By Cam Taylor
For some, the news came out of nowhere. For others, they saw it coming. For me, the news came as a relief and as a result of a long and sometimes painful process of self-discovery and soul searching. I’m speaking of the news to leave my church after 17 years of pastoral ministry.
Leaving was hard. But what would have been worse was stubbornly staying at the church for the wrong reasons. I’m glad I listened to the Lord and didn’t allow the strength of perseverance to become the weakness of stubborn refusal.
My leaving started with believing. Believing God was calling me to leave. Believing God would look after those I would leave behind. Believing the 1-½ year process of struggling to discern God’s will was finally coming to an end and it was time to move on. Believing God would make the next assignment clear after I left my current assignment.
Fowing out of believing came the actual leaving. The thought of leaving was quite different from the act of leaving. Leaving was final. Leaving hurt people. Leaving created instability. Leaving meant change. Leaving meant letting go of what I knew, to embrace what was coming. Leaving however, resulted in new found freedom to go deeper in faith and explore new possibilities that staying would never have provided.
The toughest part of leaving was having to go through grieving. Believing was huge in importance, but grieving was an equal partner in significance. Grieving became my friend and a friend to the church as it went through transition. I agree with Shakespeare who said, “He that lacks time to mourn, lacks time to mend.”
Grieving was like an obstacle course that we passed through before receiving the fruit of acceptance. I learned to talk openly about the grieving process and encouraged the church family to meet anger, blame, denial, isolation, bargaining, and depression with courage, openness, and honesty so that acceptance would come. As I grieved I let the tears flow. When I was depressed I went back to the trigger thought and worked it through. I met with friends to talk and pray. I wrote in my journal. I went for long walks until God’s peace came. I met with the people and let them talk, remember, and tell their story.
Another part of our transition was the receiving of outside help. Even before I announced I was leaving, I helped the church connect with people who would help them through this transition. Losing a pastor was new to many of them as were the steps required to prepare for the continuation of the church under a new pastor. For some in leadership and for many people in the church, I was the only pastor they had known. Under those circumstances, receiving help was critical. I learned to back off my involvement and allow others to step up and provide the leadership required to navigate these turbulent waters.
The reality for the church as it prepared for my leaving was that the transition was more difficult for them than I thought it would ever be. Not everyone took my leaving well. Some left before I did. Some who stayed developed a “wait and see” attitude about the future instead of a “whatever it takes” attitude.
What has kept me grounded and moving forward has been the choice to keep believing that God is at work and will continue to be at work regardless of the outcome of this transition. The farewell event was a true celebration of God’s work and our ministry among and alongside these people. In my last message to the church community, I reminded the church family that even though this leg of the race is over, we still have a race to finish. My words to them as we both continue to run the race, was that I looked forward to “seeing them at the finish line.” Now that ultimate and final transition is the best news ever!
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