to share.
I benefit from Kenton’s credibility, his well-deserved credibility because of decades of faithful service. I benefit because he graciously supports, endorses, and stands with me around the direction of our church.
7. You will need a friend more than you first realize.
In three years, there have been two times where I called Kenton and asked if we could get together as soon as possible. I needed some wisdom and a safe place to vent. Both times he was at my home for coffee within an hour and those moments were critical for my own soul. You don’t know what moments will come when you first take a new role, but those moments will come.
8. You give an example of where ultimate security comes from.
It is an insecure and unwise leader who thinks he builds credibility by bashing his predecessor. That approach only backfires. Does it feel good when people say things like “Kenton is the greatest pastor ever and no one will ever come close?” Of course not. But by God’s grace, I care more about the church than I care about the potential sting of those comments. And I believe it gives an example of how one’s security can come from a better place – the work of Jesus on our behalf. One day after a worship service Terry Donahue encouraged me about the transition. While many know Terry Donahue as a college football coaching legend (former UCLA head coach), I knew him as one of the most encouraging people I have met. Terry commented that Kenton still being involved showed I care more about the church than myself. A comment like that from a man like Terry Donahue far outweighed other comments.
9. You are continually reminded that your role is temporary stewardship.
Remembering our roles are temporary helps us fight finding our identity in them. Regular meeting with Kenton reminds me of the reality that I will one day not be in my current role. This is good for my soul.
10. Think about how you want to be treated one day.
Life has beaten the idealism and nativity out of me – meaning I don’t presume that I will be treated the same way I have treated Kenton. But maybe. A time will come when God will release me from carrying the burden I am carrying now, and perhaps then another leader will value my contribution in another role. If that opportunity comes, I will be better prepared to navigate it than I would be if I had not asked my predecessor to stay on the team.