Thy of Transitioning

May 01, 2017

by Jason Byassee, Butler Chair in Homiletics and Biblical Hermeneutics, Vancouver School of Theology and a clergy member of the Western North Carolina Conference

Tim Dickau is the outstanding pastor of Grandview-Calvary Baptist Church here in Vancouver. In a part of North America so secular that churches are fast becoming condos or nightclubs, GCBC stands out—it’s flourishing, serving in its neighborhood, a light to the nations. And Tim thought it would all happen faster than it did.

“I read it would take ten years for our congregation to get healthy,” he said. “I thought that was ridiculous. But I looked around at year ten and said, ‘You know, that was right’. It used to be you could thrive in ministry if you were competent. Now you also have to be creative and committed.”

That latter word is a hard one on Methodist ears. Methodist ministers move. Neighbors are still surprised when we don’t scoot on after four years, though nowhere in the Discipline does it say we have to. And yet I could multiply Dickau’s testimonies to the fruit borne of stability. Richard Chartres, Anglican bishop of London, says his parish priests start to show their greatest faithfulness in year 12. We could serve three standard-length appointments in that time!

I believe in the “wisdom of stability,” as Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove describes it, drawing on St. Benedict. I just haven’t practiced it. We’ve not been anywhere longer than four years and have often moved on after two. I’m more Methodist than I would like, apparently. Given that this is our system, how do we transition well?

We praise other pastors up and down. I was so proud to be able to praise my successor at Boone Methodist, David Hockett, without my fingers crossed. I was able to love him up in public without hint of a pause. This could put us in an awkward spot if we don’t adore our successors! But even then we have to accentuate the positive. Whoever they are, God can do things through them God never could have through you.

It also means leading like we’ll be there forever. We can’t always be looking past someone’s shoulder to see who else is more interesting at the party. We also can’t hold back in relationship out of a fear of pain when we go. Our frequency of moves can leave us pining for the next thing. This is unfaithful. We have to give everything we have here, now, as if Jesus might be about to come back. Because he is.

Finally it means preaching every sermon, conducting every meeting, writing every email, praying every prayer, like it might be our last one. Because one day, we’ll be right! I knew I was leaving BUMC before my congregation did. And my preaching improved. I had little time left with them. So I didn’t waste time, clear my throat, or babble on about basketball. I preached like there was no tomorrow. Which is instructive for any Sunday.

Tim and Bishop Richard and Jonathan are right—stability can breed faithfulness. But there’s another story in scripture—one of going. Abram is told to get up and go from his people and his kindred to a new land. Jesus doesn’t stay with anybody more than a few days. Paul’s notion of stability is a few months at most, a couple of years in only one instance. With a gospel as passionate and urgent as ours, sometimes we have to move on with the crest of its wave. Even if we always leave a part of ourselves behind.
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