My apologies to my subscribers and regular readers for my long silence. I have been in transition, busy moving from a small pastorate and beginning work as an interim minister in a multi-staff congregation. It has been a busy summer.
All ministers are in transition. We know that we do not own our congregations. We are temporary stewards, lucky to be a part of an honored tradition of service. But we always need to have a suitcase packed, ready to relinquish our role when the time comes. With luck, we will know it in advance and be able to plan for a positive and gracious experience. Even if we eventually leave under duress or sadness, there are ministry tasks that will curtail, if not eliminate the damage.
As always, good boundaries are key. The more that we can maintain a healthy self-containment, the less we will need to get our emotional needs met from within the congregation. Although some members might seek a special relationship to satisfy their own ego needs, we have to maintain the maturity and understanding to see this for what it is worth. While it can be dangerous to reject their overtures and push these people aside, we have to remember that in most cases, it is not friendship that they want, but recognition. At the same time, it is important to bear in mind the powerful symbolism of our title. They may not like Terry Godly, but they still expect the Reverend Godly to pay them a call. We can never overdo pastoral care.
We can also acquaint the congregation with their history by honoring their past ministers. This will both celebrate the role of ministry within their congregation, and remind them that the church is larger than any one pastor. At the same time, we can ensure that their structures and policies are strong and clear. Write down procedures for regular tasks and events so incoming leaders do not have to reinvent the wheel. Make your legacy an organized and functional organization that includes a culture of consideration that will bind the congregation. And make sure that the congregation has a healthy connection to the larger denomination. Not only will this give them perspective and context for their issues and changes, but it will serve as support during their times of transition. And you will need it too. As leaders, sometimes we forget to reach out for the help we need. We think we’re doing fine with what we have when wisdom is just a conversation away.
Finally, we have to remember our calling and the values that cradle our work. All that we really own is our personal integrity. If we act with kindness and honor, everyone wins.
Change keeps us from stagnating, but that doesn’t make it easy. The right attitude and a little preparation can help us minimize regrets and move forward with grace and confidence in the journey.