We are nearing the end of summer vacation. In schools everywhere, new people are being hired to replace those who have left. Every business experiences transition. How does the new hire approach the new position, especially if the shoes left vacant are large?
I am reminded of how a particular pastor handled this situation. I had known him when he was first starting his ministry and was one of several clergy at a large church. Over the years, his career blossomed, and he found himself appointed to lead the largest church of that denomination in the United States. His parishioners included George and Barbara Bush. Furthermore, he was following a very popular predecessor. How would he fill such gigantic shoes?
This church's website included links to past sermons, and so I listened with great interest to the first sermon my acquaintance from many years ago delivered to his new congregation. What would he say? How would he begin to follow someone as respected and beloved as his predecessor? How would he, an outsider, step in and lead this large congregation. That sermon answered my questions.
The sermon began with the new minister acknowledging he realized the congregation was grieving over the retirement of its beloved former minister. He went on to point out the importance of that person's ministry in his own life.
Then, he began to relay advice offered in a phone call from an older and very wise minister. “Let me give you the most helpful advice I received... Someone said to me, ‘Don’t worry about trying to fill anyone’s shoes, because you need to bring your own.’" The new minister followed by asking his congregation, "If I can, let me ask you to let me bring my own."
Six years have passed since that first sermon. In short, the church has flourished under the leadership which began that day.
This summer sees new leadership in schools, school systems, bands, athletic teams, classrooms, and in business of all types all across our country. Many of us have been in those positions. We were perhaps uneasy about how we would handle the transition and how well those we lead would accept us. The transition is made more difficult when the shoes to fill are big. The advice given to this minister may be good advice for us as well.
About to fill some big shoes? Don't try. Instead, bring your own.