Seven days from today, I will begin a new call. I was nervous about telling the president of my current congregation that I was leaving. Over lunch I informed him and explained my reasons. I was relieved that he understood. We talked about the future for that congregation, what I thought and saw, and laughed over some good memories. Despite all that, it was the joke he made at the end that stuck with me.
“It’s OK,” he teased. “You pastors are always coming and going.”
We laughed at the time, but as I thought about it more, the humor of that statement faded. He was right. Pastors change congregations often. I will be the fourth pastor in my next congregation’s 35-year history, and they’ve had far less transition than my last call. I once visited a congregation that was 150 years old, and they had a wall of photographs and paintings of their pastors. I counted almost 50 – 50! Their average tenure was three years. The reasons vary, but by and large the president of my congregation was right. Indeed, pastors come and go.
The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that members also come and go. Oh, sure, there are some who sit in the same pew for decades. But while they are doing that, others are coming and going around them. The reasons also vary. Sometimes it is simply the circle of life. Babies are born, people die; these things happen. Sometimes there are schisms that cause members to leave or wonderful new programs that attract new blood. The reasons vary, but it’s not just pastors who come and go. It’s also members.
All of this transition made me wonder who should be running our congregations. Pastors come and go, so having pastors run congregations does not seem like the way to go. Same thing with members. With all these people coming and going, who should run our congregations?
There’s only one person left, and that’s God. Since it’s God’s church anyway, it seems to me that God should run it. God was there before there were members or a pastor, and God will be there when all of us are gone. Plus, I’m pretty sure God has a better idea of what to do in a given situation than all of us put together. It’s not the pastors or the members who should be running our congregations. It’s God.
So the next time my congregation has a decision to make, that’s how I’m going to approach it. I’m not going to treat it like my congregation, or even the member’s congregation. I’m going to let God make the decision. Whether it’s what to do in worship, how to run a program, or what color napkins we use, I’m going to leave every decision up to God. I’ve never been part of a congregation like that before, but it sounds like one I could stay at forever.