A Healthy Handoff: Interview with Dr. Mike Glenn

For Baptists Today

A Healthy Handoff: The Crucial Relationship between Former and Current Pastor

March 28, 2011

Interview with Dr. Mike Glenn, Pastor Brentwood Baptist Church of Brentwood, TN.

Q 1: When the former pastor’s name is brought up, what do you say?

A: That’s easy for me. I always affirm what he did well…your dad was father to this entire church, by affirming him, I affirm the church. What I have learned is that the seed for all that we have done since I became pastor was in our past. Those early stories of the church contain what is to come. What we have done is the next step of what was started by my predecessor. Every time we have a celebration, we talk about how this new day grows out of our past. It lessens our anxiety about the change curve and connects us to my predecessor and his success. By affirming the past, we help create our future.

Q2. Boundaries/Relationship?

A: Your dad set hard and fast boundaries, and was very helpful when people tried to get him to cross them. He would only take part in a funeral if I invited him, and I did that often. For five years after he left Brentwood, he did interims, preached many places, and attended another church that was just getting started in the southern part of our county. Your mother worked in a mission setting in Nashville for the first few years after they left, and then was part of the church plant also.  They gave me and my family space to become the new pastor.

Eventually, we called them both to come back on our staff as Co-ministers of missions. That gave them a way to reconnect with the church and they did that in an effective and affirming way. He never missed a chance to brag on me and I never missed a chance to say how much he meant to me. He never tolerated criticism of me from others, even when it was deserved. He once wrote me a letter that means as much to me as anything I have received during my ministry here. In it, he told me that God had answered his prayer for the future of this church by bringing me here as pastor.

He was the founding pastor of this church, and I am only the second pastor. 2 pastors in 41 years is very unusual today. A big part of our success can be traced to the way all of us managed that transition. When he came back after being gone 5 years, he was a beloved figure and the congregation began to really enjoy our friendly relationship. They took pride in the face that they could love both of us. Something in the chemistry of the church changed when they saw us laughing and loving each other. It was like an injection of good health. People loved the fact that we were good friends. We’ve had people tell me that they joined our church because that wanted to be part of a church with a heart big enough to love both pastors.

Over the years, Bill became a counselor, prayer partner, and encourager for me. We were so close that, when he was hospitalized, the doctor would come into the waiting room and ask for the Wilson family, and I would stand up with the rest of you!

Q4: how did you get comfortable with hearing praise for your predecessor?

A: As a pastor, there are certain life events/moments when you are present for a family that bond you together forever. Death, birth, tragedy, baptism, marriage, etc. I knew that Bill had those bonds and I had to learn to acknowledge that he would forever be uniquely linked to certain people. In the same way, I am now linked with many people through similar circumstances. The appreciation for him does not lessen my role in any way. There is also the modeling of behavior for others that I hope my successor will exhibit toward me. That is a healthy pattern we have tried hard to establish.

I also learned to appeal to that devotion when it was appropriate. One time, in the midst of a church-wide crisis, the anxiety in a large meeting was very high. At a critical moment, I told the congregation that the first thing I had done upon discovering the problem was go to Bill Wilson for counsel and advice. When I said that, you could feel the tension ease and the whole church exhale. His voice of wisdom, earned over the years, was invaluable to me.

Part of what you learn as a pastor who succeeds another pastor, especially a founding pastor, is that your gift sets are very different. We were both called to the same church, but at different seasons. Appreciating what your predecessor did does not diminish what you can and will do. One time your dad came to me and said “I could never have done this”, meaning all the things that had taken place since his departure. My response to him was “we could never have done this if you had not done what you did”.

We have to model for our people what we teach and preach: there are different gifts and talents that are used in unique ways in unique moments. Our bottom line has always been: we love this church, it is always about what is best for the church, not what is best for us as individuals. The fact that we both believed that made a huge difference.

Q5: tips to incoming pastors?

A:

-Take your time. The transition will be slow in the best of times. Patience will pay off. Rush it and you’ll be sorry.

-Recognize the principle of different gifts for different times. That allows you to bless your predecessor without reservation.

-Remember that what was done prior to your coming allows you to live into the future God has brought you there to help create. Never separate the past from the future.

-Honor your elders. Simple, true and right.

Read the full story of A Healthy Handoff.

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