So Here’s Why I’m Leaving…and Arriving

I mentioned in a previous post that telling one’s story is a good idea for any pastor leaving for another ministry. My wife elbowed me and said, “Then you should tell your story. Few have heard it.” So I’ll listen to my excellent and wise wife…

In May of 2016, a professor friend of mine called and asked if he could have my resume to submit to Cana Baptist Church. I told him I was not inclined to submit it and that I had graciously been left alone for the past 3 years. And I meant it. Having a church considering you is a major distraction and things were going well at First Baptist Hempstead.

I prayed over the weekend, however, and felt I should go ahead and send my resume. As is common, the resume went to my professor and I heard nothing for a couple months. During this time, I continued to minister and suspected I would hear little else.

In late July I received a call from one of the references on my resume. He said he had been contacted by the search committee at Cana about me. This was the first I had heard from the process other than a generic, “We have your resume” letter. There was little to be done with this information except wonder and try to ignore it. A couple other references contacted me shortly thereafter saying they too had been contacted. By this time it was early August. As of yet, I had heard nothing official, but I was expecting to hear something any day.

The first contact I had was from the Chair of the Search Committee. He told me the Committee wanted to visit with me over a meal. We scheduled the meeting for later in August, had the meeting – it went well – and I went home. By this time, my wife and I truly began to consider this as a serious option and advanced our prayer efforts. We didn’t want to make a move, but the Lord had begun to open our hearts and excite us to the possibility. Still, two other candidates were being interviewed. So we waited and continued working forward with First Hempstead. We prepared for a new ministry year.

Within the next three weeks, the Lord cleared the way and I was the pastoral candidate. The process went from slow to lightning fast. The Committee invited me to come in view of a call…we had not discussed compensation at this point…we accepted the invitation for October 9th. We trusted that Cana would care for our needs and that the fasting and prayer we (and they) had done was productive. The Lord would guide us even as he had. God gives wisdom to those who ask.

I decided to announce to my congregation on Oct 02 that I would be preaching on the following Sunday at Cana as their pastoral candidate. I announced my intentions knowing the risk of not receiving or accepting the call from Cana, but I was concerned that First Hempstead would find out through social media or some close-in connection. The risk to them – that they find out before I told them – would be far more damaging than if I just told them myself. I trust the people at First Hempstead, and I love them. So I told them our plans.

On October 09 I preached for Cana and they voted that evening. The vote was better than 99% (always has to be a “NO” in the mix). We accepted the call and will begin on October 31st.

Some have asked how a pastor knows he should go to another church. That’s tough to know. We asked for wisdom from God according to James 1. We prayed and fasted and spoke to our children. We investigated Cana and sought wise council. We evaluated First Hempstead and began to believe that someone else may be just what they need. God is faithful both to us and to others. That’s why I’m leaving…and arriving.

When Your Pastor Leaves

Pastors often leave churches. They leave for many reasons. Some leave because they have been asked or told to leave by the congregation. Other leave for another ministry. Others for another profession. I want to focus on those that leave for another ministry and how to respond to their leaving. As a pastor, I know the pain of leaving and have seen the pain leaving produces.

1. When your pastor leaves, he ought to be able to give his story. I think some pastors take the opinion that it is a private decision to leave one’s present ministry for another. That is arrogant. People need to know more about how you came to your decision and why you are departing. It helps to know that a pastor is leaving because he is called elsewhere rather than that he’s leaving because his present ministry was stifled. A pastor can do much to leave peace behind him simply by telling his story of God’s grace. Some pastors are leaving because they were stifled – be above blaming your congregation. Speak the gracious matters and leave the pain behind.

2. Staying a long time is a good practice but not always the Lord’s direction. After all, if a church fires its pastor for legitimate reasons, they believed it was the Lord’s time for their pastor to depart. When your pastor leaves, you ought to be very careful about taking an offense over his leaving. He may have little reason that sounds legitimate to you, but if you’ve trusted him to preach God’s Word to you, you probably need to trust him when he tells you the Lord Jesus is directing him elsewhere.

3. Those feelings of abandonment and sadness can actually be a sign of significant ministry. We miss those we love. If your pastor has never become precious enough to you such that you would miss him, either you or he or both are ministering too far apart. Pastors are not saviors, only Jesus saves. Pastors, however, should be significant in your life and that of your family. Don’t be afraid to love a pastor. Pastors ought not be afraid to love their people.

4. We tend to think that suffering an emotional wound is a negative. I think this is an unbiblical assumption. When we work closely together, learn to trust each other, grow in our affections for one another, and devote ourselves together to the mission of Christ, we will be wounded. So what! Paul laments the elders who sough to dissuade him from the mission. He complains that they are breaking his heart with their weeping. The mission transforms our relationships making them deeper. We have to submit our will to God’s and therein lies our peace when our pastor leaves.

Matching Your Own Ambitions to God’s Expectations

This section most often rears itself in church leadership.  Many men can align themselves with God’s moral and ethical expectations but few men can align their expectations and plans to God’s.  The most difficult enemy for ambitious men to defeat is the “unmet expectations” enemy.  Vision is the general term asked of pastors. It implies that a pastor can “see” where the church will go and how it will get there.  Pastors are “forced” to relay a positive future for the congregation even if the prospective pastor knows pain and discipline awaits the church.  After all, all prophetic visions in the Scripture were positive, right?

The word “vision” is a borrowed pagan term used to describe illumination in a leader’s mind to the future prospects of a company.  It asks what leader sees positive in an institution that could carry it forward to prosperity.  A vision-minded leader is someone who can see the positive aspects of a church and turn the positive into a growing membership.  Vision is concerned with the future, with results, and with manipulation.  To follow one’s vision is to emphasize the good rather than the bad to the point that a leader gets the good he wants.

Expectations for oneself drive many so-called visions.  Scriptural visions always occur via direct interaction from God through some angelic inspired dream or trance.  We reject those types of discernments as witch-craft and divining techniques off limits for a closed cannon system.  Most men put programs, initiatives, and strategies in place to guide them to their expectations.  Vision is a spiritual-language veil for personal ambition.

Matching our expectations to God’s is challenging because it means we have to give up our expectations and submit to God’s plans.  We must cultivate an attitude of response.  That is, an attitude that looks for God’s revealed direction – James 1:5 – and responds in due time.  This attitude can seem lazy or stir the impatient.  It tends to frazzle typically churched people used to doing, doing, doing.  They want to see motion toward ones vision and seldom endure the short game approach to responding to God.

We must engage in a direct pursuit of God’s ends.  It is acceptable to review where we have been and where we may be going to discern future plans.  Estimating a trajectory depends on past and present data to determine the end point of an endeavor.  While possible and practical, the trajectory we discern must always land within the range of Scripture.  It is important to view God’s ends as focused primarily on the spiritual and eternal rather than on buildings.  God is busy in people rather than in programs.  Finding staff people will match this emphasis.  One’s thinking in regards to staff should always look toward the traits of the person developed by God rather than the position description needs.  God fits people to a congregation rather than program organizers to programs.

We must cling to an “as-we-go” mentality.  Particularly in struggling churches, we must see ministry as focus of our day.  Our home, our family, and our community serve as fertile ground to meet people.  One may not have access to willing or able people, but he will have accesss to the “as-we-go” forum of his daily life.  Avoiding vision-based initiatives means the outreach task of the church carries less emphasis than the individual energy of the people.  Ministry remains the property of the people rather than the program of the church.

The most descriptive question so often accompanying depression and discouragement is, “Lord, who am I.”  The question implies an inquiry of ability and of importance.  It asks God to comment on a person’s worth and ability rather than on God’ supremacy.  Failed vision and unmet expectations join forced to destroy ministers struggling because they feel inadequate for the task and unable to live-up to congregational expectations.  Sooner or later, every minister will underperform and critically fail.  The “Lord, who am I” question waits to destroy.

The question to ask in failure and unmet expectations is, “Lord, who are you.”  To focus on the person of God, his power and his faithfulness is to reinstall the critical component of our strength.  God is faithful.  He cares for his church.  He looks for a person to respond to him.  He has his own plans and ends.  He provides opportunity “as-we-go”.

Matching Your Expectations to God’s

  1. Vision’s enticement: What a vision is and where we derived the idea
    1. A vision is a steering mechanism used to make decisions

i.      A form of divining

ii.      Refers to direct revelation from God

  1. It is not a Scriptural perspective
  2. Why “vision” language harms

i.      Its seeking an agenda in abstentia of the Lord’s direction

ii.      It assumes the future profile of the church/life can be deduced and/or manipulated

iii.      It seeks to discern what’s good from what we think is good.

  1. Expectations generally follow personal vision
    1. Vision assumes the future and your expectations assume outcomes
    2. Neither may occur either as you see them or as you expect them to occur
    3. You put you in the position of control of the church’s future and the measure of your own success.
  2. Expectations of God: What we can expect from God – Acts 3:12
    1. God will build His church – attitude of response
    2. God will cleanse and cultivate righteousness – Direct pursuit of God’s ends
    3. God will efficiently use the faithful – “as we go” mentality
  3. How to defeat the number and performance expectation
    1. Don’t ask, “Lord, who am I” – Ex. 3
    2. Ask, “Lord, who are you”

What God Expects from a Pastor

The Minister is an Overseer.  Regardless of your ecclesiology, there is a static expectation in the Scripture that churches have overseers that pay careful attention to the flanks.  The job of overseer implies that a man of impeccable character, known first for guarding himself from error, will give himself for the people under his charge.  Many pastors have supposed that their flocks 1)belong to them and 2)should be a certain way when they get to them.  The sense I get is that pastors expect their flock to provide them with certain attitudes, compensation, and results.  While the flock is expected to provide the shepherd with his livelihood, it is not the same as expecting to walk into a reciprocal relationship.

Pastors have to lead.  No church is where it could be in maturity.  But maturity is the long-term game while growth is the short term expectation.  An overseer leads the flock to feed through preaching the Scripture.  Paul commands first that overseers pay attention to themselves.  They are to compare their motives, their intentions, their attitudes, their sinfulness, and their doctrine to the Scriptures.  The question they ask is whether they are inclined to the expectations of God or their own.  Paul extols the virtue of self-sacrifice and watchful maintenance.  God’s overseers are compelled to the position by the Holy Spirit for the purposes of the Lord’s plan.  That said, regardless of the circumstance or the daunting nature of the church condition, the Holy Spirit compels you.  If you are not a man of faith prior to your calling, you are not called (1 Tim 3:6).

Paul also expresses his concern that some overseers could become the wolves that assault the flock.  The assault comes from twisted teaching.  Persistent attention to one’s doctrine is the expectation of God for the overseer.  Overseers are lifetime learners and long-term watchers.  The assault of the external wolves can quickly become an internal assault.  Because of such a risk – need I discuss Church Growth Movement – overseers must focus their attention on the spiritual to escape the temptations of the physical.  Likewise, the overseer scatters the flock when he becomes a reprobate.  He must guard against sexual and character failure through a life of repentance.

The expectation of God is to bring him glory in all matter of life and ministry.  The overseer most of all must maintain this focus.  Through this conviction he will exclude himself from many a faulty endeavor, discern many a foolish motive, and repent often from many a haywire action.  An overseer cannot be perfect nor nesecarily more holy than those in his charge, but he can set the example by pressing for God glory and exalting Christ as the end of all things.  Such a man finds the study of Scripture both a labor and a pleasure.  He finds himself under the conviction of his own sermon being the first in the congregation to face the conviction of God’s Word.  Only after facing the trial of conviction is he spiritually equipped to deliver his message.  He is at one time a man of God and an example of faith.

What God’s Expecting: An exposition of Acts 20:17-38

  1. What does God expect from a minister?
    1. God expects you to be a man of God – pay attention to yourself – Acts 20:28

i.      Be alert to your tendency

ii.      Be alert for the tendency of the people

  1. God expects you to be an overseer – Care or pastor the flock – Acts 20:28
  2. What does God expect in regards to the office you hold?
    1. Self-sacrifice with or without money – Acts 20:19
    2. Fearless proclamation as a way of life – Acts 20:20
    3. Exemplary testimony to whomever experiences your life – Acts 20:21
  3. What is the outline of the overseer’s job?
    1. To teach sound doctrine – also 2 Tim 4:2
    2. To fend off wolves – 4:3
    3. To not become a wolf teaching twisted doctrines – Acts 20:30