There is a lot of talk about “transition” in the pastorate right now. In my tribe, since the first generation of pastors are now much older, there is an emphasis on making room for the younger ones to begin taking the reins. Lance, a fellow pastor and friend, made the comment, “Crap, what about me?” What about the older, seasoned, veterans…do we just fade away? It’s a touchy subject, I won’t lie. At times the discussion sounds like agism, but then again, maybe I’m just old. There’s no shortage of pundits who will gladly tell you exactly how to make the shift. For those of us who have planted churches, and served in those churches for decades, it is especially sensitive.
Transition…change from one form to another. I like the definition, “evolution from one form, or stage to another.” Synonyms are, “changes, conversion, development, evolution, growth, passage, progress, shift, realignment.” For those of us in the midst of this maelstrom, don’t forget you don’t just transition “out,” but “into” something.
Some people will claim to know exactly what an elderly (oops…I mean slightly older) pastor should do. Unfortunately many of them have never pastored churches they founded for 20 or more years.
Here’s my 40 years plus of feelings, sweat, prayer, and now, wondering what the “final run” will look like. And, yes, keep in mind I have not made the transition yet. So, this is an opinion piece based on my perspective this side of the evolution:
1. No one can tell you exactly, precisely, what to do in your circumstances – I know this sounds like you shouldn’t get counsel. That’s not what I am saying. Get counsel. Read, go to conferences, gather research, & most of all find someone in a similar situation. But you my dear pastor friend, you are the man/woman, who will need to decide how your pursuit of the next dream will look. Ask God for wisdom. We are all different. My first pastor was in his mid-eighties. I was twenty.
2. Find a good coach/counselor – I have been meeting with someone for almost 2 years now that asks me the right questions in order to help me discover what God is doing in me, and wants to do in the future. It has been invaluable. I’ve learned that the older you get, the more specific your gifts get. You can’t spend your time & energy on everything, but must zero in on the main thing. If we can’t make that transition, we will certainly be miserable, & make everyone around us miserable as well.
3. Read the Bible & listen to the Holy Spirit – Culture is sometimes louder than Scripture. Abraham, Moses, David, Paul, John, none of these guys had a retirement plan. What they had was a “calling.” When Jesus drafted you, it was for eternity, not 30 years. Navigate these waters with Scripture in mind, & a keen ear to what the Spirit is saying. Paul had a Timothy, do you? Still, Paul ran his race to the end. Be careful in allowing thoughts to nest in your mind like, you are inconsequential, outmoded, a relic, a has-been, you’re in the way so get out of the way. Pray, pause, & plan. Remember, it’s a calling, & He’s still calling you forward.
4. Consult your leaders – If you are blessed enough to have men/women on your board, as elders, who love you and the church you have poured your life into for many years, they will only want the best for both, you and the church. They can help you discover how to approach this. They will know it is very personal for you, and want to help you find what God is up to.
I can’t say this enough, it is not about getting out of the way. It is about finding your way INTO what God is doing. We don’t quit, drop the mic, and walk off the stage. We finish our race, do what we were called to do when we first dreamed of starting the church. You still love it, you’re still responsible for it, so cross the line, before you recline. And remember this…it all begins with a conversation. Everything doesn’t have to happen ASAP.