Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Leaving and Arriving

It's soon a year since I left Salem and arrived at Montecito Covenant. I don't like to think about it, but I'm now getting almost good at leaving and arriving. It's the fourth church we have served. We have deep and wonderful friends in all the other churches. Over the years we have visited them, they have visited us, called us in times of crisis and joy.
During the first moves, I don't think I left well. Pastors fall in love with churches and members. We celebrate births and deaths, marriages and anniversaries, graduations and promotions. We grieve with each other at losses and wounds. We wrestle together on boards and councils, committees and task forces, building groups and Bible study, missions trips, ski trips and Bible travel. These are all friends I will love till I die. But I'm no longer their pastor.
My problem was that I sometimes felt free to step back in a comment on the different decisions my predecessors made, the changes they made to the ways I used to do things (so very well in my thinking). I would allow myself to be asked back to funerals and weddings, when really, I should have gone back as a family friend and insisted my successor took the lead. That used to be so hard to do, to leave and let go. I felt like I was abandoning my friends to someone who could not pastor nearly as well as I could.
But, over the years, I have come to realized that as long as I kept acting like the pastor in former churches, providing pastoral guidance and leadership, I was simultaneously doing two unhealthy things: I was not allowing my successor to be the pastor whenever I showed up and I was not fully present to my new congregation because I had a "kept church" I would go back to, dividing my loyalties.
I hope to be a better predecessor to my successor at Salem than I have been in the past to others. I think this is a bigger concern out there than is talked about. Part of it is in our congregational polity, the Superintedents really don't have any teeth to bite with to reign in and call to accountability the behavior of former pastors. I would love to see a general discussion on some level about ethical guidelines for leaving and arriving.


At 7:14 AM , Anonymous kent said...

Going back has been a conflictual thing for me. If I go back it has been because someone who was and is signigicant to me has either died or has a child who is getting married. I rarely go back eagerly. I know that I do not "belong" there any longer. In fact I would not have gone back the last time except that the church was without a pastor.

One of the interesting emotions that I have when I go back is the strong feeling that I need to leave. The people are great, very nice and supportive, but I just want to leave. It is not my home.

People want to tell me things (rarely positive) and at times I am sad to say I want to listen. But there is nothing I can do or ought to do. It is a challenging path to walk.

At 8:29 AM , Blogger donnjohnson said...

That's the weird hook, isn't it? That we want to listen to what we know we should not be hearing and will not build up the body.

At 5:35 PM , Anonymous kent said...

That is true, but only until something in the church you are serving grabs your attention and you are brought back to where you belong.

At 6:45 AM , Anonymous Isaac said...

Letting go is hard. And this issue stretches accross all fields. As a programmer I constantly have to remind myself that I am not my code. And that sometimes, in moving to a new group or new company, I have to be willing to let go of projects I invested a lot of time and passion into.

I used to call back to former companies, or to new developers taking over my projects and shepard them along, never really letting go. but today I'm getting better at divorcing myself from my work.

Perhaps Paul has something to say about all this.

At 5:54 AM , Blogger Rick said...

This is a great discussion and I agree worthy of some serious further discussion.

I think most Supers want to be "player-coaches" or at least be perceived as that, and maybe that's why they are reticent to speak a word of correction if a pastor is too invested in a previous church.

I'm also in my fourth church, but two of those churches closed their doors subsequent to my departure, so there are friends in those places but no church to revisit. Some people still talk about how sick "that church" was, and I have to extract myself from that conversation quickly - because they are right and unlike Dorothy, I don't want to "go back to Kansas" because that sickness can still gnaw at me.

The one church that still ministers - I have only been back twice. I dunno, maybe I left pretty well.

I guess a key diagnostic question is, what if the friend is one who moved away from that church and they are talking about their *new* church (of which I was never pastor). How would that change our interaction? Because, a la "You can't step in the same river twice", you, Don, never pastored Lafayette 2006 or Muskegon 2006. You just pastored churches in the same places, with many of the same faces.

At 10:41 AM , Blogger Rev. Johnny Agurkis said...

Excellent conversation and points for larger discussion. Too often our continued ties to the "former congregation" result from an unwillingness on our part to accept the portion of the new call from God that contains the "I have someone else I want to now pastor this flock" thought. It's exciting to know God wants us somewhere new, but not so exciting to remember that he wants us out of the way at the same time.


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