Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Flipping the Pastor Switch

As things wound down Sunday at Trinity Bethesda, it seemed totally normal.

In the morning, I sat and prayed in silence in the sanctuary with some of the dear saints of the church.  Afterwards, we talked, and shared, and laughed, just like we always do.

In the afternoon, the contemporary worship service cranked up at 1:30 PM, just like it has of late.  There were some faces I hadn't seen in a while, but it was pretty much a normal service.  Well, actually, I thought it was a really great service, probably because I'd gotten to request every one of the songs, their pacing, and the duration of the service.  It's hard not to like something that has been lovingly prepared just the way you like it.

We had a brief housekeeping congregational meeting, and by brief, I mean less than five minutes.  Any Presbyterian meeting that runs for less than five minutes is a blessing from the Lord.

Afterwards, the fellowship meal was abundant, but all vegetarian.   Hmmm.  It's never all vegetarian.   Must be something up.  Then there was chatting, and leave-taking, and a quick run with an elder to the food bank with all the food I'd asked folks to bring in to mark the day.

I came back, geared up, said another few farewells, fired up my motor-sickle, and rolled on out of there.  That was that.

And now, after almost eight years, I'm not the pastor there.  C'est tout.

Yet in this era of social media, I'm not planning on losing contact.  Why would I?  I'm not going to cull my Facebook, do a bunch of Twitterblocking, and relegate a bunch of folks to my Untouchable circle on GooglePlus, or worse yet, to the eternal yawning Sheol of LinkedIn.

Many blogging pastors I've read anguish about how to manage this transition.  How do you maintain distance?  How do you make space in that community for the new pastor, if everyone from your old congregation is still aware of everything you do online?  How do you make space for the new relationships and responsibilities that will arise as you move on, if the life-wind of the community still whispers through your social forest?  Or something like that.

Honestly, it doesn't seem that hard.  Just stop being the pastor.  Click.  It's off.

I'm not there leading worship, or thinking about the dynamics of worship, or preparing sermons.  I'm not teaching Bible study, or planning bible study.  What happens with the facility is not my concern.  If the roof is leaking?  Not my problem.  Stewardship?  Not my headache.  Planning and implementing service, mission, and outreach?  That's not my department.  Evangelism?  They'll handle that just fine.  After a few days, that compulsive itch to check my iPhone for emails on the now-deleted church account will fade.

The organizational component of de-pastor-fication is easy.

The relational and spiritual component is trickier.  If I really liked you yesterday, that's not going to change today.  If I felt a deep spiritual kinship with you yesterday, that's not going to change today.

And honestly, it doesn't need to change.

The only difference is that I'm no longer your pastor, just a friend who was once your pastor.  If you pitch me a Facebook message with a question, I'm not going to blow you off, any more than I would a friend.   Want coffee or lunch?  Can do, mon ami.  Getting married?  Getting buried?  I'll be there if able, as a friend would be.  But no way no how am I going to let that connection get in the way of whoever is being called by God to teach and preach and nurture and lead you next.

Pastors who do crush the life out of the future of a ministry.   And many do hold on, driven by a compulsive need to be needed that burns like an unquenchable fire in the egos of many who find themselves in the pastorate.  There's a time to turn it off, just as there is a time for all things.

I don't expect I'll need to work hard to do that.  It's been a very deliberate leave-taking from that role, as gentle and quiet as I could make it.

And now, onward and upward.

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