I had been asked to do the Sabbath school commentary for Pan de Vida Productions (http://www.ppvida.com) The pastor who I’m following is a living legend. His name is Alejandro Bullon. Everybody knows him. Everyone. Even people who don’t know him, know him. For me its hard to follow a legend, who is also a personal ministry mentor. Replacing a household name can be intimidating, but it does not have to destroy or derail you.
Maybe you are in one of these situations:
You are the new pastor in a district following a well-loved predecessor.
You’re invited to speak at a conference where last year the main speaker killed.
You are the new VP, President or youth director and on the first day you encounter some 10 foot shoes you’re expected to fit (you prefer petite sizes)
Whether you’re taking over a school, a classroom, a pulpit or an assignment, the message is the same: you can thrive. Eventually. With emphasis on eventually. Did I mention eventually?
Here are three things I have learned when following very successful people:
- Embrace, don’t hate.
I’ve seen it many times. A new pastor or leader arrives and immediately points out all the shortcomings of his predecessor. That would be a mistake because everyone makes mistakes. By emphasizing his weak areas you leave exposed yours. I remember getting to a church and every house I visited, a previous pastor was mentioned. It was Pr. Orozco this, Pr. Orozco did that, Pr. Orozco was the greatest pastor who ever lived. So I invited him over to speak. His endorsement of my ministry went a long way. That church loves me now. What would have happened if I let my ego get in the way and attacked his shortcomings? He was a great pastor! By the way, be very wary about the people that come to you talking bad about your predecessor. They will hate you too eventually.
- Establish, don’t copy.
A common mistake leaders make when following a legend is going to the other extreme (from point 1, which is to hate everything the other one did) and copy verbatim all the plans, mannerisms and direction from previous leader. Some people will not like a new emphasis and direction and bail. That’s alright. You will lose some people. You will also gain some. It’s part of leadership. Change is good, they just don’t know it yet. Finding the balance between being respectful of past leaders while at the same time innovating is a very difficult thing to do. Talk about ideas. Not people.
- Be patient, don’t hurry.
Eventually. Remember that word? It took your predecessor years, sometimes decades to get to where he/she is at. What makes you think you can get there faster? Stay the course. Definitive, intentional steps in the same direction, refraining from personal attacks will take you where you want to go.
I don’t know how people will receive my SS lesson commentary. I’m bringing my own style and I am going to give it all I got. I’m prepared. God decides if I’m successful. If it goes well, amen. If it doesn’t, I will probably learn some things along the way. It’s not easy to follow a legend. But it’s possible to thrive. Eventually.