I know of a pastor who was independently wealthy and, while serving a small congregation, refused to accept a paycheck. This seemed like a good and generous idea until it came time for that pastor to move on.
The next pastor serving that parish had an impossible situation on her hands. She was not independently wealthy and she definitely needed her meager paycheck. For her entire ministry, though, she heard over and over (and over) again about how generous her predecessor had been. The congregation resented every paycheck, every cost-of-living allowance, every reimbursement that their new pastor earned.
Frankly, it never occurred to me as a parish pastor that my work practices, my personal habits, and my boundary-keeping (or lack of boundary-keeping) would have an impact on the clergy person who followed me. We are all too preoccupied with the daily grind of ministry – and often dealing with the issues left over by our own predecessor – to spend much time considering the pastor who will follow us.
- If we have the habit of working seven days a week – even boasting about how “pastors shouldn’t take a day off” – then we are making it difficult for the person who comes after us to take a Sabbath.
- If we return from vacation for every emergency, we are ruining the next pastor’s vacations. Or at least we will cause him/her to spend enormous energy re-establishing those boundaries.
- If certain church leaders are our special friends and we share “everything” with them – including confidential church information – we are making life miserable for the next pastor who does not share confidential information with those leaders.
- If we fail to take our study leave or if we refuse financial reimbursements, we are making the pastor who follows us appear lazy or greedy.
- If we accept lavish gifts from wealthy members (e.g. vacation homes, used cars) the next pastor who doesn’t accept such gifts could be considered cold or ungrateful.
God-willing, we are not the last pastor to serve in our current call. How are we making it easier – or more difficult – for the ones who will follow after us?