Transition is a natural part of life. Transition in ministry is always an interesting proposition, and in my 28 years of ministry, it appears that God has called me to being a minister of transitions. I have been the guy working with those who are “left behind” when a minister transitions to a new chapter in his life’s call to follow Christ. A little background, then some advice:
In my first ministry at Westwood Christian Church in Ashland, KY, Don Boswell, the senior minister (my spiritual mentor) left for a ministry in Georgia after I had been there only a couple of years. I served as the interim pulpit/youth/every other kind of minister until we found a full time preacher again. After a time frame of about six months, I transitioned out of that ministry to a weekend preaching ministry in Flemingsburg, KY, until I received the call to youth ministry at Old Orchard Church of Christ in Ashland, KY.
I LOVED partnering with Tony Amerine at Old Orchard. We saw growth spiritually and numerically, and then, suddenly (way too soon for my taste), Tony left for a ministry in Canton, Ohio, where he still serves today. Once again, I was asked to serve in a variety of roles in an interim period that last way longer than any of us had hoped. I had no desire to be the preaching minister, and we finally settled on a minister who also was a professor at Kentucky Christian (College) University, Pete Verkruyse. Pete was a steadying influence in a time when we all needed that at Old Orchard. All was well until Pete brought the staff in one day to announce his move to Illinois. I knew that this move meant that I needed to see what God had in mind for me.
To my delight, it meant a move to Vero Beach, FL, to serve as the Family Life Minister at Vero Christian Church. The preacher had been there nearly 25 years, so it appeared to be a somewhat stable situation in spite of the fact that the former youth minister and some of the members of the congregation had split from VCC about six months prior to my contacting the church. God’s call was clear, so we headed to Vero Beach, and have been blessed to serve here since July 15, 2000.
Alas, my transition ministry calling kicked in again in 2005, when Danny Dye moved on to a ministry in Louisville, KY. Once again, for the too many-th time, I was asked to serve in an interim position while we searched for a preaching minister. Praise God that by 2007, we had brought in Steve Jones and he is still in that position with us today. About four years ago, I transitioned out of youth and family ministry to worship and adult discipleship. We brought Efren Rosario on board as our full time youth minister. I figured that when you are old enough to be the youth minister’s dad, it might be time to transition out of youth ministry.
Yesterday, we said goodbye to Efren, Katie and their girls as they are now transitioning to a student ministry in Columbus, OH. Needless to say, our students and sponsors at VCC are heartbroken for their loss, but happy for the Rosarios as they follow God’s call to Ohio.
I want to share seven observations to help folks get through the transition that comes in ministry (and life).
Remember that we follow Christ, not a particular individual.
If you are one being “left behind” by someone transitioning in ministry:
- Remember that we follow Christ, not a particular individual. We may really like the way that person leads, or talks, or sings, or plays video games, or whatever, but we are here to follow Christ and Christ alone.
- It’s okay to miss the one leaving, but focus on what God has in store for you from this point forward. Just as the one transitioning out must do, those of us who are left behind, must be faithful to the call God has on our lives.
- Be part of the proactive positive transition, don’t live in, yearn for, or dwell on the past. What’s done is done. What God has in store will be just as exciting!
Pray for the successful ministry of whoever replaces you.
If you are the one transitioning out:
- Leave the ministry in as good a shape as possible. Have sponsors/volunteers properly trained and have a transition plan in place to help them succeed.
- Don’t totally cut off all ties with the folks you have been ministering to/with, but do not allow them to be dependent upon you once you are gone. They must learn to live without your regular, daily influence, and you must focus on the new group of people God is placing in your care. Don’t allow yourself to get sucked back in to any issues that may arise in your former ministry location. Not your job. Not your ministry.
- Pray for the successful ministry of whoever replaces you. It’s all about the Kingdom, baby!
I have been on both sides of the transition ministry situation. It is not fun, but it is part of life. I pray that all of us will remember to follow Christ, and to pray for one another always.