The Cabinet is in retreat this week. We call it a retreat basically because we are away at a location instead of at the ministry center and we wear casual clothes. Beyond that it’s long work days! We have a fall “retreat” in September every year because we don’t usually meet in the summer and there is always lots to do and lots to catch up on. It also gives us a chance to hear what’s happening in one another’s lives.
It’s that last part that I want to share about this week. This is my sixth year on the Cabinet which also means it’s my sixth year out of the local church. Being a pastor is who I am. It is who I am to the core of my being and while I really do love the ministry of District Superintendent, I miss sharing life with a congregation. I miss being a part of people’s lives on a week to week basis. I miss the kind of connection that happens in a Bible Study where questions are raised and new insight is gained and decisions made. I miss it all (well most of it anyway). And honestly from some of the stories I’ve heard about how Cabinets sometimes function, I know I would never make it in some of those settings.
But I am incredibly grateful for the people I get to work with on this Cabinet. I am incredibly grateful for the leadership of this amazing Bishop and our Clergy Assistant to the Bishop, John Boley. We are, the 15 of us, a deep community. We are a praying community. We are a loving community. And I am so honored to be a part of these wonderful servants of Christ and Christ’s church.
And as I sit here thinking about how blessed I am in this community, I can’t help but think about you and the churches of the Grand Rapids District. Friends my abiding prayer for you is that you are experiencing this same sense of joy and celebration in your Church community. I pray that as you work together in your community you are discovering − even in the work − a depth of relationship that is rich and life giving. I pray that as you leave a meeting about vision, or money, or what’s next for your congregation, you leave tired and weary having spent yourself in the task but joyful because you are in it together. I pray you leave feeling connected and engaged and while there is significant work ahead, and the road may not be smooth, you have your eyes on Christ and you find excitement in the fact that you are rowing the boat together.
I pray that your community of faith, be it big or small, rich or struggling financially, theologically to one end of the spectrum or the other, is a place where you know you are loved deeply by God and by those with whom you share the journey. I pray you know without a shadow of a doubt that while you may not always (or often) think alike, you have one another’s backs because you love, respect, and trust one another.
I am grateful, deeply grateful that I find that love, respect and trust on the Cabinet. I pray you are finding that too, and are building that in your Church.
I’m going to the last meeting of a church ─ under my supervising responsibility ─ receiving a new pastor tonight. After five months and countless hours of Cabinet and local church work, the appointments/assignments are finished, at least for me, for this year.
As I reflect on that, I also think about the challenges of our appointive system. The first challenge is getting the right pastoral leaders into the right churches. I can honestly say I have been amazed at how God works in this process. Over the four years that I have been a part of the appointing of pastors to churches, I have seen God, through the creativity of Superintendents and our Bishop as well as the willingness of pastors to go where they are sent and churches to receive new pastoral leaders, bring about some wonderful ministry. It is awesome to watch as God leads and guides and moves in this practice to get the right pastor to the right church. And it is truly humbling to be a part of bringing it about and seeing it happen.
Now, does it always work out wonderfully? Of course not. As with any “system” it has flaws. Probably everyone reading this blog has a story of a church or an appointment that didn’t go well. You can tell me of a situation where it was a bad “match” and the church suffered, or a pastor suffered and things were a mess. It is not perfect. But no system is. I am certain that there are lots of stories of churches that did exhaustive searches and interviews and hired a pastor who seemed perfect only to discover six months down the road that it wasn’t working out.
Our itinerant/appointive way of sending clergy to churches is built upon trust; trust in the Bishop and Cabinet and trust in God. In the four moves I’ve experienced as a pastor, I never requested any of them and the church I served never asked that I be moved. In every situation things were going well, the church was growing and the relationship was good. But in the needs of the broader church the Bishop and Cabinet appointed me to a new place. And while it was always hard to leave those whom we had grown to love, in the place that had become home, and to let go of the ministry that was going well, we trusted that God was leading and we always discovered grace and fresh mission in every new setting. For my spouse who was a teacher it meant getting tenure again in every new place. She moved through the tenure process three different times before retiring in 2012! That was not easy either, but we again trusted that God was good and would lead us in the new place as God had in the one we were leaving. And every time, God did.
I understand that my experience is not reflective of everyone’s. I understand, as I said before, that every system and organization is imperfect. But as pastors prepare to go to new appointments, and churches prepare to receive new clergy this summer, my prayer for all is that God will use this change in deep and significant ways. That the change will bring about new possibilities in ministry for everyone involved and that in the midst of it all, new disciples will be made for Jesus Christ and the transformation of the world.