Our Pastor is Leaving. Now What?
As we enter into a period of transition, Pastor Ian offers some suggestions on how we can joyfully navigate the coming days.
I was a teenager when my pastor announced that he and his family were feeling called to another ministry. It was a great shock to our church. Allen Schmidt was the founding pastor of Royal Heights Baptist Church and the Lord had used him to grow it into the largest English-speaking Southern Baptist Church in Canada. He loved and cared for my parents while they experienced the emotional trauma of a wayward son and so he was a great comfort to them. And then he was gone.
It can be deeply disruptive for a church to lose the man that God has tasked to steward His flock. And as a man who has both experienced—and triggered—this disruption, I wish to offer some humble suggestions for us as we each seek to joyfully navigate the coming days.
Grieve… but refuse to linger on the Post-mortem.
Grief is a common and healthy response to loss. For many, the loss is not actually about the man himself, but rather it is the loss of equilibrium and the attending sense of uncertainty that triggers anxiety and grief. And when the loss is sudden and unexpected, our grief can sometimes turn into unhealthy lingering. We desire answers. We ask questions, chase inuendo, and seek some cause or person to blame, even though the answers will not bring our “normal” back.
So let me encourage us to avoid intrigue. If you have concerns about anything in our church, you have an obligation to speak to an elder… or perhaps even talk to the one who is leaving. Please do not spread seeds of dissension by talking to others about theories you don’t know to be true. Help our elders better serve our gospel community by personally going to them with your concerns. And expect a loving response.
Love and treasure those who serve.
Whenever any elder leaves, others either recruit and mentor new folks for these ministries or pick up multiple additional tasks to help compensate for that man’s absence. This is especially true when a pastor leaves. And remember that most who are serving GBC in pastoral ministry are doing so while holding down full-time jobs. We ought to treasure their sacrificial service and respond with grace when they disappoint us.
Resist the urge to compare those who teach and preach God’s Word. God has uniquely made each of us and has gifted us as He pleases. Our differences are by Divine design. Though He gives us stewardship over the pastors who serve, our loyalty should always and only be to Christ and His Word. Those who serve Him come and go. Christ remains. His Word is eternal.
Trust the Leadership that remains.
The men to whom our church has entrusted the feeding, guiding and protection of God’s flock are not members of the Singapore Civil Defence Force. They cannot be effective in shepherding if they are constantly putting out fires. They have been invited to serve because they have modelled sacrificial, Christlike affection for God’s people. I pray that we would desire to honour Christ by learning to trust His good work in them. I pray that, understanding that the Evil One is constantly seeking to destroy and discourage them, we will faithfully support them with earnest prayer. And I pray that we would proactively write them notes of encouragement. As they chase the joy of serving Christ and His church, they bear the weight of many sorrows. Blessing is such a small price to pay for the sacrifices they offer.
Lean into Community.
Jesus does not call us to a man (pastor or elder), He calls us to Himself—He is the chief cornerstone and He chooses and shapes each of us for His community. In 1 Peter 2:4-7, the old Apostle writes, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” While God desires to place each of us into this spiritual house, build around the cornerstone of Jesus, Satan wants us to live in isolation so he can divide God’s thriving church.
So especially in this COVID season, may I encourage you to seek to engage in an active Care Group? Register for a weekend service. Seek ways to get to know the many new “living stones” God has chosen to place in His spiritual house!
Focus on the things that have not changed.
Royal Heights Baptist Church had a traditional—though in my view, not entirely biblical—model of leadership. And so, when Senior Pastor Allen Schmidt left our church, everything changed. We had no “under shepherd,” and we went 2.5 years before we found a “suitable” replacement. But our replacement was not Allen Schmidt. He was not Canadian and he spoke with an unfamiliar accent. He didn’t lead like Allen Schmidt nor did he preach like Allen Schmidt. And worse? His vision for the church was different than Allen Schmidt’s. The church began to decline in enthusiasm and then in numbers.
Multiple replacements later, Royal Heights Baptist Church has sold her properties and dissolved her assets.
But Grace Baptist Church is not that church. Though one man is leaving, our Pastoral Team remains! It is a team made up of ten men, reached and/or raised by the ministries of Grace Baptist Church. They have been shaped and gifted by God to love His church and are committed to faithfully pursue His glory in and through her. As Pastor Eugene takes on the responsibility of shepherding this group of men (and raising up others to join them), this team maintains and nurtures the same heart and vision for the Lord’s church. This will not change.
Do the Things You Did at First.
In Revelation 2, the church at Ephesus is lauded for their patient endurance. They didn’t tolerate sin and tested the teaching of those who sought to lead them astray (verses 2-3). But then Jesus, through the witness of John urges the church to, “repent, and do the works you did at first” in order to reclaim “the works they did at first.” (verses 4-5) From these verses it is clear to me that in these days, God desires more from His Beloved than endurance and doctrinal integrity. He desires deeply passionate, joyful service!
How many of us remember how we used to serve? I’m guessing many of us have sweet memories of the joyful service we daily offered to the One who was punished for our transgressions. In times of challenging transition, God wants more for us. Christ is calling us to turn back to our first passion for service. Many of us can no longer crawl on the floor with little ones or run about with the youth. But we can joyfully serve in our prayer life and friendship and in the ministry of encouragement. We all can allow the deep affection we have for Christ to inform again, the joy of service.
Pastoral transitions can be difficult but they can also bring new seasons of growth and maturity and joyful anticipation. I pray that each of us will long to be the healthy part of the body so that we can help those whose hearts are sore. And I pray that we will joyfully celebrate all the good that God continues to do through His people!
Links to Upcoming Meetings:
1. Quarterly Congregational Meeting (2pm, Sunday, April 11, Zoom)
Zoom link: http://gracebaptistchurch.sg/gbcmeets
2. Church Matters (9am-1pm, Saturday, April 17, in-person)
3. Newcomers’ Welcome Meeting (11am, Sunday, April 18, in-person)