This Sunday marks a big transition in Albany’s two largest United Methodist churches. The senior pastors at both Porterfield Memorial United Methodist and First United Methodist churches have been appointed by Bishop Lawson Bryan to new congregations. Although these two pastors may already have preached their last sermons in their respective pulpits, if they are preaching this Sunday, I encourage you to go hear them. I suspect it has been a long time since Albany has said goodbye to two such exceptional men on the same Sunday.
I have known Thad Haygood (First United) and Robert Green (Porterfield) for a few decades, admiring them as two of south Georgia Methodism’s finest young pastors. They are leaders and preachers who make you believe that God still calls the cream of the crop to serve as shepherds and leaders. It has been my privilege to be friends of theirs and to admire their ministry from afar.
I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how difficult it is for pastors to remain in any given congregation. Pastors are imperfect. I know this from 36 years of first-hand experience. Mistakes I made and sins I committed are grievous to me; I cannot undo them.
Congregations are imperfect, too. Laypersons are every bit as human as their pastors, and sometimes churches can treat their pastors quite cruelly. These hurtful moments cannot be undone, either.
There is no perfect system of calling or hiring pastors. There is no perfect method of cutting ties with a pastor or church. There have been times I wished I had been a Baptist pastor who could tell my congregation I was leaving in two weeks. But there were many more times when I was grateful my Methodist congregation couldn’t give me my (deserved) two-week pink slip.
Whatever church you are in, whatever system you have of finding and cutting ties with pastors, no matter how eager you are to find a new pastor, no matter how you long for your current pastor to remain, rest yourself in the thought that nothing remains the same forever.
Some pastors are highly effective and others not so much. It is probably more accurate to say that some are deeply loved by some members of the congregation and less loved by others. The next pastor may reach the very people the previous pastor couldn’t reach. In one church I served, I was followed by a pastor who was a south Georgia “good old boy.” Not long after he arrived, deer hunters in that community began attending church. They had never attended while I was there. I didn’t have a single pair of camo togs in my closet.
Say your goodbyes as kindly and graciously as possible to your pastor and commend him or her to God and the next congregation. Then prepare yourself to love and support your next pastor, trusting that God will send exactly who your congregation needs. Such trust and love would go a long way to helping a congregation thrive.