I've just noticed that in every small church we've served, there are always tales to be told about the previous pastor; and also many times, the previous pastor's wife. Some of them are positive, but many more have left me wondering, "Really? How could they do or say such things?"
In fact, I'm ashamed to admit this now, but at our first church I often would relish hearing how bad the last guy was. In my warped thinking, it meant that the only problem this church had was the last pastor, and a newer better pastor would fix things up within a few years' time. Regardless of our shortcomings, we had to look fabulous by comparison with such a wretched individual.
Nowadays, my response is different. And here's why... my husband is now that "last pastor" whom everybody talks about. I'm now the "last pastor's wife". My hope is there are many more good things to be told than bad things, but there are always a few in every church who are going to tunnel in on the imperfections -- real or perceived.
At our first church together, I cringed as I heard about how the previous pastor called people by name from the pulpit. "Well, no wonder the church membership is way down from what it had been," I thought. "The previous pastor ran everybody off."
I struggled with anger towards this man, and commiserated with those who told story after story of how awful he was. I sadly look back on that now and think how wretchedly awful I was toward a person I'd never even met. I'd tell former church members that I understood how the last pastor had been terrible, but that we were on the scene, and my husband is nothing like that other guy.
I foolishly thought that once people saw how nice we are, they would come back to church and all would be restored.
Ummmm... no. That's not what happened.
After two and a half years, I found myself feeling quite sorry for the last pastor. I then wondered if he began calling people out in the pulpit as a last ditch effort to plea with them to get along with each other -- to be the church instead of being at each others' throats. An urging similar to Paul's toward Euodia and Syntyche.
We've started anew at two churches since that time. At each one, I've found myself listening less and less to how bad the last pastor was, and more and more to the true heart behind the one who's saying it.
Truth be told, in my brokenness, I once felt threatened by the thought that people still loved and missed the previous pastor and wife. I worried that they wouldn't accept us and that we could never live up. But now, I see things differently.
I've instead come to appreciate greatly the people who have nothing bad to say about the last guy; because I know that someday, they'll pay us the same courtesy.
And if a church still loves and honors the last pastor who served the congregation before us, there is room in their heart to love us as well. It may take time, but all good things do.
What about you? What have you been told about the previous pastor or wife? What have you noticed about those who tell you these things?