by Fred Oaks
Do pastors remain in their positions long enough? Many Protestant pastors say no. Eighty-seven percent of Southern Baptist clergy feel pastors in their denomination don't tend to stay at one church for enough years. Similarly, three out of four Methodist clergy are concerned that pastors don't stay at one church long enough. (Source: Ellison Research Clergy Study1.) Each year one in three churches welcomes a new pastor, associate pastor, or ministry program specialist2.
Some of this churning turnover in pastoral positions results from new pastors getting off on the wrong foot with their congregations. A poorly begun pastor-congregation partnership results in hurt and frustration, eventually lurching to a miserable conclusion. But this painful outcome can be avoided if new pastors and their congregations take time to build a strong ministry partnership from the start.
Welcome, Pastor! Building a Productive Pastor-Congregation Partnership in 40 Days describes a program consisting of an introductory meeting, forty days of self-guided prayer, and four dialogue meetings. This process helps new pastors and congregations build a partnership that starts strong and endures. "Day Nine" of the forty daily devotions, reprinted below, helps readers recognize that every beginning starts with an ending. By acknowledging what has ended, the new pastor and church members become free to invest fully in what is beginning.
Scripture Reading: Acts 20:36-37
Key Verse: What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again (Acts 20:38a).
Have you noticed that prayer and tears often flow together? Prayer comes from the deepest part of us. The feelings underlying our prayers are often very strong. Sometimes they are so strong that words fail, and we trust the Holy Spirit to intercede for us (Rom. 8:26).
When we pray with other Christians we form durable bonds. We may soon forget people we've chatted with, but those with whom we have prayed, we remember. The Book of Acts records many impromptu prayer meetings. Paul's farewell to the elders of Ephesus is a powerful example. Just five verses later we find another example of a similar prayer meeting—this one involving believers of all ages (Acts 21:5). In both situations, people were grieving. God had brought them together for a time. They shared a season of life and ministry. Now that time of shared service was ending. Goodbyes are hard. Tears fall.
Welcoming a new pastor is a time of beginnings. However, every beginning starts with an ending. Something ends, creating an opportunity for something new to develop. Members of a congregation say goodbye to one pastor before they can welcome another. Pastors and their family members bid farewell to members of the former congregation and community before arriving in the new place to serve the new congregation. The yo-yo movements of pastoral transitions create a bittersweet emotional experience.
Healthy transitions require us to name what we are grieving. Once we have acknowledged our losses, we can mourn appropriately. What are you losing? Who are you leaving behind? Sharing the story of these losses can be an important way to bond with those in our new situation. Talking honestly with one another about our losses connects us to one another and frees us to embrace the new opportunities afforded to us by our new situation.
Journal: What endings are you grieving at this time in your life? With whom might you share this grief?
1. See www.ellisonresearch.com. Section "Clergy Study", article title "Why do ministers change jobs."
2. Source: Lyle Schaller, Foreword to Beginning a New Pastorate by Robert G. Kemper, Creative Leadership Series, Abingdon Press, 1978.