How to Prepare for Pastoral Transitions

  • read this post on For the Church here.

Goodbyes are inevitable.

When a pastor leaves a church, it can be heartbreaking but also harmful to the community. These transitions can cause hurt, disunity, and doubt that hinders the growth and message of the church. Looking at Paul’s departure from Ephesus, we can see that it doesn’t have to be this way.

If Paul were to be called a pastor of any church, it would be the church at Ephesus. He spent years with these people, more time than in any other city. He was deeply invested in these peoples’ lives, and his departure from them was painful. But he effectively used his time in Ephesus so the church was positioned for continued growth. This made it easier for Paul to obey God when transition time came.

During his goodbye message to the Ephesian leaders in Acts 20, Paul shows at least four ways that we can avoid chaos during ministry transitions:

He held nothing back.

Now from Miletus, he sent to Ephesus and summoned the elders of the church. When they came to him, he said to them: “You know, from the first day I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility, with tears, and during the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews. You know that I did not avoid proclaiming to you anything that was profitable or from teaching you publicly and from house to house. (Acts 20:17–20 CSB)

From his first day until his last, Paul worked tirelessly among these people. Because of the itinerant nature of his work, Paul could have easily become pessimistic towards new places. But he did not close himself off to ministry opportunities in Ephesus. He quickly and intentionally entered into peoples’ lives and homes with his message of repentance and faith. He was consistent through the tears and bold in spite of the consequences his ministry produced.

If we hold back our words or our presence from our people, then we are hindering the penetrating power of the gospel. It is hard, messy work being so personally involved, but we must spend time laying a foundation for our people.  We must model the gospel faithfully with words and actions, and we must teach believers how to study the Word, because these things will guide them long after we are gone.

He never lost perspective.

But I consider my life of no value to myself; my purpose is to finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24)

Even though he had grown very close to the Ephesian church, Paul does not choose to remain among the friendly and familiar. And how could he? He was “compelled by the Spirit” (30:22) to move on to Jerusalem. To stay would be to disobey.

When you give your life to God’s gospel ministry, your address may change, but your purpose never will. There will be churches that are painfully hard to leave, and sometimes that choice will be made for you. While we should enter any pastorate with an indefinite commitment, we also know that no place can be called our forever home in this life. God may move us at anytime, but if we have our eyes fixed on him anyway, we will be found faithful in any of the situations which he gives us.

He trained watchmen.

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood…Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for three years I never stopped warning each one of you with tears. (Acts 20:28, 31)

Paul was not blind to the fact that his departure was going to be dangerous for those that he was leaving behind. Gaps in leadership provide an opportunity for the Enemy to bring disunity and misdirection into the church. Since Paul held nothing back in his discipleship, he had capable leaders ready to protect the flock and continue the work. He reminded these leaders of their appointed responsibility to guard themselves and the people against the dangers inside and outside the church.

Unfortunately, many pastors have too much love for their position. They are unwilling to share their pulpit and their platform. This selfishness has no place in the biblical model of discipleship which calls on pastors to essentially work themselves out of a job. We must whole-heartedly disciple leaders capable of teaching and guiding our church community. The threats facing our churches are too great to face alone. We must train fellow watchmen to care for our communities. These leaders will be able to not only weather a transition in the pulpit, but they will also be equipped to move into their own ministry opportunities as God leads them.

He entrusted the church to God.

And now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32)

Paul knows the church’s growth, any results from his words or his care, were not because of him. God is the only one who can change hearts, build his church, and bring his people home.

Pastors, we have no ownership of our people. We bear a responsibility to the church, but God purchased it by his own blood. We must trust that he will care for believers and that he will complete the work that he started.

Transitions in ministry are never going to be easy. When Paul left the Ephesians “there were many tears shed by everyone” (30:37). Knowing that goodbyes are inevitable, we have a responsibility to minister even more diligently today.


Daily Devotion: Isaiah 7

There is no such thing as Christian cowardice. Christ secured courage for all believers. We do not fear men who can only harm the body. We do not fear spirits who have been given an expiration date. We do not fear want of food or shelter because God promises to meet our needs. We do not fear death because Jesus gives us life.  

In Isaiah 7, Ahaz is afraid. Aram and Israel have decided to attack Jerusalem. As they advance into Ephraim, the “house of David” is afraid, all the “hearts of his people trembled like trees shaking in the wind.” So the Lord sends an encourager, Isaiah, with this message: “Calm down and be quiet. Don’t be afraid or cowardly.” There are 4 things that we and Ahaz must stand firm in…

Stand firm in your identity. Repeatedly, Ahaz is reminded that he is part of the House of David. Those great promises that were delivered to David still apply to him. The king can rest assured that God still knows who he’s dealing with and he will not forget David, the man after God’s own heart. Christians, we are now called sons and daughters of God. Worthy of his name and his inheritance. He will not forget Jesus in whom our identity is now grounded. We have been grafted into the family vine. Stand courageously in your new identity. (7:2, 13)

This is what the Lord God says: It will not happen; it will not occur. (Is 7:7)

Stand firm in the Word of God. Isaiah serves as the voice of truth in order to destroy doubt. We need to listen to people who speak the truth in love to us. No matter how many times we read the truths of scripture, we still need our community to speak the truth to us and affirm us. Sometimes I don’t feel like God has anything to say to me that I haven’t already heard. Then a brother pastor who I respect will bring me a word of truth or encouragement that jump starts my heart. We need people like Isaiah who can look at our situation and say, “You know that thing your worrying about? It’s completely wrongheaded to worry about that. Here’s why…” We are meant to be agents of affirming God’s Word to one another. 

If you do not stand firm in your faith, then you will not stand at all. (Is 7:9)

Stand firm in your faith. God is not telling him to stand firm in positive thinking. Faith is so much more than that. Because God has proven himself faithful to us, we can follow his commands for our life in faith. He gives us no reason to doubt that his way is the right way and his time is the right time. That is unbelief. We must remain steadfast in our obedience to a God-centered life. 

See, the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Emmanuel. (Is 7:14)

Stand firm in God’s Promises. God has given sufficient signs of his providence before, but he offers one more. The promise he gives here was most likely to a young girl in the assembly. And it was a promise of extended peace. Ahaz could see in his mind the years of peace promised from that day until the promised child’s adolescence. And this would be a sign that a God was with his people. The peace was not permanent, however. The rest of the chapter shows that great suffering is coming to the land. But seeing God keep his promise would serve to grow their faith so that when things grew worse in the future they could trust God to be faithful once more. 

Later, Matthew identifies this promised child in Isaiah 7:14 as applying to Messiah. Jesus was also a promised child. His life should also give us courage to face the hard times even as we wait for him. We long for eternal peace and freedom from fear. We long to not only have “God with us” but see him face to face. 

How do you need to be reminded of the courage that you have in Christ?

Like Isaiah, who are you being called to encourage today?

Perseverance in Community

Via Christianity Today

As the religious landscape in America continues to change and orthodox Christian beliefs are being met with greater disproval, believers may soon be living with another orthodox Christian reality – isolation. While difficulties may abound, this should lead to an increase in genuine Christian community which has always been an avenue for the gospel. In a recent Christianity Today article, K.A. Ellis shows how this is true in other countries…

They answer to this hostility with what I describe as “productive perseverance working through community.” They are filled with a deep hope in Christ that drives out fear of man, and their lives are often marked by radical personal transformation and a communal discipleship that it is so attractive, others risk stigmatization to know it.

In most societies, religion and community are inseparable. Since the Enlightenment, we in West have emphasized individual belief more and more. Religion has become an intellectual and personal choice that we choose to assign to ourselves. But throughout the rest of the world, religion is part of your social identity. We see our religion as only defining our relationship with God not the community around us. But as non-Christian society puts more and more pressure on the church’s faith and practices the bonds of love between believers will be forced to strengthen. As this happens, Christians in America will rediscover the beauty of Christian community for the glory of God.

In ministry, we will always struggle with extracting new believers from their community and trying to transplant them into something new that’s defined by our background. Of course, some will bravely believe on their own, but true shifts in cultural belief will be marked by community transformation. It’s no wonder that the examples of true transformation around the world mirror the examples found in the New Testament of whole families and crowds being saved together. This is why individual discipleship and leadership training is so important, because true change is only going to happen through the example of a few brave individuals or by everyone discovering an even better community all at once.

We must not neglect the gift that we have in Christian community. It’s a fragile freedom that is under attack in many countries. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, at the cusp of WWII, wanted to remind believers of this when he wrote…

Let those who until now have had the privilege of living a Christian life together with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of their hearts. Let them thank God on their knees and realize: it is grace, nothing but grace, that we are still permitted to live in the community of Christians today.

My challenge then is twofold: 1) pray for the continuing endurance of these brothers and sisters who must persevere under intense societal pressures, and 2) fully embrace and love your Christian community for the gift that it is.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, Daniel W Bloesch, Geffrey B Kelly, and Victoria Barnett. Life Together. Fortress Press, 2015.

24,000 Neighbors

Recently, I did some rough calculations on our apartment complex. It’s divided into 5 phases with a total of 84 buildings! On average these buildings are about 30 stories high, and there are 3 units on each floor. If there are 3 people living in each apartment, my neighborhood has around 24,000 people living here…24,000. The town I grew up in has a population of about 1,400. (Maybe 1,500 on a Friday night for high school football.) This is an overwhelming number of people to be surrounded by, and it’s just one apartment community in a city with a population of 2 million.

When I walk along the river next to my community, see all of these buildings, and think about the 24,000 souls living here, it breaks my heart. I feel so incapable of making any measurable difference in a place where so many are blinded to the truth of the gospel. It reminds me of God and Abraham discussing Sodom and Gomorrah. Are there 50…45…40…30…20…10 righteous people in this community? Does God have a plan for these people? Is there any hope here?

Praise the Lord, God is working in this community.

God is faithful to grow and strengthen his church even when the task seems too big a burden to bear.

I know of a number of house churches in our community that are bravely worshipping God every week right in the heart of theseRead More »