Easter B5, May 6, 2012
Times of congregational leadership transition are full of turmoil as the familiar ways give way to the shifting sands of change. Luke creates vivid accounts of the turbulent movements of transition for the early followers of Jesus. That transition of post resurrection life in Acts 8 has a steady beat of already established spiritual practices that set the stage to hear God's call and the Spirit's promptings. The Ethiopian is already in the habit of reading scripture and Philip leverages that practice for revelation and teaching. Baptism was not an unfamiliar ritual and Philip quickly utilized that practice. One movement in preaching and worship leadership might be to emphasize the spiritual practices that nurture the life of the church. That same thrust could include time to become familiar anew with the rich teaching content of "rituals" such as baptism, the Lord's Supper, membership and ordination promises, etc. These practices and rituals are strong pillars that support the church as it adjusts emotionally and spiritually to the change in pastoral leaders.
Transitions are times to say good bye. We say good bye to a pastor, a member who is moving away or even to the “way things have always been”. This transitional dynamic or developmental task is known as “coming to terms with history”. Celebration of what has one before is crucial. But, these words of Jesus indicate that “pruning” is not irrelevant.
As a congregation prepares for a new future of mission and ministry with a new pastoral leader, “pruning” or “coming to terms of history” cultivates fruitfulness. One powerful sermon strategy may be to focus on what in us is not fruitful? What don’t we need anymore? What belongs to the past and not the future?
In my interim ministry leadership “startup” retreat, one of the questions I pose to the leadership is, “what baggage do I carry from the time of ministry with _____(name )?” A time of worship and prayer help us to begin to let go of that which may hold us back. At times, “letting go” is not as important as creating meaning out of something that caused us to become stuck in the past. Conversations in the retreat can help to create new meaning that helps one to be “unstuck” and step forward.
Those sitting in the pews are also coping with various transitions – career, graduations, marriage, a move to a new home, pending retirement, an illness, or any number of challenges. These questions can be asked of them. What was good? What do I need to leave behind that won’t help me on the journey to the future?
Another theme in this text is “abiding”. Exegesis will reveal the deep relational nature of “abiding” as Jesus used it. The shifts of the transition time need the spiritual resources of our faith. As a transitional pastoral leader, the interim minister has the opportunity to help the congregation draw on those resources (prayer, scripture, fellowship, etc.) in ways that are appropriate to that setting.