What to do if your successor does not honor you

You weren’t looking for accolades or recognition. But, at the very least, you expected your successor at your church to be kind. You certainly did not expect him to generate a culture of negativity about you. 

But he did. You have either retired or moved to another church. You were looking forward to this next season of life. Then you start getting word from friends at your former church that your successor is creating a culture for people to complain about you. The negativity is getting back to you. 

To be clear, your successor does not have to say anything directly negative about you. But he has open forums, listening sessions, and surveys. He knows what he is doing. He is creating a gripe session about you.

You are not certain of his motives. You have always honored your predecessors. Is it ignorance? Is it insecurity? Is it malice? 

It is a difficult time for you. While you did not expect to be revered, you are shocked at the negativity. How do you respond? Should you respond? What do you do? Here are five suggestions: 

  1. Pray and leave it with God. Your pain may tempt you to do something or say something. Give it time. Give it to God. Let Him deal with it. He’s a lot better at it than you are.
  2. Don’t be defensive. When you get that call or email or text about how your successor is speaking of your ministry at your former church, don’t say negative things about him. Don’t try to deal with the reasons for the negativity. Let it go. You’ve already given it to God.
  3. Confide in very few people. You have a few people you can trust with your pain. Your spouse should be first among them. But keep that group of confidants very small. Don’t let the word get out that you are angry or defensive.
  4. Give it time. Your successor will eventually have to deal with some of the same issues for which he is criticizing you. He will eventually stop making you the scapegoat in his own insecurity. It may take longer than you would like. It will probably take longer than you like. But, eventually, your silence will speak volumes. Eventually, he will not be able to blame you for everything. You might even receive honor in the future.
  5. Focus on your new life and ministry. Don’t dwell on your past ministry. You are no longer there. Yes, it hurts when a successor creates a negative culture about your ministry at that church. But you are in a new ministry and a new season of life. Don’t let your successor take that joy away from you. Rejoice in the Lord. Always.

Most new pastors will have the wisdom, maturity, and kindness to speak well about their predecessors. But a few will not. And you will likely experience that pain at least once in your life and ministry. 

You will be fine. You’ve got this. Even more, God’s got you.

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on MARCH 9, 2020. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and ten grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.