Transitioning to new ministry assignments does not have to be traumatic.

“…for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher” (II Timothy 1:11).

The Lord did not call me to preach.

In the Spring of my senior year of college, the Lord called me into the ministry.

He did not call me to preach.

He did not call me to the mission field or to the pastorate or to be the director of missions for a Baptist association. (At the time, I loved working with youth so much, I kept wanting to discover He’d called me to that. But, no.)

God called me into the ministry. I recall the moment so precisely and the way the Holy Spirit worded it: “I want you in the ministry.”

That is a broader definition than the others, and it indicated from the first that His specific assignments for me might vary from time to time.

As they did and continue to do so.

Over a half-century of ministry, I pastored six churches, served as assistant pastor for one-and-a-half (long story), director of missions for five years, and as a retiree have had an itinerant ministry for four years. Throughout all that, I have written hundreds of articles, written chapters for books (even seminary textbooks, if you can believe it), illustrated books, done an evangelistic comic book for missionaries in Singapore, and drawn cartoons for Baptist publications for over four decades. For nearly 20 years, I’ve been an adjunct faculty member of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. (Sorry for giving you my resume’ here. It seemed the place for it.)

Every church assignment was different, every congregation was unique, every relocation required adjustments and change and growth.

I loved each one. I learned a hundred new things in each assignment. I wouldn’t change any of it, looking back, if I could.

Now, other than the typical new-kid-in-school bewilderment (“where is my locker?”), I had very little problems with the changes the assignments involved.

So? Why would we make an issue of this?

I see pastors who cannot let go of their present place of service in order to move on to the next thing.

I see pastors who are long past the age (meaning the energy, creativity, and ability) where they can do their work well, but they will not turn loose and retire so the church can bring in someone new and younger and fresh.  The old preacher seems willing to ride the church down rather than acknowledge that this is the Lord’s church and He can take care both of it and of me if I retire.

Some who read this would be surprised to learn that fear is a big factor in the lives of many people called by God into the ministry. Fear of letting go, fear of going on to the Lord’s next thing. Fear of the unknown future, fear of the known realities.

And nothing about this kind of fear is good. “Why do you fear? Where is your faith?” our Lord asked on one occasion.

I see denominational people who have to be forcibly retired when they could have walked away on their own terms with grace and honor had they been smart.

I have a few suggestions, nothing comprehensive I imagine. Just some thoughts that come to mind for the minister who has trouble adjusting from the large church to the small one, from a pastorate to denominational work, and so forth.

1) Go back and ask the Father to redefine your call. See what precisely it was to which He summoned you. You may be limiting the Lord by refusing to do the new thing He has for you.

2) Examine your passion.  What is it about your present work that energizes you and fulfills you?  One unemployed pastor sat in my office and burst out, “But Joe–you don’t understand! Preaching is my passion!”  I said, “Then, Jim, that might be your problem.  Jesus wants to be your passion.”  Give him credit; he took it well and responded with appreciation.

3) Make sure you are hearing from the Lord on this, and not taking counsel of your fears. He not only knows the future, but He lives there. You can trust His leadership. “He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”

4) If you have made the switch and find that the adjustment to your new work is more difficult than you expected, ask the Lord to give you a counselor to whom you can pour out your frustrations and receive a word of wisdom.

Having said all of this, I have an admission.  I said above that none of the ministry changes had caused adjustment problems for me. That’s not entirely true. (Although I meant it when I typed it a few days ago. Smiley-face goes here. I’ve worked on drafts of this article two weeks or more.)

After my third pastorate, I became minister of evangelism of a large church. This being a newly created staff position, no one at the church had any idea what exactly I was to do. Nor did I.  I was making it up as I went. And, I was missing the pulpit.

What happened was a) I was invited to teach the college Sunday School class, which served as a great outlet for my need to preach/teach; b) the denomination introduced a training program for churches to teach soulwinning to their people, which I enrolled in quickly and began teaching; and c) my seminary introduced a practical doctoral program which perfectly fit my situation and my church supported my enrollment (which would not have happened had I been pastoring still).  I stayed at that church in the staff position for three life-changing years and continue to have great memories and terrific friends from the experience.

The adjustments I went through were simply growing pains. And it’s great to grow!

 

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