Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Reflecting at 15 Years - Leave

This post is the last of my reflections on the first fifteen years since I was called to ministry. Technically, the timing is still a little over one month away, but this past Sunday was my fifth serving in my current church so the timing seemed appropriate now.

Essentially, these reflections have been based upon the discipleship process I use - to learn, to live, to love, to lead, and today's post, to leave. In fact, that is why we must disciple others as we are discipled. We must learn, live, and love, but as we do, we must lead others because one day we will leave.

Now you may be thinking about a pastor or staff person leaving a church, and that is a part of it. But we all leave. Either we quit, we move, or we die. And that is why we must lead - and particularly lead well. The question is will the work of ministry thrive after you? What is most important to those who remain will continue, but will it continue well? If Jesus had to leave, then none of us are irreplaceable, no matter what we might want to think from time to time. People have come and people have gone long before you and I and will continue to come and go long after we are gone - unless, of course, the Lord returns.

So the question is not if we will leave, but when. And that means we should be preparing (discipling) others to carry on the work after we are gone. A quick survey of Scripture shows the best leaders did this (Moses with Joshua, Jesus with the disciples, Paul with Timothy, Titus, and many others). And certainly God was instrumental in keeping His story going, but if it wasn't for Joshua continuing the mission, would we know Moses? The disciples were charged with sharing the story of Jesus. Timothy was charged with passing on what had been passed to him.

You may think, "Well those are biblical characters, I am just me." But how many generations of "just me" people have brought us to the point we are today. And that is why we must lead before we leave. This is one of the most important lessons I have learned since that day many years ago. We had just left a church a few months before for reasons that were very real, but that I will not divulge. But less than two years after my initial call, we were called to leave the church we were then attending as I was called to (bi-)vocational (youth) ministry in Buckner, Mo. After serving there for eight years (to the day), I was called to pastor in Fairfax.

I learned a great deal serving in Buckner and have many friends there to this day. But I did not do enough to prepare for my leaving. I did far more than nothing, but I should have done more. And, in that case, I knew for months that I would be leaving, I just didn't know exactly when or where and by the time I did know, it was too late to put a system in place.

So, now in Fairfax, I am preparing others for some point in the future when I will leave. I have no sense that such a time is anywhere near. It may be twenty years or it may be two. I don't know and I don't care because God has called me here and here I will stay until He calls me elsewhere. (To date, I have not initiated conversations with the places I have served, nor do I plan to do so. He has taught me to let Him lead in this so I don't look for openings elsewhere or send resumes, so I truly try to wait upon Him to know both the when and where, both within the church and in my teaching.)

All of that said, I day is coming when I will not longer serve as a pastor in Fairfax. And thus, I must lead with that in mind. A great deal of joy exists in the process of helping others to find their callings and fulfill it. But challenges exist as well. But ultimately, this is about leaving a legacy. How will I be remembered? Will my time have helped or hurt the church? I tell students in a class I teach that our goal as a minister should always be to leave a church in better shape than you find it, and ultimately to attempt to leave it for the next pastor/minister the way you would hope to find it when you arrived. The latter may not always be possible, but how we leave a church says a lot about our true intentions. 

And that is why focusing on "How will I be remembered?" is not the ultimate goal. How will Christ be honored in my leaving is a much better question? Is the ministry better prepared for the future after I depart than when I arrived? Have others been equipped to fulfill their service in ministry? Have others been given opportunities to test themselves in their understanding? This is what Jesus did before He left. It is what I must do before I may leave if I am serious about fulfilling my role as pastor.

The notion of preparing others for my departure is one important part of my learning. I now must better live it, in part because I love my church. Therefore I must better lead those who are members of this fellowship of believers and those who are a part of the periphery. For my Master left me this charge and will return one day to see what return I have to offer Him. (Matthew 25.14-30). May I be faithful to discipling others in each step of the journey in order that I may hear, "Well done good and faithful servant" (Matthew 24.21, 23).

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