My family and I have been in the Antelope Valley for almost 8 years. I actually pastor, not one, but two churches here in the desert. I’ve been serving for almost eight years, as the part-time pastor of the Littlerock Community Church just outside of Palmdale. Prior to becoming part-time at Littlerock, I actually was their full-time pastor. I’ve also been the pastor of the Horizon Community Church in Palmdale for two years this coming October, serving as their part-time pastor as well.
I’ve learned more about being a pastor at both of these amazing churches than I ever did in seminary. I’m a better pastor because of these friends and for this I give thanks. I’ve learned what it means to be with someone in their joys and in their struggles. I’ve learned how to sit with people in their pain. I’ve had to learn that sometimes we pastors don’t have all of the answers and that sometimes the best answer is simply being quiet. I’ve learned that as a pastor I can’t and shouldn’t try to fix people and that it’s not my job. I’ve sat with people when they’ve received their chemo treatments and I’ve sat with people when they thought their loved ones were going to leave this earth.
I’ve officiated weddings, baptized babies, officiated memorial services, as well as graveside services. I’ve had to talk with folks about the pain that comes with losing a loved one and that it’s alright to cry, shout, and scream and that the God who loves us, created us, and sustains us, wants to hear our pain and that God is with us in suffering. I’ve visited people in the hospital ICU, the ER, and convalescent homes and I’ve sat with folks, as they’ve breathed their last breath. I’ve sat with families in a court room, as they awaited a verdict for a loved one. I’ve counseled drug addicts and alcoholics, counseled parents about their kids, and have been the mediator in the midst of relationships that have been in trouble. I’ve sat with couples in premarital counseling, helped plan their weddings, celebrated the birth of new babies, and I’ve also grieved when I heard about a marriage ending for whatever the reasons.
I’ve emptied trash cans, vacuumed the church sanctuary, have helped plan church building renovations, and I’ve sat quietly in both of the churches sanctuaries praying for people who sit in the pews each and every week. I’ve witnessed with my own eyes two churches, literally, take ownership of God’s mission in their communities. I’ve seen them feed the hungry, tell children that they’re awesome, and seen the faces of volunteers light up, when they were empowered to participate and share in the mission God’s has called us to in the world. I’ve talked with families about what it means to raise their children in a world that continues to change by the second and have listened to families share with me, that they worry about their kids and their future.
I’ve listened to amazing stories of God’s grace in a persons life. I’ve sat with amazing men and women, young and old, who haven’t lost hope yet for the church and who still trust that there is work to be done in being light and love to our communities, our neighbors, to the stranger, and to those who don’t look like us, sound like us, act like us, think like us, and even smell like us. I’ve even challenged folks to learn what it means to sit with others who they might not agree with for whatever reasons. I’ve even heard amazing stories about our brothers and sisters from the greatest generation ever, amazing people who love the Lord and who still can remember when our country was at a different place and when the church was also a different place and I’ve even listened to their hearts ache and sat with them, when they realized, the church today, is very much at a different place. I’ve prayed for families who were waiting patiently for their loved ones, serving in the military, to return home and I’ve listened to folks share about how their loved ones are adjusting after coming home from serving our country.
I’ve laughed with folks, cried with them, and wondered together, what God was up to in their lives and my heart ached when folks said they had found another church and gave thanks to God, that they found another church, that they could call their church home. I’ve helped welcome in new folks to the church, challenged them to consider what it means to follow Jesus and I’ve asked folks to consider making a decision to give their lives to Christ. I’ve told folks, I’d pray for them, and have prayed with them, and I’ve listened to them, when they felt God had answered their prayers and have sat with them when they felt like their prayers were going unheard.
I’ve invited people to the table to remember, give thanks, and to celebrate the promise of hope and grace, as well as rest for our souls at the Lord’s table. I’ve worshiped with folks and led worship services at Ash Wednesday, during Lent, Holy Week, Good Friday, Easter morning, Advent, and on Christmas Eve. I preached sermons that have bombed, gotten words of encouragement on how to preach a better sermon, and have put together sermons in the car on more than one occasion, when the week prior to Sunday was filled with the busyness of church, ministry, joys, struggles, hospital visits, weddings, funerals, life, and of course family. I’ve wondered how I got through a sermon and sat in amazement when someone told me that they were blessed because of a sermon, feeling grateful that God spoke to at least one person that morning.
When it comes to family, I’ve witnessed not one, but two churches, love my family. I know they’ve prayed for my family. They’ve shared meals with us. Invited us into their homes. We’ve celebrated our kids joys with them and they’ve been there for us when there were valleys. They have encouraged our kids, loved them, and have laughed with them. They affirmed them publicly and have prayed for them silently. We’ve listened to advice on how to raise our children and have often leaned on these friends for guidance. They even prayed for them when they were leaving for college and watched us shed tears of joy and sadness when it was time to send our kids off into the world. They’ve loved my wife too. They welcomed her in and leaned on her and trusted her just as much as they trusted me and I know without a doubt they prayed for her too. They have honored my family and respected those times I needed to be not only a husband to Debbie, but a dad to my kids.
I can go on and on and on. I’ve seen and experienced shalom from these friends. We have shared in something amazing, as a community of faith, and we’ve witnessed God work in ways we never thought God could work. We celebrated successes together and we sat quietly when we thought we had failed at something. We wondered if we could keep the doors open and celebrated when God brought new people from our communities, to share at the table. We even asked why and wondered why someone would vandalize a church and celebrated that the people of God didn’t give up and that they continued being the church together in the world. Most of all? They let me fail and let me grow, have been patient with me, encouraged me to grow in my faith, celebrated those God moments with me, and have also prayed for me too.
Last Sunday, after the message I preached, I shared with both of the churches I serve, that I would be leaving to a new church. I shared my sense of call from God and I shared that when God calls us, it’s exciting, scary, sometimes ridiculous, and even might sound crazy and I shared the difficulty I had, in telling them, that I’d be leaving to another church. I sat with church leaders, prior to last Sunday, as well as trusted friends and amazing volunteers, telling them what was happening in my life. I even apologized to a few folks, for not telling them, prior to last Sunday. I shared after the message, that my last Sunday with them in worship, would be on October 12th. I’ve received calls and text messages asking why and how come and did something happen and I’ve received messages sharing that folks were excited for me and my family and for the church that extended me the call to come and serve as their new pastor. I’ve also sat and listened to some amazing people, who I deeply care for, who were just being honest, that they simply didn’t understand why I was leaving.
I’m excited and ready to begin serving with the brothers and sisters of the Silverlake Community Church in Los Angeles. I’m praying for them and asking that God would continue to ignite their hearts and passion for being light and hope to their communities. I’ve already met some amazing people, who love Jesus, love their church, and who are ready for God to continue showing them how to be his people, in the world. They also have been examples of love and grace in this transition. They’ve even prayed for these two amazing churches I’ve had the honor of pastoring and they understand what it means to grieve as well as celebrate when a loved pastor leaves to something else that God is calling them to do in the world.
In the meantime, I’m still here. There’s still work to be done. I’m still their pastor. I’m confident that God will continue using them, to transform their communities and to bring hope to those who are looking for hope. I’m not worried.
If you’re someone who has served in a church faithfully, I challenge you, when it’s time to leave, leave with grace. Allow people to cry. Allow people to be angry. Cry with them. Pray with them. Don’t tell them, God has bigger and better plans for them as a church or organization. Don’t try to get in the middle of what’s next. It’ll be hard. You’ll second guess yourself and the decision you’ve prayed about and have made. You’ll ask God a million times, if you made the right decision. Word to the wise? Go slow with what you post on social media as to allow some time for your friends to sit with the news. Pray for them and listen to them and listen to them well. Although, you’re moving on, you’re still their pastor, you’re their partner and colleague in the faith, and most of all, you’re their friend in Christ. Leave with grace. Even until the last day. Even until that last meeting. Even until that last box of books leaves your office, and you hand over that last key to a classroom, a sanctuary, and to your office, you’re still their pastor. You’ll be remembered as their pastor, they will still call you pastor sometimes, even after you leave, and you will be their friend. You’ll receive calls, emails, postcards, Christmas cards, dinner invites, coffee invites, and most of all, you’ll still receive their prayers. They’ll keep you posted and updated on everything that is happening in their lives, which is very healthy and is expected. Bless them as you leave, so, that they will continue to be a blessing to others in the world. You also want them to bless and to take care of the next pastor, just as much as they took care of you and cared for you, as well as your family.
Pastor them until you begin your next call. It will help them begin the work of moving forward and will help them begin praying for that next person, to come and sit with them, in their joys, and in their struggles, to visit them them and pray for them when they’re sick, to help lead them into worship and to celebrate God’s love, and most of all, to tell them what it means to be people of grace and peace in the world and what it means to be people of the new commandment.