Pastoral Transitions: A Few Thoughts

I’m back in the saddle again. It feels like forever since I’ve written anything, and that’s because it has been forever. I am now writing from a different office in a different church in a different town in a different state, 600 miles away from where I have lived for the last 10 years of my life. It’s not a small feat to sell a condo, pick up your family and all your possessions, move several states away, buy a new home, and settle into an entirely different environment with almost entirely new relationships. So I haven’t written much lately.

Before I jump back into my blog series on the Psalms, I’d like to take the opportunity to blog about the experience of pastoral transitions while it is still fresh on my mind. I have often wondered what it is like. I have often wondered if all the effort is really worth it or necessary. I don’t think I will ever know the full answer to those questions this side of heaven, but I do have a few thoughts you may find interesting or helpful when you experience a pastoral transition, whether you are a church member watching events unfold or you are a fellow minister in the trenches. These thoughts come in no particular priority or order.

  1. God really does “open” and “close” doors. I used to hear this statement and think, “Yeah, you wanted to go do something else, but maybe you just weren’t cut out for it.” That is an arrogant, harsh thought, but I’ll admit I used to think it all the time. As I look back over the last year, I can point to specific circumstances where God clearly closed and opened doors, and it was all outside my control. There are so many factors. Calling. Giftedness. Goals. Timing. Multiple churches. Other candidates. Ministry philosophy. Communication. Money. Relationships. And God is sovereign over it all. Be careful to not belittle God’s sovereignty by questioning where God has placed his servants.
  2. Marry up. I heard this recently as my wife and I watched a special service our alma mater put on for Ron Hamilton, AKA “Patch the Pirate.” Ron Hamilton could not have been the successful songwriter that he was without his wife, Shelly, arranging and fueling into the creative genius that made all those wonderful and wonky songs. And I definitely married up. My wife Emily has been a stable, faithful companion through all the change and transition. We moved from her home church, away from her parents (they lived 15 minutes away), and her town she’s lived in for the majority of her life. She took care of our 1 yr. old and a 4 yr. old daughters while living in temporary housing for a month (thank you Gospel Furthering Fellowship!) before we moved into our new home. It’s a task not quite as daunting as carrying and delivering and raising a baby, but it’s pretty close. We’ll be unpacking boxes for months while settling into a new routine, new grocery stores, new everything. And yet she willingly did all this because she was convinced that if God wanted us to go, we should go. That is a true servant’s heart, a “here am I, send me” mentality that God can mold and use.
  3. God has his people everywhere. When we left Greenville, we had several kind and giving friends who sent us off with personal gifts and cards. They helped us pack up all our belongings and offered whatever help they could. I broke down in tears a few weeks ago when I opened a package with a generous gift from our former church and several hand-drawn cards from kids who were in our Wednesday evening children’s program. That’s what we cherish looking back- the relationships. The disciple-making joint venture that we journeyed on with other fellow sinners-made-saints. And coming to our new ministry, we were overjoyed to discover God has his people here. Many came to help us move our stuff (which is all it really is to them). Perhaps one of the most awkward and difficult experiences is watching other people sweat and grunt and struggle to move your own stuff. You know they won’t get to enjoy it nearly as much or as often as you. Yet they do it anyway. We have had others give up hours and days of their time and resources to help us paint, fix, and prepare things in our new home. We could not have done all this without these fellow believers, without God’s church. We cherish these memories with our new friends, these new relationships that make up the real “stuff” of life that matters most. It makes us excited for the future.
  4. It’s worth it. Whether you are a missionary or a pastor or whatever your calling in life, don’t forget that every bit of effort is worth it for the sake of the gospel and for the furtherance of the kingdom. To quote Jesus, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29) I can’t tell you how many times I have explained to people what we are doing and how we got here, only to find that they think I’m crazy. It just doesn’t make sense to the world to give up comfort, security, familiarity, and on the list goes. I’ve found that in our culture it really is all about climbing the ladder, providing ease and comfort for yourself, and living the American dream. And that destructive mentality has crept into the church. But we have a higher calling. When you have a Great Commission to carry out, you seek God’s direction, count the cost, acknowledge the risk, and plunge in. The reward for those saved and commissioned by Christ is “a hundredfold…and eternal life.” I can tell you from experience, obeying God’s will for your life far better than living the American dream. As John Piper has said, don’t waste your life!

C.P.

Can You Count the Stars?

Recently I was reading a Bible story book with my three-year old daughter, Evelyn. God tells Abraham that his descendants would be as many as the stars in the sky. So, naturally, Evelyn started counting. She found 17 stars. How many stars can you count in the sky? None of us can count the stars. Based on the estimates scientists throw out there, I highly doubt any of them have taken the time to try. And yet, even though we fail that simple little challenge, for some reason we still buy into the lie that God doesn’t understand us, or know us, or care about us. Nothing could be further from the truth.

So far I’ve been talking in these blogs about what we learn from the fact that God is our Creator. Here’s today’s truth: God’s creation teaches me that God intimately understands me. As Creator, God knows everything and is everywhere. His great knowledge comes from his exalted position on high from which he sees all (Ps. 14:2). Meditate on this gem for a while, it’s one of my favorites:

“He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure.”
~Psalm 147:4-5

God knows how many stars there are because he made them all! And he made you and me. God’s unlimited knowledge of us can be either a comfort or a conviction, depending on what kind of a person you are. The Psalms divide all of humanity into two simple categories- the righteous and the wicked.

God Knows the Wicked

God tells us he “notes mischief and vexation” and will act justly on behalf of the fatherless (Ps. 10:14a; 21:8). God has choice words for those who abuse other people, a topic I will write about in much further detail later on. God takes sin against other people seriously, and so should you. It is no laughing matter. God will not overlook sin; he will judge the wicked.

God Knows the Righteous

On the other hand, for those who come to God through Jesus Christ, in faith believing and confessing their sins, he gives them the right to be his children (Jn. 1:12-13). And it is a wonderful thing to be a child of God. Here’s why:

“As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”
~Psalm 103:13-14

Psalm 139 develops this unique theme extensively. God’s knowledge of us is personal (vv. 1-2), thorough (vs. 2), unbound by time (vs. 4), providential (vs. 5), and beyond our ability to comprehend (vs. 6). As Jonah found out, God’s knowledge of us is inescapable (vv. 7-13).

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Photo by Aditya Romansa on Unsplash

Isn’t wonderful to know you are understood? In contrast, how awkward is it when you feel as if you can’t connect with someone? God understands you like no one else. He knows your weaknesses, temptations, limitations and frustrations. He knows how to compassionately bear with you during your greatest wins and biggest failures. That is a comforting truth for today, but it also offers hope for the future. In Christ, the righteous need not fear in the day of judgment (Ps. 1:6; 11:4c-5a; 17:2a).

A Matter of Life and Death

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Because God’s knowledge of us and plans for us are unbound by time, God tells us he has wonderful plans for us even in the womb (vv. 4, 15-16). God views life in the womb as his divine quilting project. Destroying his delicate and beautiful “quilts” is murder. We have no right to interfere. God even views us as taking sides with the wicked when we abuse life in the womb. Most of my readers would heartily agree with me on this, but if you disagree with me, I gently submit to you this question- can you count the stars? Do you call them all by name? If God created and named every star, how much more does he care about every baby in the womb? I encourage you to click on the passages I reference and see what God has said.

Childlike Trust

On a more positive note, God can deliver you from the “hidden traps” (Ps. 142:3) that lie in your path today. But, for him to show us the way, we need to turn to him like a child. We need to submit our plans and our way to his sovereign care. We need to confess any sin that has put us in the camp of the wicked. We need to relinquish our “rights” that we cling to, and instead trust God’s Word. Then we will find understanding, forgiveness, and grace. God’s creation teaches me that God intimately understands me. If he does, then I can trust that he knows what is best.

C.P.