June 21, 2006
What happens to a church after a pastor leaves? The answer varies, depending on the church and the pastor and the circumstances. Several months ago I was contacted by a writer for the Oak Park (IL) Wednesday Journal, asking if I would take part in an article about the transition following my departure from Calvary Memorial Church last September. I was happy to do it, in part because I had a good relationship with the paper during my sixteen years in Oak Park, and also because I thought it would be useful to reflect on how the Lord led us from where we were to where we are. The writer also interviewed a number of people from Calvary. He ended up writing an article (published today) called Finding Their Way, After Ray.
The article describes the three stages of any major life transition: 1) The end, 2) the neutral zone, and 3) the new beginning. I found the following quote very insightful:
“It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change, or so in love with old ways, but it’s that place in between we fear … it’s like being in between trapezes. It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There’s nothing to hold on to.”
That’s an apt metaphor. Earlier this week Gracia Burnham spoke about her own plans for the future. Right now her chief goal is making sure her children finish school. Beyond that, she doesn’t have a clue about what the future holds. Howard Harvey once told me, “You want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans.” Marlene commented to me last Friday that it had been a year and a day since her first biopsy that led to the diagnosis of breast cancer that led to another surgery and radiation. It happened that I was speaking at the MEF conference last year when we got the news that the biopsy revealed early stage breast cancer. I mentioned that during my final message last year. We later discovered that many people from the conference began to pray fervently for us. Just this morning I met a woman who said that she and her friends had started praying for Marlene last year and wanted to know how she was doing and was I going to say something about it during my messages this year. Actually I already had mentioned it, but I will say again that Marlene (who is with me this week) is doing well and the latest medical checkup revealed no discernible cancer.
I also told the folks at the conference a few days ago that everything that could change in one year has changed. It’s like we’ve been playing a game of Fruit Basket Turnover. Most of the familiar landmarks have disappeared. A year ago Josh was still in China, and he and Leah had not even met. Next month they get married. Meanwhile Nick would go to China and return. Mark went to China last August and will come back to the States next week and then return to China in early August. And of course, we’re no longer living in Oak Park and I’m no longer pastoring at Calvary. We’re living in a cabin in the woods north of Tupelo, Mississippi, we’ve started Keep Believing Ministries, I’m traveling and speaking all over the country (this week CO, in three weeks OR, in four weeks NY, and so on), and we’re learning to trust God in new ways all the time. Marlene continues to gain strength, and we don’t have a clue about where we’ll be in six months. Nor do I know who the next pastor of Calvary will be. As they say in the military, that’s above my pay grade.
Between trapezes. That’s a good way to describe where we are at the moment, but we’re not working without a net because underneath are the everlasting arms of God.