Ahhh the excitement of a new pastorate. The organized books on the shelves, the smell of pencil-shavings and cardboard... the first time someone dials your phone and calls you"Pastor!" It's good to be the new guy. Everything is fresh. They don't know your flaws. They are happy to see you. They want to know what you think. Inevitably, as you get to know your new congregation, you will begin to hear a lot of talk about the former pastor. How great he was. How awful he was. How powerful his sermons were... how he was prideful and rude. Yep, you will hear a lot of things about the pastor, his family, and his tenure. What should you do with this information?
1. Don't listen to it. Being a pastor is one of the most difficult jobs I know of because everyone is a critic. Everyone thinks they know how it should be done. People are unfairly critical. I remember telling a woman in my 2nd pastorate, "If your son answered the call to preach, how would you feel if you knew someone was talking about HIM the way YOU are talking about ME?" People speculate about things they have no knowledge about and spout their opinions as though they are truth. Don't listen to it.
2. Be gracious. Speak positively about him or don't speak at all. Avoid the silly comparisons. Appreciate his strengths. Ask him for advice. Invite him back for special occasions. I read a quote once on forgiveness that provides a principle we can apply to THIS situation: "He who refuses to forgive, burns the bridge over which he himself must pass." Remember, one day YOU will be the "former pastor." Treat others the way YOU WANT TO BE TREATED. You can be respected without having to tear down your predecessor. You can earn your way out from underneath his shadow on your own merits. It won't be long and they will stop talking about him every time you visit.
3. Remember why you do this. You are not seeking the praise of men. You want the applause of heaven. You do what you do NOT for your own glory, but His. When you are so insecure that the absence of profuse praise means 'they don't like me anymore,' you are in for a very difficult ministry. Your sufficiency, your adequacy comes from GOD, not your people. It is pride in us that longs to be praised.