After 20 years of ministry in one congregation, I am about to leave. (My last Sunday here is November 24.) Charlotte and I will move to Memphis, Tennessee, to begin working with Harding School of Theology.
Twenty years is a long time. That is 20 years of sermons, conversations, and cups of coffee. That is 20 years of waiting in emergency rooms with families and well as celebrating with families.
Leaving and transition bring grief. Charlotte and I certainly feel it. I know many in our congregation feel this as well. It is simply a part of transition.
I have been thinking about these 20 years.
I am so thankful …
… for the trust of this church.
Preaching to the same group of people week after week requires trust. They must recognize that you are attempting to live out the Gospel in your daily life. Trust either emerges or it remains a questionable issue in a congregation.
As I look back upon these years, I think of the many conversations with people — deeply personal conversations — about life, sin, failure, and grace. I don’t take this for granted. After all, a person believes their minister will handle this conversation with maturity and respect. I am moved as I think about conversations in my office, in living rooms, and over cups of coffee about life.
… for the love of this church.
The people in our congregation have communicated to me how much they love Charlotte, me, and our two daughters, Christine and Jamie. I am so grateful for this.
At the same time, I love our congregation. Recently, our children’s ministry reserved the local skating rink for our church. I was there for about 45 minutes and enjoyed watching the children of our congregation (and some of their parents) have so much fun. I want to see them do well and grow up loving Jesus. Because I love our congregation, it is very important how I leave. When a minister abruptly leaves a church and gives the church little or no time to process what is happening, damage can be done that can have ramifications for the future. It is very important to me to leave well.
… for the faithfulness of God.
Life as a congregation is something we do together. That means that we experience not only joy but also pain. Yes, pain takes place in every congregation. Most of the time, ministry involves some sort of pain. Divorce. Death. Sickness. Unfaithfulness. Sin. These all take place in the life of a congregation. Yet, as I look back, I see how the faithfulness of God gave us, as a congregation, the power to persevere even in difficult times.