I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.Galatians 2:20
John had served as senior pastor at a congregation for 15 years. Certainly, he loved serving people, both God’s people and people who – as yet – not known God.
He and his wife were always curious, always learning, always desiring to find new ways to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love for all people.
Therefore, they both trained in pastoral leadership, he as a pastor and she as a pastor’s wife – they are Lutheran, after all!
In addition, they also searched for ways to bring groups of people together under a shared set of gifts. They believed that God gives unique gifts to each congregation. Some have schools. There are some that have a huge youth ministry. Some have vibrant missionary events.
Yes, all congregations have elements of each and many more gifts and passions. But John realized that each congregation has a specific combination of gifts that makes them unique.
John worked on this and at this for 15 years at the congregation he serves. God brought unique individuals to the congregation for the leadership roles – both laymen and professional church workers. They saw steady growth and tremendous blessings from God.
Time for Rest
Still, John could feel himself getting tired. He needed a break. Not the kind of break that comes from three or four weeks of vacation time each year.
John needed a sabbatical. His congregation granted him six months. During that time John & Helen did some intense traveling and studying. John grew a big, bushy beard. He rested. And he wrote a book.
When he came back from his sabbatical to resume his role as pastor, he found that quite a number of families had left the congregation. He went to them to find out why.
They told him that if he wasn’t there, if he wasn’t going to be the pastor anymore, they were going to find a new place. And so, they did.
Coming Back to a Change
John was devastated. He told me that he was ready to quite the pastoral ministry all together. If people were only going to be members of the congregation because of him he didn’t want to continue to mislead them.He knew that the congregation of God must be a ministry. It must be a group of people who have come together with a common core of unique gifts of God and a shared mission of what God wants them to do with those gifts.
A congregation cannot be a cult of personality. Too many congregations seem to thrive and grow under a specific leader, but when that leader leaves, the congregations falter and sometimes die altogether.
John didn’t want that for the congregation he served.
Coming Back to Change
The happy ending of this story is that neither did the vast majority of the congregational members. The result of his sabbatical was they continued to want to work with John but knew that they could also carry on without him.
John has decided to stay, to continue to learn, and to continue to share this kind of ministry with others through the ministry of that congregation.
Every church faces this kind of story. I encourage you to lead your church be this kind of congregation.
Through the years where I have served congregations with day schools, I have heard from parents in that they are here because of this or that teacher.
There are also churches that have people in them that are there because of this or that pastor.
For a congregation to truly thrive this must change! A congregation needs to be a ministry of God not a cult of personality.
I will be honest with you – through the years some people have told me that they come to the church I served because of me. I admit, it makes me feel good. But it isn’t good for me or for them!
What happens if I leave? Will they leave as well?
What I realized was that I’m not the same pastor, preacher, person I was 24 years ago. I continue to learn how to teach, how to preach, how to be a pastor among God’s people.
I have been serving in my present congregation for eight years. If a person came eight years ago because of me. Or even five years ago because of me, they have a dilemma and a question. Because I’m not the same person I was when they came here.
About two years ago, I have torn down all my preaching skills and have begun to build them back up.
At the seminary, I was taught how to preach a theologically sound sermon. Today the theology hasn’t changed, but how to preach certainly has. When I became a pastor, the internet was brand new. Since then it has become a cultural phenomenon that has changed how people hear messages, see messages, and communicate.
I continue to use the theological foundation for my sermons, but I’m learning new ways to communicate that theology – which is nothing more than the love of God that comes to us through the person and work of Jesus Christ.
I’m not the same pastor I was when I first came to my present congregation. None of us are the same people we were. But the mission and ministry hasn’t changed.Work – and lead – your church to be a congregation that is made up of people that will use the unique gifts God has given you to carry out the mission of telling the Good New of Jesus Christ to the world.
Heavenly Father, I realize now that the only constants in Your creation are change and the change-less One, Jesus! As You continue to grow and transform me, I pray for Your church. Continue to grow and transform the church to reach the lost. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
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