By Mark A. Taylor
Sometimes it surprises me the way vocational ministers and everyday church members look at ministry so differently. This is especially true when it comes to the issue of ministerial transitions. With lofty phrases, the minister speaks of being called to a different place of service. But church members may feel betrayed or deserted when he announces his resignation.
I remember how bright eyed and enthusiastic I was when I left my ministry in Colorado to come to Standard Publishing almost 30 years ago. My wife and I were convinced it was God’s will for me to take up the new challenges offered me here, so we made the move boldly, although with tears, without looking back.
It was difficult to settle in to a new congregation, but we appreciated the preacher we found in Cincinnati. Marshall Hayden had just begun at White Oak Christian Church, and soon we became members there. His preaching instructed and nurtured. His integrity was a model. His friendship was an encouragement. His family was a joy.
And then he decided to leave. Too soon after we came to Cincinnati, he moved away to work with the Worthington Christian Church north of Columbus.
It was a new experience for my wife and me. We had always been the “leavers,” never before the “left.” We gained new insight about how some in Colorado may have felt when I resigned that ministry.
Since then, as members of two local congregations, we have lived through more than one ministerial transition. I now see them as a natural part of church life.
I’ve also learned to take the long view of a church’s history. A local congregation will exist in its town many years after the current minister leaves. This means I must stay faithful to my congregation, for the sake of its witness in my community, regardless of what’s happening with the pulpit.
The minister should come and go with the same perspective. He would do well from the first month of his ministry to prepare the church for his departure. How can he mentor Christians who will determine the congregation’s conscience and personality in the future? How can he challenge the whole church to thrive and influence for many decades to come?
Some ministers view themselves too highly, as though everything that happens in a church depends on them. Others defer to the congregation too often, refusing to lead and press for the changes that always accompany growth.
Likewise, some churches view the minister as a patriarch or chief executive whose word can’t be questioned and whose will must be implemented. And others see him as little more than a hireling, whose time must be monitored and whose actions must be controlled.
Ministers or congregations behaving at any of these extremes will have trouble when it comes time for the minister to leave. When ministers and church members respect each other’s vital role in the church’s future, when each individual refuses to take himself too seriously, and when everyone acts as if the church belongs to Christ and no human being then ministerial transitions can be easier.
They’ll probably be less frequent too.