You know it might be a less than stellar day when you think you’re walking out a door only to find it was a locked closet. I’m in the throes of my last season of charge conferences, and they have mostly been great. There have been mixed emotions as I have realized that in 8 years these church leaders and their familiar faces have been my church family. I know them by name. They know me. I am saying “Goodbye” to my parish though it will be next June until it actually happens.
This adds perspective to my consultations with clergy. Some of them have been telling me that they either anticipate moving or retiring next year. I wonder if they are feeling the same mixed emotions that I am. There’s a sense of turning the page, anticipation, even relief, but there’s also sadness and anxiety. These transitions from one ministry to another are fraught with possibility and peril. It’s like being a trapeze artist and you’re swinging from one bar to the next. I’m holding on tight to one bar while reaching out expectantly and nervously to the bar coming my way. The problem is all in when to let go of the bar you’re on. Too soon and it’s splat, and too late and it’s splat. It’s not much better if you end up caught in the middle with arms stretched out with one hand gripping one bar and one hand gripping the other. That’s an awkward position that’s reminiscent of Jesus’ outstretched arms and hands on the cross – cramps and crucifixion. Horrible!
Do we let go and leap today? Do we start moving forward while remaining faithful to our remaining tasks? I’ve seen people quit on their current ministry too soon and the ministry suffers. On the other hand, some pastors linger on in their old appointment too long and rob the new clergyperson of a chance to make new friends and dream new dreams. What are we? We’re “Tweeners.” We’re between here and heaven; this job and the next; one relationship and another – the already and the not yet!
How do we handle it? The story is told of two old miners who spent their lives looking for a supposed treasure in gold, a mother lode! They never found anything for years and became the laughingstocks of the town. Every week they came into town empty-handed. One week, however, they started finding nuggets. They were pulling chunks of gold hand-over-fist out of the walls of the shaft they were in when suddenly the ceiling started caving in.
One of the miners told the other, “We’ve got to get out of here! Come on! Leave the gold!” The other miner said, “Leave me right here. I’ve searched my whole life for the mother lode and I’ve finally found it. Leave me right here.” The other miner insisted that he let go of the gold nuggets and retreat, but the other miner said, “Just tell ‘em I died rich. Just tell ‘em I died rich.”
Is that our church’s refrain? We often hold on to our treasures, to the hopes of dreams come true or of past glories never to be repeated, and then take our last breath because we don’t have sense enough to know when to let go and move on to other opportunities. I’ve seen churches die rich with designated funds put in place eons ago for old dreams that could have been used for a related but God-sized dream for today. I’ve seen pastors stay too long in one place and coast their way into an inglorious future. What an epitaph – “He/She Stayed too Long!” John Wesley said about itinerancy: “If I should stay in one place as long as a year, I would preach myself asleep!”
So, here’s to finishing our ministry where we are with all of the vigor and creativity that we can, and having the sense to prepare for our next adventure. Life is full of risks. Staying in one place isn’t an option. We’re either moving forward or going backwards.
There’s a great little poem that sums it all up:
“There once lived a man who never risked, he never tried. He never laughed, he never prayed, he never cried. Then one day when he passed away, his insurance was denied. They said since he never really lived, then he never really died.”
Live for today and tomorrow, not one over the other. Live for God and both are taken care of!