Psalm 121 has been words I’ve had in my head for the last few months. Now as I understand this passage, it’s almost a song sung by one or more people who are making their way to Jerusalem and if you understand it that way, it helps you to understand some of the words in this Psalm in a whole new way. Phrases like: “I lift my eyes to the hills”, “He won’t let your foot slip”, and phrases about the sun and the shade reflect things to consider while traveling.
I want to relate this post to two of the verses in this Psalm. Psalm 121:7-8 says “The LORD will keep you from all harm — He will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” Now for me, I’m not going to Jerusalem or anything like that but I am coming and going and as I consider that, I know that God is with us/me.
Right now (mid September 2010) I’m in a very awkward place in life. Almost 2 months ago my resignation letter was read from our current church and simultaneously an acceptance letter was read at our new church. It’s an awkward time because I’m used to leading and thinking about what’s next and I can’t really do any of that where I am and as anxious as I am to get rolling in our new call, I can’t begin there yet as well.
So, this post is dedicated to those who’ve experienced the joys of coming and going in ministry. If your ministry is a volunteer ministry, this might relate less to you as I’ll guess you won’t be switching churches as much but if you’re a pastor or on staff at a church, there is a good chance it does relate to you.
I had toyed with writing two articles on this, one for the “coming” and one for the “going,” but I think we can speak to all of this in one so here goes. My hope is to share with you my approach to the “coming’s and going’s” with churches. (I’ll add that I’ve been on staff at 3 churches over the last 13 years and have transitioned now several times and I hope this current transition is the last for a while)
1.Finish strong – Be encouraged to close out ministry at one church as strong as possible. (The closer your time gets to completing your service the harder this gets is my experience)
2.When I arrived here it took almost 6 months to get a feel for every local resource and contact that would be of value for me and it took a year to understand this church’s calendar cycle and as I’m leaving here and as I’ve done in the previous churches that I’ve left, I’ve written down as much as I can for the next pastor so that I can shorten their learning curve. My hope isn’t to steer them to any particular end, but to share any practical aids that I can.
3.I’ve tried in every church setting that I’ve been in to be as relational and available for people as possible. That was a little easier when I was in youth ministry.
4.I also am trying to do my best to stay out of the way of what happens in the churches that I’m transitioning out of when it comes to knowing what’s going on
with their future pastors and the future vision of the church. Before I resigned it was fair for me to be fully aware and to give input but now that I am leaving, it just isn’t appropriate.
1. I know this phrase isn’t in the passage but I’ll offer one other idea. The first move I made to another church had a total of 4 days in between calls. For practical purposes of moving 2000+ miles, that was less then ideal in retrospect. In the two moves that have followed I’ve figured out ways to break even financially and have 2-3 weeks off to transition, to move, and to breathe. And if you’ve ever felt burned out in a church or even hurt, perhaps even just a short break is what you need for gap time.
1. When I was a kid in HS, my home church called a new pastor and I remember my parents being impressed with how quickly he knew people’s names in a large church. It turns out that he got a copy of the photo directory and started to learn names before he got to our church. I’m trying to do that same idea now with Facebook and our new church’s directory. I asked my new Senior Pastor to suggest friends for me from the church and I’m following them, and me and my wife are looking over their directory as well.
2.One of my inner weak spots is comparing myself to my predecessor or hearing folks say “such and such used to do things this way.” I know I’m not them and I won’t do things like them and I need to remind myself that I was called to this church for who I am, not who they want me to be. I trust at the same time, the people in our new church grab that too.
3.For as much as I want to get organized and set up and start leading in any new church, the first and primary thing that I work at is building relationships and that is something I hope I’m always doing. My tendency is to organize first and then focus on relationships but I think reversing that order is so much more healthy.
4.The last advice I’ll offer is nothing new but it’s so good to consider. I’ve heard it said many times that when you arrive in a new church, wait 6-12 months before you start making changes. I think we need to earn peoples trust and confidence first before we lead. I’ve also heard it said that after 18 months at a church it gets tough to make changes as things start to cement in place so if both of those ideas are true, then it seems like if there is a time to make changes, it’s in months 6-18 of your new calling. For me, that means that if in those first 6 months that I want to perhaps change things that instead I’m making a list of things to possibly change and constantly evaluating the ideas in my head and patiently waiting for the right time to make changes if needed.
Hey…ya know what? As I wrote all of that down, it was kind of therapeutic…For you, if you’re ever in transition which you may be in the future, know that God leads your comings and goings and that He is with you wherever you are…
Psalm 121:7-8 — “The LORD will keep you from all harm — He will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”
If you read this and you have some suggestions for things that have helped you in transition, please feel free to jump in on the comment board with those ideas. And if there was anything that I wrote that you don’t get or even question, again, feel free to comment.
Blessings on your ministry now and wherever God has you in the days beyond today,
Rev. Mark Johannesen is pastor at Word of Life Lutheran Brethren Church in LeSueur, Minnesota.