--Pastor Jamey Nichols
Apologies to Charles Dickens for swiping the iconic title from his classic novel only to use it on a pedestrian article in a small-town church newsletter (I rather hope he would be flattered, actually).
As FCC begins her newest transition, I appreciated the wisdom of our church moderator, Emily VanKleeck, at the inaugural meeting of our Transition Team. She talked about focus. The choice, she explained, is to either focus on what we are losing through change or, instead, how God has blessed us over the years; about how days ahead might be challenging versus what God might be wanting to do in and through FCC. Aptly spoken.
If there is one “silver lining” to all this from my perspective, it’s that I segue with a full heart. How can I possibly begin to express the ways in which the last 18 years have impacted my life! It is impossible. I arrived as a promising newbie who, up to that point, had only served as a pastoral assistant. I was to assume my first (and only!) senior pastorate at age 35. Our oldest, Gabe, was not yet in first grade and our youngest, Mitch was barely out of diapers. Samantha was wearing frilly lace dresses and hiding behind Michelle. Now, I will be departing with our nest nearly empty. Gabe is living outside of Columbus working in corporate finance, Samantha graduates CMU in a couple months with a degree in Early Childhood, and Mitch is in his senior year at Cornerstone University. His ongoing student ministry here at FCC is one way that part of me sticks around. I’m happy about that. There are other ways I will still be “around” and that’s really what this article is about. Perhaps I should have titled it, “How to Be a Former Pastor Without Getting in the Way.”
Because I am transitioning into a form of church consulting, I won’t be moving away from Stanton in any conventional sense. Rather, I will be traveling a lot back and forth between our home here and wherever the Lord takes me around the country. Since I will still be around Stanton somewhat, that might make things weird for some of you or for the new pastor once one is finally selected (more on that next month). It is certainly an atypical situation, but it doesn’t have to be awkward. FCC is forever in my heart and that never changes. Nevertheless, when I officially become your “former pastor,” I never want to be a nuisance to God’s work. The great expectations I have for what this new arrangement might look like are as follows:
Between Now and the Next Pastor
- I will HAPPILY make pastoral care visits, do weddings/funerals, even fill the pulpit as I am able so long as a new pastor has not yet been installed.
- I am always available to our staff and board members to consult on things for which the information may be buried in my brain rather than written down in our organization’s papers.
- I will continuously be praying and rooting for the spiritual flourishing of each one of you individually and for the testimony of this congregation in general.
After the New Pastor is Installed
- I will not listen if you try to negatively confide in me about the new pastor. If you do this, I will offer to accompany you to talk to the pastor and, if you aren’t willing, I will call the pastor to let him know you’re disgruntled but didn’t have the courage to say so directly.
- I will not attend a public service of worship at FCC unless the pastor invites me.
- I will not agree to participate in any funeral or wedding or act in a pastoral capacity to any FCC member while another pastor is installed.
Throughout the Years to Come
- I will be honored to join with you in any church event if I am able and if the pastor invites me to participate.
- I will be glad to stay in touch and will remain interested in trading stories about the joys and sorrows of our lives.
- When I am in town, I will be delighted to see you at the grocery or the hardware and I will most likely hug you and tell you how much I miss seeing you on a regular basis.
Usually, when pastors resign they go away. Sometimes, far away. That often means the relationship is done. Kaput. Over. There are new congregations, new towns, new loyalties. This departure is not like that. I continue to care very much for this ministry and for all of you. My longings for your growth in God and his Word persist. I hope to be a friend to the next pastor, and I hope FCC grows and thrives under the leadership of the person God has prepared to be the next shepherd of this wonderful church. I hope that, in the spirit of Hebrews 13:17, each of you submits your loyalty and support to the new pastor and stays faithful to our wonderful church.
Sure, there is much that could happen in the months ahead. But those thousands of possibilities are influenced in large part by what we expect to happen. In counseling that is known as self-fulfilling prophecy. Focus with me on God’s constant goodness and trust with me in The One for whom and through whom FCC (and every other congregation of Christians!) exists. Soli Deo Gloria!