It’s June. Some Methodist churches find themselves in transition with their leadership. After nine years at our church, and serving 35 years as a minister, our senior pastor is retiring. We’ll be welcoming our new pastor on July 1. Between now and then, life inside the walls of our church is a bit hectic.
Our retiring pastor has been working to clear out his office. The chair of the Trustees and I have been working on improvements to the pastor’s office—a new paint job, electrical work, and a thorough cleaning are in progress. Our staff parish-relations team has been busy planning the farewell for our current pastor and a welcome for our new pastor.
Even before the pandemic, the role of pastor, the leader in a church, was full of challenges. In our constantly changing world, a pastor can’t be a one-dimensional leader. A pastor must have a wide range of skills to be able to lead a congregation.
In my role as the director of operations for our church, I too have multiple responsibilities. One of my least favorite chores is painting, but for the last few days, I’ve been working on painting the pastor’s office. I started with the prep work. A bit of dusting, removing picture hooks, spackling the holes from those hooks, and using blue painter’s tape to tape edges at various points along the walls. The taping requires precise placement as I don’t want to create more cleanup work when the painting is over.
During the last ten years, I’ve learned a lot about churches. Often churches think a fresh coat of paint will make church life better—attendance, finances, community outreach, and helping people to grow spiritually will improve. In truth, that puts quite a bit of pressure and hope on a new coat of paint. Coming out of the pandemic, churches will need to do lots of thinking. Sometimes, this will mean doing the unthinkable—making overdue changes.
As I think about painting the pastor’s office, I keep coming back to the prep work. That blue painter’s tape was critical to the final product. The tape was both a guide and a shield. New pastors will also need a dose of guidance and shielding as they start to learn about their new assignment. It doesn’t matter the type of organization, there is always a lot for a new leader to learn about “the turf” and the personalities in a new environment.
Congregations can’t lose sight of the fact that they need guidance and shield work too. Congregations who continue to shield and protect programming that has lost its effectiveness will need to become more open minded—open minded enough to really see and understand how a new pastor might see their long cherished program from a different angle.
In fact, if we really think about the ministry work of Jesus, that might just be what he was trying to teach us—take a step back, and look at what your church offers from a different angle. Peering at your church from a different perspective might present an opportunity for asking relevant questions and having productive conversations that lead to change. And when a congregation and a new pastor decide to initiate some changes, I hope these words from John 13:34-35 remain fresh in their minds: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (NIV). Remember that love is just as critical as blue painter’s tape.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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