During my last service as pastor of Immanuel Church on June 30, Immanuel will give a commission to Sue and me, and I will be asked to give a commission to the people of Immanuel Church. Because some may not be able to be at that service, I am sharing some of those thoughts in this edition of the Immanuel newsletter. I would begin by saying that before I give a commission to you concerning what I believe you should do going forward, I want to say “thank you” for all that you have done for me and for all that you have shared with me, because I have received more than you could imagine in friendship and blessings. For these blessings, I am truly grateful.
My commission to you, first, is that you welcome and befriend the new pastor as you welcomed me and my family. One of the benefits of being called to a church as a pastor is that you immediately have a network of close friends who welcome you as part of the family. I trust that you will do this for the new pastor.
Second, I would ask that you let the new pastor be him/or herself. Dr. Don Longbottom wrote an excellent article in a recent newsletter of the South Central Conference called “Taking Care of Your Pastor.” In the article, Dr. Don writes, “Years ago I replaced the retiring pastor of a church in southern Kansas… Before the former minister left town, we had lunch, and I was given the opportunity to pick his brain. He left me with a thought that has become more important to me as the years have passed. He told me after 40 years in the ministry that he had learned to be “OK” with who he was. I nodded my head while thinking to myself, ‘That’s not much for 40 years of labor.’
What I realize now is that he had shared with me a profound bit of wisdom. Probably the hardest thing in the ministry is to simply be who you are. The expectations placed upon a minister are as varied as the congregation. You are expected to be spiritual but down to earth, and also intelligent and well educated but able to make all truth simple. You are supposed to love everybody even when some aren’t being very nice. The list goes on and on… Here is the greatest gift you can give your minister. Let your pastor be themselves. Jesus is not applying for the job, and the rest of us are flawed… Give your minister the gift of grace; love them as they are and not as you wish them to be… Love your pastor in all their flawed humanness, recognizing that all of us are journeying towards becoming who God has created us to be.”
Third, I would commission you to keep being involved in ministry to the community and mission outreach. Don’t become turned in on yourselves, because that will lead to a slow death.
Fourth, I would commission you to be open to new ideas and new ways of being the church. The world is changing more rapidly than ever before in history, and if the church is not able to change and adapt, it will become irrelevant. We in the church will need to embrace change and not fear it.
Fifth, I would commission you to engage in the open and affirming study process of the UCC. The resource, Building an Inclusive Church: A Welcoming Toolkit 2.0, is a step-by-step guide to help facilitate an open and affirming process in the local congregation. Biblically and theologically based, Building an Inclusive Church uses tools of relational organizing, congregational assessment, conflict management, and change theory. It will help the congregation to become a community that openly welcomes all people.
Sixth, I would commission you to be positive. Negative energy is ever present in any congregation, and it thwarts all the efforts being made to grow the congregation. When I was first called as Immanuel’s pastor, I made it a point to lift up things that were good and positive at Immanuel Church. During this transition it will be doubly important for everyone to remain positive.
Lastly, I would commission you to trust God in this new chapter of your life as a church. How much do we really trust that God is at work in every time of change and that God is working in mysterious and amazing ways, behind and below and above the scene? God will send you the leader you need.
Trusting in God, Immanuel Church will be able to be the church that God is calling you to be and that the community of Spring will need in the years to come.
Blessings and Peace,