God’s Antidote for the Trauma of Transition
Pastor Ian explains why there's a need for the leadership transition that he announced last Sunday.
I was maybe seventeen when my pastor surprised our family and our church by announcing that God was calling him to serve and love another church. He was the founding pastor of Royal Heights Baptist Church, and because of his leadership gifting and strong gospel preaching, our church had grown to become the largest Southern Baptist Church in Canada.
And then suddenly, he was gone.
Like every gospel-teaching church, we believed that everything we were and did was informed by Scripture, so we were oblivious to the fact that our process of seeking the next man to shepherd God’s flock was actually far more aligned with secular, corporate culture. We formed a Personnel Search Committee, advertised in Christian publications, sought resumes, vetted and interviewed the best candidates and paid for some of them to deliver their best message to be evaluated by our members. Fear and uncertainty hung over us like a fog. Since most in the church didn’t believe there was a qualified Canadian suitable for “a church our size”, and so—after 2.5 years of searching—the church finally called an amazing young American, full of zeal and passion for God’s Word, to be our next Senior Pastor. It was a day of great relief!
Believing him to be God’s man for us, we tolerated his odd accent. Knowing he lacked cultural fluency and often unintentionally offended us, we afforded him generous portions of grace. Many of his illustrations were about American football, which fell flat in the land of lacrosse and ice hockey. But we were confident that he would settle in… and learn. And learn he did! He learned how lonely his wife was, and how his children didn’t get Canadian jokes. He learned that Canadian winters were long, dark and cold. And that Vancouver was a long way from his parents in Texas. Two years later, he sensed a call to return to Texas… and we again, experienced that familiar trauma of transition.
As I grew in my own call to full-time ministry, I quickly began to see a biblical remedy for the trauma of church leadership transitions. I began to see that—in Scripture—leadership transitions were often a result of discipling leaders who were guided by several gospel behaviours:
- a Deep Bond of Affection in the example of Jonathan and David (1 Sam 18-23)
Jonathan had hereditary entitlement to lead. His royal birth was his expressway to the throne of Israel. But God had “knit his soul to the soul of David” (1 Sam 18:1) and this caused Jonathan to love this man more than he loved the ambition to rule. While his father saw David as a threat to his sovereignty and sought his life, Jonathan abdicated his right to rule and pledged himself to David: “…Jonathan, Saul's son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God. And he said to him, ‘Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you.’” (1 Sam 23:16-17) Discipling leaders do not cling to authority. They are compelled by love to seek the best for others! As the lead pastor of GBC, I too want to love God’s people more than any title or position. I want to be a Jonathan who helps others lead and who remains by their side!
- a Passion to Follow in the example of Elisha and Elijah (2 Kgs 2:1-14)
Elisha’s primary ambition was to be a faithful follower. Three times in 2 Kings 2, Elisha was told by Elijah to stay, while he himself travelled, and three times Elisha responded, “As the LORD lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” (vs 2, 4 and 6) Elisha had no ambition to be in charge. He was a committed follower. Twice in 2 Kings 2, a large group of prophets reminded him that God was going to remove Elijah from being his supervisor and both times, Elisha responded, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.” (vs 3 and 5) Discipling leaders are passionate about modelling what it looks like to follow. As lead pastor of GBC I would rather be known as a loyal follower of Christ than an amazing leader of men. I want to be an Elisha!
- a Holy Humility in the example of John and Jesus (Jn 3:25-30)
In John 3, John’s disciples were anxious. Jesus’ ministry was becoming popular and many of those who used to follow John, were now beginning to follow Him, and so they went to John to alert him to the issue. John responded with a keen sense of self-awareness. “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven…The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (vs 27; 29b-30) John knew that God had called and gifted him to prepare the way for another, and he was joyfully content in his calling. Because we won’t serve forever, discipling leaders will always believe that God has called and gifted them to prepare the way for another. When I accepted the call to become lead pastor of Grace Baptist Church, I too was committed to preparing the way for another. My joy will also be complete as I decrease. Because I want to be a John!
By God’s grace, Paul was transformed from a persecutor of the church to a devoted ambassador of Christ and great defender of the Faith. From religious zealot who sought the destruction of the church, he was inspired of God to write many of the founding documents (14 books) for a movement that would turn the world upside down. He became who he was because of the persistent encouragement of Barnabas. Risking his own legacy, it was Barnabas who introduced him to reticent apostles in Acts 9. It was Barnabas who recruited and trusted Paul to help him teach the new followers of Christ in Antioch (Acts 11:25-26). Because of the strengthening ministry of Barnabas, Paul quickly grew from a novice follower of Christ to the greatest propagator of the faith in the early church. As the lead pastor of Grace Baptist Church, I want to believe God for big things in others. I want to speak words of life and strength and encouragement. I want to be a Barnabas!
- a Post-Grave Plan in the example of Jesus and Us (Jn 14:10-14)
As pastors, we are often so busy focusing on ministry right in front of us, we seldom think of preparing that ministry for the day we are no longer there to “keep it going and growing". From John Calvin to Charles Spurgeon, to Jonathan Edwards, the most consistent historical pattern of ministry is, “the work flourished while they were there, and diminished when they left.” Their successors could never reproduce their results. Jesus crushed the cultural assumption that “the student can never do more than the master”. He knew He had only 2.5 years to change the world. With that in mind, He didn’t establish a church or fleece His legacy with mega-ministry. He invested Himself in 12 men and prepared them for effective ministry far beyond His earthly departure. And as He directed His disciples to Calvary He revealed that His plans for them were far bigger than their plans for Him. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” (Jn 14:12) As lead pastor of Grace Baptist Church I have the strong conviction that the same Spirit who lives in me, has also uniquely equipped my dear brother, Eugene. And I have every confidence that greater works than mine will he do, for the glory of Christ in His church! I am compelled to trust in Jesus!
These are the behaviours I have hoped to model while serving you as Lead Teaching Pastor, and it is with these convictions that I heartily recommend Pastor Eugene Low as our next lead pastor. Let me invite you to join me in asking our generous God to give him a double portion of His Spirit, and to bless him with holy confidence and discernment. I am so excited to see all that God has planned for us in the coming years!
If you have questions or would like greater clarification about what this process will look like, or even what is next for Sherri and me, then please do write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition, please also make plans to attend our Quarterly Congregational Meeting (QCM) this Sunday at 11am. I (or the Elders, should you have questions for them) will respond to all questions at that time. You can Zoom into our QCM via this link: https://tinyurl.com/qcm-4oct2020.