I am now preparing to leave one congregation and be the spiritual leader of a new one. I have done this four times previously. It is never easy and if it was, I would not be the kind of shepherd I was called to be. The best way to leave is to admit the grief, celebrate the good times, thank God for the lessons learned in the hard times and tell folks how much they mean to you. I spoke to two folks today among the thousands who have blessed me in my present church. The first I was his mentor, officiated at his wedding, ushered him through the process of deciding to attend seminary and watched him grow into a visionary leader in this church. Wow, God blessed me so much through this guy's faith journey! The second was a dear saintly lady in her eighties. The last year she has had a host of physical ailments. Yet none of this dampened her faith or stole her sense of humor. Every time I call her I know she will cause me to laugh and to be glad I called. These two folks are the kind of fellow believers that make being a pastor such a joy and a privilege. They are part of the reason I never say good-bye when departing. We will still be brothers and sisters in the kingdom and we can still be friends and fellow sojourners on the path to Heaven. This does not change.
There are some definite changes. I will no longer be their pastor or spiritual guide once I depart. I want them to call on their new pastor for prayers, spiritual counsel and to visit them in the hospital, officiate at their weddings and lead their funerals. I plan to only return for these functions when their new pastor says I am needed and can join him in these duties and privileges. I will be leading a new flock, mentoring leaders and staff in the new church and seeking to be faithful in that parish.
Yes, transitions are tough when you have grown to love a community of people. St. Paul wept at the remembrance of the churches in Rome and Macedonia. I know how he felt. I also know God always has many blessings in store. The best is still to come for my present church and one I prepare to meet and lead. God is good...all the time!