Continue the Vision

In preparing for Sunday’s sermon, I ran across an article with this quote:

“Several years ago journalist Bill Bishop published The Big Sort, in which he argued that American mobility allows for a constant shuffling and reshuffling of the social deck, resulting in lifestyle enclaves that are increasingly monochromatic. We seek places to live, work, and play only with people like ourselves. ‘We have built a country,’ Bishop writes, ‘where everyone can choose the neighbors (and church and news shows) most compatible with his or her lifestyle and beliefs.’”

Most of us, unless we are very intentional, continue to filter our surroundings to a more homogenous environment with every shuffle. One of the ways The United Methodist Church addresses this is through the appointment process and the changing of leadership. Every year the congregation and the pastors appointed to those congregations are asked for the goals, vision and mission of the congregation and if they think a change in pastoral leadership is needed to fulfill God’s call for the church. After almost 30 years in ministry and six appointments, I still believe God uses the United Methodist appointment system to counter our tendencies towards homogeny while bringing new life and diversity to the mission of the Church. The appointment system helps the church avoid filtering some people out that are not compatible with our lifestyles and beliefs. It is not a perfect system by any means, but it is the best I know of currently in use. You may remember, the first disciples cast lots.

While it is uncomfortable for me to leave, I told the conference that I would do what they thought was best. We have done some great work together and I am going to miss seeing much of the growth that I expect will bloom from the seeds that have been planted. But I have also enjoyed watching the seeds others have planted bloom and flourish. Stephen Ministry was a new program started under the leadership of the Lowrys and now bears much fruit on its own without the careful watch of Jon and Anna. We have returned to being very involved in our local community and schools and have just started to see some of the fruits of those efforts. It will be for someone else to see the harvest. Some ministries born during the times of Rev. Hargis, Rev. Talk and others grew for a season and then died while others continue to grow and bear fruit year after year. Those ministries continue not because of the unquestioned support of a new pastor but because individuals within the congregation (you) recognized God’s call and mission for Laurel Heights in those ministries even after a leadership change.

When you work closely beside a pastor on a shared vision, it is sometimes difficult to imagine it continuing after the makeup of the ministry team changes. Close relationships are formed because of similar talents, backgrounds or values. The move away from homogeny that comes with meaningful change seems to push us to the outside or makes us feel less valued. This is far from the truth. In fact the very opposite is true. What the ministry needs most now is what you continue to bring. It may be someone else’s turn to be part of the planting team  and it may be another person’s turn to reap the harvest. It can be difficult to turn loose of what you saw as a favored position; I have known some who seem to always be fighting to get back to the feeling they had when working with their “favorite” pastor. Good leaders know when to step aside and let someone else experience the joy and blessings they have known.

July 1, 2018 I will no longer be your pastor; you will continue on without me in your midst and learn to develop a new and unique relationship with Rev. Escamilla. I will not come back to “do” your weddings, funerals, baptisms or other pastoral duties. Please know I will pray for you and this Church. I will say “hi” to you in the store and may even go to supper with you when invited but I will have new fields to plow, seeds to sow and harvests to gather. I will meet new laborers, many whom may have never had the opportunity to  develop a close relationship with a pastor as they worked side by side to fulfill God’s call.

God’s peace,