8.18.2009

Wise Pastors Point Us to a Better Source of Stability


In an increasingly chaotic world, man longs for some stability: predictability in structure and order and relationships. We churched folks are no different: in fact, because we can cloak our comfort zones in religious overtones, we may be more prone to creating and defending our cocoons. Too bad, too, as it was once said that church is the only institution that exists for its non-members.

Which is why I greatly appreciated the wisdom of our two pastors this past Sunday. Our senior pastor is retiring after many decades of service around the world. When we install a new interim pastor next month en route to hopefully calling a more permanent senior pastor in the next 12 to 18 months, we will have gone through six such turnovers this decade.

This may be par for the course for a generation and a neighborhood that is used to constant change: job hopping is the norm for twentysomethings, and our university community lends itself to people popping in and out as they here today and gone tomorrow after studies or dissertations or fellowships. But it can be terribly upsetting for some of us oldsters, who've been through enough tumult in our church leadership and are longing for some continuity. Why, last month, after another young family chose to leave the church for another church closer to where they live, one congregant literally grabbed me by the shirt and pleaded with me to not leave, either.

While affirming this sort of sentiment in his sermon, our senior pastor was also mindful to bring us back to the true purpose of the church, which is mission. "Mission" can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, but the point of it, whatever its manifestation, is that it is outward in orientation. We churched folks huddling up together and enjoying each other's company is not the end, but rather a happy byproduct of and means to a greater end, which is the extension of God's merciful hand and glorious name to the neighbors around us and to the ends of the earth. And our senior pastor was doing right by us in pushing us to be pointed in that direction.

And, with apologies to our senior pastor, who probably put a lot of time and effort into his sermon preparation, our family life pastor did something probably equally important and impactful, except he probably did it off the cuff. (I say "probably" because I assume but don't know for sure that it wasn't planned.) We had just gotten through our announcements and our corporate prayer, during which it was announced that our senior pastor was stepping down and that our direction of children, youth, and family ministries was also stepping down; not news to many, since letters had been sent out earlier in the week, but one of the first if not the first official announcements from the pulpit to that effect.

Wisely intuiting that our congregation might be, either consciously or sub-consciously, reeling from this double headline of major transition, our family life pastor seized the moment, before giving thanks for our offering, to address the congregation during this point of vulnerability and anxiety. He thoughtfully reminded us that while it is natural to fear transition, it also represents an opportunity to remember that while people come and go, God is still here. Appropriately, he quoted Hebrews 13:8 - "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" - I say "appropriately" because that verse comes at the end of a series of exhortations to an embattled people, to keep on practicing brotherly love and being hospitable and pursuing sexual purity and saying no to materialism and, yes, even remembering what instruction was given to us by our leaders. In other words, a people sent out by God, and now facing strife and uncertainty, can continue doing what it has been called to do, because of the constancy of the One in whose name we go.

And so, lest I contradict the very point I am trying to make, I want to close by saying that I appreciate my pastors for their ability to discern what we needed to hear and to speak accordingly, with authority and sensitivity and persuasion. And, ultimately, I appreciate that they are called and emboldened by a God who continues to work, in our church and in gatherings around the world, no matter how much tumult and turnover there is, and in spite of our not-quite-faithful responses to it. Jesus Christ is indeed the same yesterday and today and forever; the bodies and titles and programming and themes may change over time, but His presence and our purpose remain the same.
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