It is with both great sadness and tremendous excitement that I share the news that was broke Sunday that I am projected to move from Liberty & Post Oak United Methodist Churches in Camden, Tennessee to become the Associate Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Jackson, Tennessee.

It was only two years ago that my family packed up our stuff in Nicholasville, Kentucky to move to Camden, where we were welcomed by a remarkably hospitable community of people at these two loving churches. Liberty & Post Oak have undergone several leadership transitions in the last few years. What is a true testament to the health and resilience of these congregations is that amidst these transitions, Liberty & Post Oak have experienced growth in worship attendance, professions of faith in Christ, and increased participation in mission efforts and lay leadership, including young people who are often taking the lead in exciting new ways. It is truly difficult to leave these growing congregations when things are moving forward. But I want to commend Bishop Bill McAlilly (see his recent post about pastoral appointment announcements here) and the cabinet for identifying and sending a quality pastor here in Rev. Travis Penney, who has served as the pastor at Big Springs UMC in Hardeman County the last four years. Travis is young, energetic and eager to lead Liberty & Post Oak as they turn the page from this short chapter I have shared with them. Just as my predecessor did a great job of making my entry into this appointment quite seamless, I will do my best to do the same in working with Travis to make this transition a healthy and fruitful one!

While I will greatly miss these great folks in Camden, I am also thrilled for the opportunity to take on a new role by joining the great work that the people at First UMC in Jackson are doing by serving as their Associate Pastor. First Church is located in downtown Jackson and has recently added a campus at Andrews Chapel, which is situated just a few miles west of the downtown campus. With there being two campuses, I will still be able to preach on a weekly/regular basis and lead in worship, which is one of the most fulfilling parts of my ministry. I will also have pastoral care responsibilities, which is one of my strongest spiritual gifts, including leading Stephen Ministry. In addition, I will have opportunities once or twice per week to lead in Christian formation and discipleship by teaching classes. To go along with this, I will get to work with the Senior Pastor, Rev. Dan Camp, who is a great leader from whom I will have much to learn. One of the areas where I feel confident I will grow in this context will be in terms of administration.

This, of course, only scratches the surface of what all is going on at FUMC and I am very eager learn more of how I can and will be co-laboring with them and taking part in the great kingdom work being done in their midst! See you in June, Jackson!

A look inside the beautiful sanctuary at Jackson FUMC! (photo credit: jacksonfumc.org/about/wedding_policies)

A look inside the beautiful sanctuary at Jackson FUMC! (photo credit: jacksonfumc.org/about/wedding_policies)

As some of you who read my blog are aware, not long ago I was a PhD student at Nazarene Theological College (accredited by The University of Manchester) in the United Kingdom. I wrote about the decision to step back from that pursuit in this post from August of 2012. What I didn’t share in that post but what has become clear since then is that there has been a transition in my research interests of a Wesleyan doctrine of the atonement from an historical quest to more of an investigation of the doctrine and its implication for the contemporary audience. In other words, I’ve been drawn to wrestle with this question: “What would a Wesleyan theology of the atonement look like in the church?” I think this transition has been quite natural given the shift in my vocational path from the classroom to the pulpit.

Several people in the churches I am serving have been made aware of this shift and of my continued interest in the subject. So when a couple from Liberty UMC went with Carrie and me to the opening weekend of the Generative Leadership Academy, and we were challenged to do some sort of Lenten project, they asked me about the possibility of my leading a study on the atonement during the Lenten season. It seemed like an ideal time to talk about such a topic. Lent is about the journey to the cross. Jesus’ sacrificial death there is at the heart of what we mean when we talk about the atonement. Sure, let’s do this! In my mind (and in my saved files) I had a structure in mind for how the study might go if we broke it up into a weekly study, so we began making plans on making this idea a reality.

We talked about the nature of Lent, how it is a season of ‘fasting’ for 40 days, excepting Sundays which are days when most observers of Lent are encouraged or at least permitted to ‘break’ their fast (otherwise the fast is 46 days, in total). And as you can easily discern, the meaning of the word that describes our first meal of the day is derived from this very sort of practice (break-fast). So we thought an ideal pairing would be to have a breakfast meal before each session of the study. The trouble is, however, that Sunday morning breakfasts at Liberty UMC are not feasible as the first worship service I lead is at the other church to which I am appointed, Post Oak UMC. So we talked about other days when a breakfast meal would provide an opportunity for people to participate in the study. That’s how we arrived at Saturdays, when most people are off work, and we wouldn’t have to make it too early (we’re set to begin at 9:30am each week).

I’m really excited about this study and it seems to have garnered a good deal of interest from lots of people in the church as the sign-up list has grown over the weeks that we have announced it, and I’m aware of neighboring churches advertising it and that we’ll have outside participation as well. My hope is that we as United Methodists can discover how this central doctrine to our faith is related to the rest of it and how the atonement in Christ can be seen as the shape of how God’s grace is made known in the world and in our lives.

Image created by the folks at memphis-umc.net

Image created by the folks at memphis-umc.net

So if you are anywhere near Camden and have an interest in the doctrine of the atonement can be seen through the lens of Wesleyan/United Methodist way of being a follower of the Christ, or if you just like to eat breakfast with other people, I encourage you to join us on Saturdays in Lent at Liberty UMC at 9:30am. The first breakfast (March 8) will begin in the Wrather auditorium, which will require your entrance through the sanctuary. (We’ll have signs and people pointing the way.) The remaining breakfasts will be served in the fellowship hall. All of the sessions for the study itself will be in the sanctuary. Come and join us! (If you’re not able to join us, I plan on sharing highlights here when possible.) The address for Liberty UMC: 3135 Highway 69A, Camden, TN 38320.

May God guide us in our quest this Lenten season as we journey to the cross!

“For congregational health and mission, the ‘family’ metaphor is a double-edged sword.” This thought was raised a few months ago at an event for emerging leaders in the Memphis & Tennessee Conferences in Dickson, Tennessee sponsored by the Turner Center. Why a “double-edged sword”? What could possibly be the downside in using the metaphor of ‘family’ when a church describes itself? After all, it can be a very uniting message if a congregation has recently been rent asunder by a scandal. It can be an image of healing for a church that has been devastated by a natural disaster. You practice, preach and sing ‘We Are Family’ in moments like this as a way of reestablishing trust and rebuilding toward a brighter future.

Even in moments of stable or exponential growth, churches can use familial language to welcome newcomers, outcasts, those rejected by others. But the other side, one of the potential downsides, is often delivered unintentionally (and unfortunately, sometimes intentionally). As it turns out, many times churches who use the ‘family’ metaphor end up envisioning a family more like Jack Byrnes’ ‘circle of trust’ in Meet the Parents than one that opens itself to embrace the stranger. Ever known or been part of a church that looks a little like this? (Disclaimer: Ben Stiller’s character is named Greg Focker, which is what DeNiro’s character says midway through this clip…)

Trying to become a member of such a ‘family’ is next to impossible. And even if you pay your dues (or tithes in our case), offer your services and bend over backwards, the ‘inner circle’ may never let you in. This is how the ‘family’ metaphor can end up causing a church to implode or at the very least slowly erode away into irrelevance.

So the growing edge for a church that wants to keep the family image is to continually and honestly ask, “Is our ‘family’ language and image enhancing or inhibiting our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ?” And it was this question that filled my preparation for preaching at Post Oak UMC’s homecoming a couple of weeks ago, because ‘family’ is a metaphor that I’ve heard used at Post Oak frequently and I’ve seen it used quite well here. Below are a few of the highlights from that message. The texts I chose for that Sunday were Genesis 1.26-28 & Matthew 28:18-20.

Genesis 1:26-28: Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

Matthew 28:18-20: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Reflecting back over the course of the past year and my experience in this church has led me to conclude that my initial intuition about the character of this Post Oak community has been confirmed. That is that this church is in many ways a family. I saw it the day we moved in when there was a crowd gathered to help us unload the truck and get settled in. I heard it just a couple of weeks ago when I met with the visioning team someone made the observation about the closeness of the people in this church that reminded that person of a family unlike other churches they had been at prior to moving here. I witnessed it as over 40 from the church went out to Eva Beach last Sunday to take part and celebrate the baptisms of three of our youth. Even though it was a holiday weekend, they took time to support and welcome them outside “normal church hours.” These are things that family members do for one another.

The gift of family can bring with it some moments of tremendous joy and humor. Cherishing those memories and enjoying those times of fellowship are important parts of being in God’s family. But there’s something else that’s true about healthy families, and that is often measured by how the members of a family respond and relate to one another when the times get tough. When disaster strikes, when a financial hardship comes one’s way, when we lose a loved one, how do we respond? Jesus said to his disciples on the night he was betrayed, “This is how the world will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” That is, despite whatever differences may exist (and there certainly come times when there are differences among family members, right?), if you can at least learn to love one another and unite to serve then you will make the world of difference.

I’ve been reading the History of Post Oak Church over the last few weeks and have been truly inspired by the rich history that resides here. Did you know that in the roughly 180 year history of this church, there were at least two times when something occurred to damage the building and the people had to work together to rebuild? In 1912, there was a fire that destroyed the building one night after a revival service. Maybe the preacher said something someone didn’t like or something; I don’t know. Then there was a violent storm only 25 years later in 1937 that brought irreparable damage to the new building. At the end of both disasters, the history says this: “The members of the church began to construct another building donating their time, labor, and materials.” The one built after the 1937 incident was completed in 1938 and is the one we’re sitting in this very morning. A dedicated family will come together: when enemies attack, when the creation seems to wreak its own havoc, when a building collapses, when death makes its unwelcome visits.

But this week as I was preparing to talk about this notion of ‘family’ I thought I would try to think biblically about the purpose of the family. And that is what led me to these two passages this morning, because in these two passages we have two different sorts of families. And the similarities between these two passages begin to unfold as we take a deeper look at them.

In Genesis, humans are given authority or dominion over the earth.
In Matthew, Jesus says that all authority in heaven and earth are his.
In Genesis, in light of this authority and the grace given to humans as being made in God’s image we find the first commandment in the whole Bible: “Be fruitful and multiply…and fill the earth…” (The first commandment is not a “Thou shalt not…” but a positive one.)
In Matthew, in light of Jesus’ authority, he gives authority to the disciples a new commandment and commission: “Go, and make disciples…of all nations…”

My pastor back in Nicholasville helped me see this connection: when we compare how God created the world in Genesis with how God saved the world through the resurrection of Jesus, we will see that being a part of God’s family means that we are commissioned to re-produce what God has produced. God tells the first humans, “Be fruitful and multiply…and fill the earth!” Jesus tells his disciples, “Go and make disciples…of all nations…”

In other words for both biological and spiritual families, for our first parents as well as the disciples, we see that the commission is one and the same: “Go and make some more…” God gathers us and commissions the family of God to go and make some more.

(Again, be careful not to take this too far. We’re not called just to make more who outwardly ‘look like us’ or are ‘kin.’ Remember that we have been adopted into God’s family, a family who welcomes ‘people of all ages, nations, and races.’ But the point is if we are wholehearted followers of Jesus, then Jesus wants that replicated: “Go and make some more like yourselves!” Or as Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”)

If you think about it, this commission even rings true for other beings in creation as well, doesn’t it? Part of our church’s name bears that of a tree: an oak tree. Now, I suppose that the image of the tree may evoke in our minds the stability of a deep-rooted tree, and we may think of psalms and hymns like ‘I Shall Not Be Moved’: “Just like a tree that’s planted by the waters, Lord, I shall not be moved…” That image does give us a good picture of faithfulness and remaining true to our roots. But there’s something dangerous about just holding onto that side of the image of a tree if we ignore a tree’s purpose, which is the same as that of a family. If it doesn’t bear fruit, if it doesn’t re-produce what God produces, then that tree (be it an oak tree or a family tree) will stop right there and will gradually weaken and erode away.

We are commissioned to re-produce what God has produced. (Photo credit: forestry.about.com)

We are commissioned to re-produce what God has produced. (Photo credit: forestry.about.com)

On several occasions, Jesus had little patience for a fig tree that didn’t bear fruit because he saw how God’s people had become like those fruitless fig trees. To bear fruit, however, means we mature and live into Jesus’ commission to “Go and make some more.”

This morning I look out and see many people who are here to remember and to honor those who are our roots, whose lives have gone before us proclaiming the faithfulness of God. The monuments surrounding this building indicate the lives of those who were sure to bear fruit by re-producing the seeds of wisdom and faith that had been passed to them. They were intentional to grow their biological & spiritual families so that we could carry on that legacy that began long before them.

So our strength, brothers and sisters, will be twofold, so long as we follow their legacy: to remember and remain connected to our roots, that is to recognize that we are continuing a larger story than ourselves, a story of God’s loving faithfulness; but the second part is crucial for anything to remain alive and thrive. We must be fruitful and multiply; let us “Go and make some more.”

Last year saw perhaps the most poetic placement of Palm Sunday: it fell on April Fools’ Day. Remember? I remember it because it was the one opportunity I was given to preach on a Sunday morning at Nicholasville UMC in Kentucky. But even more so, I remember because of the irony of celebrating the fool in all of us on a day when the people in Jerusalem fell for the right person but had the wrong expectations of him. Or, as my friend Phil Tallon said it, “Today we celebrate Jesus saying April Fools to Israel’s militaristic messianic conceptions.”

Those are the thoughts that dwelt on my mind this morning as I stepped outside to burn the palm fronds used in last year’s Palm Sunday festivities at Liberty & Post Oak that were graciously handed down to me from my predecessor, Joey Reed.

Last year's palms = this year's ashes

Last year’s palms = this year’s ashes

Until last year, I wasn’t aware of the longstanding tradition of burning the previous year’s palm leaves to be imposed during the Ash Wednesday service of the following year. But when I discovered it, and found out I was being sent to Liberty & Post Oak, asking for these was one of the first things I did in my correspondence with Joey prior to moving here. Nicholasville had a practice where they had burnt sheets of paper from the previous year in a ceremony where the congregation was invited to write down their struggles, pains, sins, and so on, and nail them to the cross on Good Friday. There are a few good ways that can convey significant meaning for the community that practices these ceremonies and services.

I wanted this one, at least for this year, because of Palm Sunday’s alignment with April Fools’ Day last year. Each year on that day we cry aloud, “Hosanna in the highest!” But as the rest of that week unfolds, we discover anew that Jesus saves us in the highest only because he descended to the lowest…and that went even deeper than riding a donkey, which the crowds thought was humbling enough for a conquering deliverer. But like us, Jesus too went to the dust and tasted death with us. “…and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” as St. Paul would later write.

Many of my friends are aware that I am a fan of the musical band Mumford & Sons. They released an album in 2012 called ‘Babel,’ which won the Album of the Year on the Grammy Awards. Upon my first couple of times listening through the album, I was drawn toward the song ‘Lovers’ Eyes,’ unsure of what story or concepts were behind his writing of the lyrics. But after listening and reading through the lyrics a few times, he is telling a powerful story reflecting on the past and even expresses a repentant spirit when he writes, “Should you shake my ash to the wind, Lord forget all of my sins; well, let me die where I lie.” Those lyrics have played over and over in my mind as I’ve prepared for this Ash Wednesday, dwelling upon the themes of forgiveness, repentance, self-denial, and death, which will continue to play all throughout this Lenten season.

Lord, forget and forgive all of my sins, including those of false presumptions thinking I knew better than you how you should save the world (and me). I will “Remember that [I am] dust and to dust [I] shall return.”

I want your feedback and/or help on this. I’m still in the early stages of developing this, but am in the process of putting together a “dream team” for each of the two churches to which I am currently appointed. No, I’m not speaking of finding a way to bring the 1992 US men’s Olympic basketball team to Camden, Tennessee.

Probably the greatest basketball team that ever competed. Front row (L to R): Clyde Drexler, Scottie Pippen, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley; Second row (L to R): Larry Bird, Chris Mullin, Michael Jordan; Third row (L to R): Christian Laettner (ugh, I can't believe I am actually inserting a picture including him into a post on my blog...after what he did to my beloved Kentucky Wildcats on that fateful night in 1992), Patrick Ewing, Magic Johnson, David Robinson. Photo credit: hypervocal.com

Probably the greatest basketball team that ever competed. Front row (L to R): Clyde Drexler, Scottie Pippen, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley; Second row (L to R): Larry Bird, Chris Mullin, Michael Jordan; Third row (L to R): Christian Laettner (ugh, I can’t believe I am actually inserting a picture including him into a post on my blog…after what he did to my beloved Kentucky Wildcats on that fateful night in 1992), Patrick Ewing, Magic Johnson, David Robinson. Photo credit: hypervocal.com

No, it’s not ^^that^^ kind of dream team I’m speaking of. Instead, I’m talking about putting together a group of 10-15 persons at each church to begin making dreams for the next 5, 10, 20…years.

Last week, 75 young clergy in the Memphis and Tennessee Annual Conferences of The United Methodist Church met in Dickson along with our new(ish) bishop Bill McAlilly. The event was sponsored by the Turner Center for Church Leadership & Congregational Development, which particularly is honing in on training young clergy for leadership as the dynamics of our culture(s) continue to change. At the conference, we explored the tension between the emphases of mission laid forth in Matthew 25:31-46 & Matthew 28:16-20 and how we as leaders could assist our congregations in developing their own identities in relation to their own mission fields. (A lingering question I had but never asked aloud was about the nature of the relationship between the narrative content in between those passages and the missional focus of the passages we did explore. In other words: What, if anything, is the relationship between the Passion & Resurrection narrative and our mission as the Church? I like where that question could take a discussion, but I’ll have to explore that in more detail in another post at another time.)

Although the picture we’ve been given about the status of the UMC is quite bleak, I left the conference hopeful that God has greater things in store for the United Methodist Church(es) in the Memphis & Tennessee Conferences, even as I was unsure specifically how I would begin to steer the churches to which I am appointed in the direction of discovering our identities & visions and how those relate to the mission field around us.

On the day following, Carrie and I took a trip to Jackson to get some much needed household items. Instead of taking the usual way home on Interstate 40, we drove the scenic route of US 70 all the way to Camden. It was nice for a change and only took an additional five or so minutes to get home than the normal route. On our way home, I began to share with Carrie processing through the gist of the conference I attended at Dickson and seeing how I might begin to raise questions to the folks at Liberty & Post Oak about our future. Within minutes we were talking about what it would look like to bring several youth & young adults and an accompanying older adult or two together and dream big about what God might want to do through us.

That was Saturday and I already knew that a council meeting was set for the next day at Liberty, which would be the perfect time to officially pitch the idea to the key leaders. I also went ahead and started planting the seed to a few people before the service at Post Oak and got a council meeting scheduled for a couple of weeks from now where I’ll share more with them there (for those who won’t have read this blog post anyway 🙂 ). I got some good feedback there and then when I got to Liberty for worship, I pulled my lay leader and council chairperson aside to very briefly introduce it and ask for it to be on the agenda, which was warmly granted.

At the council meeting I introduced the seed ideas of what I was wanting to do and the initial questions that I’d like to be discussed in the group. The only question I was asked was, “Are you going to spearhead it?” I answered, “Of course! But I want you to know that I don’t plan on having all the answers. I just want to ask a series of questions that we will uncover together through prayer, discussion, study, and discernment what we perceive God asking us to do.” My desire is for the churches to come up with an answer to this family of questions: What do you want [name of church] to look like in 5 years? 10 years? 20 years?

And here’s how I need your help/feedback, which I asked for at the beginning of the post. To answer the main question, there are a number of other questions that will need to be considered. Some big questions that obviously need to be addressed are the theological & missional ones:

  • Who is God?
  • Who are we?
  • How has God created and inhabited our story at [name of church]?
  • Who are our neighbors?

But then there are some more specific questions. Here are some that I see as vital for my churches to be asked in uncovering a vision for how best “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” (as is our mission as United Methodists) in our local context. You’ll notice that the questions provide the opportunity for the people to dream BIG dreams. And for a people who believe in a God of extravagant grace, why not push the limits? So:

  • If you had no fear of failure, what would you like to see done in this church? in this community?
  • If money were not an issue, what changes would you make or things would you add to the life of this church?
  • Is there any unused space on the premises? If so, how can the space(s) be used again?
  • What needs of the community are not being met well or at all?
  • What ways, if any, can we work with area schools, like tutoring, backpack programs, etc.?

Those are just a few. Can you help me think of other questions? Comment below and let me know!

The last couple of weeks have been rather busy as I’ve been preparing for speaking at revival services at Post Oak UMC, and an additional service at another church near Camden that invited me to speak on one night of their revival. So that’s why it’s been a little bit since my last post.

At Post Oak’s revival, I wanted to open the window a little bit into the world of what’s been driving my research throughout my graduate and postgraduate journeys as I have been investigating the doctrine of the atonement, in particular from a Wesleyan/Methodist perspective. So I decided to do a series on some of Jesus’ statements from the cross recorded in the Gospels. Jesus’ dying words have been significant in uncovering the mystery and story of our salvation as it has been achieved through the Incarnation, ministry, suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Cover of Adam Hamilton’s ‘Final Words from the Cross,’ which was a very quick read, but beneficial in offering pastoral words that convey the significance of Jesus’ dying words. I heartily recommend this book. Photo credit: sony.com

In the statements he uttered and shouted from the cross, Jesus spoke words of forgiveness, of hope and promise, of provision and encouragement to care for others, of his own need, of bold faith and empathy with the human condition in our times of feeling abandoned, of victory, and ultimately of submission to the will of his Father. These words are moving for us as the speak not only of Christ’s work for us, but also of his work in us, enabling us to offer the same words to those around us as we follow our crucified Messiah.

What I found particularly interesting is the timing of this series and how it coincided quite well in expanding the content of my message  on the Sunday morning on the day the revival started. My message last Sunday was based on the Lectionary reading from Ephesians 4-5, with the key verse being 5:1, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children.”

While most impersonators in comedy sketches today focus their energy on perfecting the tone, accent, and appearance of the famous persons they are imitating, the type of imitation of God that St. Paul encourages us in is in having the same attitudes and feelings, actions, and even words of God. That is, if we are beloved children of God, we imitate God by saying what God says. Again, the Holy Spirit enables us to imitate Christ in our suffering by offering the words of forgiveness, hope, encouragement, pain, thirst, victory, and submission to God.

“We’ve got too many pastors serving 3-point charges in this conference…” a Bishop was quoted as saying in my United Methodist Polity class in seminary. The statement continued, “…the church they used to serve, the church they’re appointed to now, and the one they want to be appointed to next.”

The professor used this line as a way of discussing boundaries within pastoral ministry; that you do not (or at least should not) converse much, if at all, with parishioners who used to be under your care and/or are being served by another pastor now. There is great wisdom in this statement, though it is all the more challenging now in the age of social media where networking with friends and acquaintances who live a few hours or half the globe away is possible through venues like facebook, twitter, and so on.

While the statement that led this post off is certainly true of some who have been entrusted to lead in the United Methodist Church, it is my hope that it does not mark the attitude of many or most. Call me naïve, and maybe you’re right, but the fear that some other pastor may be “out to get me or my [current or desired] appointment” feeds a profound, even if subtle, sense of mistrust among United Methodist pastors.

Still, maintaining healthy boundaries is important during the steady or growing seasons when there is neither a need nor desire for a change in pastoral leadership of a charge, but I echo the suggestion Joey Reed, the pastor who preceded me at Liberty & Post Oak UMCs, has made in calling for more transparency when a transition is projected. (You can and should read his side of the story here.) It’s been four weeks since I’ve moved into the parsonage & charge he previously inhabited. I’m not sure where I’d be if it weren’t for his helpful responses to the many questions I raised in preparation for moving into pastoral ministry.

Handing off the baton in a relay requires keen timing, vision, and trust between relay partners. Listen to the way Gail Devers describes it about 20 seconds into the video of this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQCi3mayB3Q The implications abound for how this is analogous to changes in pastoral leadership. (Photo credit: blog.orgsync.com)

Yes, this is my first appointment, and that means that there were fewer responsibilities on my part as I wasn’t saying goodbye as a pastor to another congregation, though saying goodbye to our friends at Nicholasville UMC was difficult and tear-filled. Since I didn’t have the same sort of duties that most other UM Pastors have who go through the process of saying goodbye to one charge and hello to the new one, my preparation looked a little different than most. Still, I had in the back of my mind the territorialism I was warned about so often during my education. Therefore, I proceeded with caution when I approached Joey with a few questions about the Liberty and Post Oak churches, to which I was projected to be appointed. I even asked for forgiveness in advance if I happened to overstep a boundary.

I didn’t know Joey before my projected appointment but I had actually encountered his name before. I had been living in central Kentucky for the past decade before moving back to the Memphis Conference. I confided in my college roommate and longtime close friend (a United Methodist pastor in the Kentucky Conference) that I was pursuing re-entrance into the ordination process (another story for another day) in the UMC and hoping for an appointment in the Memphis Conference, in which I was raised as a child and youth and was previously a certified candidate for ordained ministry. Upon sharing this news with my friend, his wife said, “Oh, my cousin’s husband is a pastor in the Memphis Conference!” That cousin’s husband was…you guessed it, Joey Reed.

So I knew his name, but I didn’t really know him, so (again) I proceeded with caution. When I first made contact with him via email, he promised to be as open as he could, with obvious exceptions like maintaining confidentiality of conversations with parishioners where it was expressed or assumed. Needless to say, I was very relieved to have his promised candor, and he did not disappoint as he followed through in that regard. He and his family even opened up the parsonage for my family to view and measure each room. This was very helpful for my wife, an avid planner, who did a blueprint of each room to be able to plan out in advance how to arrange the furniture, etc. This brings up a significant issue in pastoral transitions and how more transparency can help: the role of the pastor’s family and the changes, emotions, and expectations they experience along the way. Joey’s family made us feel right at home as they sent pictures and measurements, opened their homes, and even gave gifts to our kids (ages 5 & 2 at the time; think about how much that meant to them!).

Most of my questions were logistical in nature, trying to get a sense of the way things were run at each congregation, the time of the services, how structured the liturgy was at each church, etc. We didn’t discuss personalities or mention names, except to point out the names of people in certain positions of leadership at the churches. But the questions I asked that required the more lengthy discussions (where he writes we had to take some breaks for meals…lol!) were the ones about the direction and vision of the churches. Now, these conversations should always take place between the new pastor and her/his congregation(s) and I would need to hear these matters from the folks at the churches themselves also, but knowing that Joey was transitioning out of Liberty and Post Oak on good terms made the dialogue appropriate, in my view, as he gave me some perspective in preparation. (Obviously, the pastor leaving on “good terms” is not always the case, so practicing discernment on which questions to ask and which to wait to ask until arrival is obviously significant.) That Joey left Liberty & Post Oak on good terms has had the blessings of being able to be more prepared, even if that meant more challenges in filling the shoes of one who was so well-liked by the people. I experienced and witnessed that he was beloved by the congregations in several ways and I especially saw this at a reception, a meet-and-greet of sorts for me and my family at the churches where both his family & mine were in attendance. I had already been told of the abundant hospitality of both the Reeds and the churches. When I experienced it firsthand and saw his encouraging them to warmly welcome us, that meant the world to me.

But even if you’ve read Joey’s previous post and if you’re reading this thinking I’m being too naïve and that little if any of this would work in many situations, would you please incorporate one thing into the life of your church the next time you are in the midst of pastoral transition? Please pray for the incoming pastor, by name, in the service, every week from the time when the projected appointment is made until the new pastor moves into the pulpit. As helpful as Joey’s transparency and the churches’ hospitality was in preparation for the move, these prayers were the most important part and gave fuel to the process that made my transition as easy as it could be. We Methodists believe in prevenient grace…that God’s grace has gone before us wherever we are. But belief in prevenient grace also includes the notion that God’s grace is going before us wherever we will go next. Once the projection of a transition has been made, as long as you’re alive and conscious there’s nothing (except your own will and pride) that could prevent your prayers for the new pastor and his/her family in the transition that lies ahead of them. And maybe, just maybe, if we genuinely lift up to God in prayer those who are heading our way, we might find that our hearts will be moved to make the landing strip a little more smooth than what has been the norm and fewer batons will be dropped.