As some of you know, I have taken the step of retiring from my role as Lead Pastor at Village. My blog may soon need a new name.
Like most who come to this place, I have wrestled with this decision for some months. It is complicated when you are doing what you love. There is the obvious checklist—
1-Is it too soon? Is it too late? (there’s a saying in battle—“If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re late, you are dead”)
2-Have I been here long enough to reach my most effective years?
3-Am I losing the support of my staff or leadership?
4-Has the organization grown beyond my abilities, experiences, training?
5-Have I run out of energy, drive, passion?
6-is God calling me to a new chapter?
7-Is my best counsel confirming it is time to transition?
Perhaps the only one that applies (best I know) is the last one. This counsel has come largely from my own time with God. I have determined to get this right. As part of Leadership training, I discuss these things with my students. I underscore the necessity of a wise transition. Now I am facing my own front and center.
Looking back, I am grateful for the grace extended to me to pastor 32 years. The average tenure of a senior pastor is 8 years, the average career is 18, so God has been most kind. I am thankful for all three of my churches. God has used these three communities (a midsize church in a difficult part of east Portland for ten years, an international church in Europe for nearly seven, and a larger multicultural church on the west side of Portland for fifteen and counting down) to shape me into the person I am today. It has been, for the most part, an experience of great joy, mixed with occasional plateaus and valleys. Eugene Peterson refers to these valleys as the “badlands”, and I don’t know of any pastor who doesn’t travel through them. But God has spared me many of them, and the ones I have journeyed through have stretched and grown my life.
Getting into alignment with time is a tricky thing. In our earlier days, we think we are older and more mature than we actually are—and we do some really stupid things. At some point, our age and our perception of who we are and where we are align. Eventually, we slide to the other side of the bell curve and assume we are younger and more vigorous than we actually are—and again make some unwise choices. Watching Peyton Manning and Kobe Bryant reinforce this thought.
I can understand where they are at (though it appears Bryant has come to his senses). I feel as young and energetic as ever (well, most of the time). But as I shared with the church, every pastor is an interim pastor. And when I retire, I want to be the first to know. Best I can tell, I was at least one of the first to know. Hardly anyone has said, “What took you so long?” Most have been gracious and told me it is too soon. Some have expressed congratulations (which seems a bit odd, as I am not sure I have suddenly accomplished some great achievement). Some who are a little further down the road have shared the obvious—“It’s a wise decision, because, I can tell you, it is all downhill from here.” These are inspiring words for sure.
I am excited for my church. I love Village, and I am believing its best days are ahead. I am hopeful I have helped position the church for its next chapter. I am also excited for what God has for me ahead. Hopefully more writing, more time at the cabin drifting down the Pend Oreille, more time with my family, and more teaching at seminary both here and abroad. And maybe there are things I have not yet imagined. I know this, I am not ready to slow down. Not yet.
For the time being, I am still Village’s pastor, and will be until my services are no longer needed. Which means my blogpost is still current for now. For any of you at a similar juncture, here are some helpful reads—Bird, Next: Pastoral Succession That Works; Weese, The Elephant in the Boardroom; and Russell, Transition Plan
Hi Dr. Johnson–question for you: Are you leading Village through an intentional succession plan, where there’s already your known successor? I’m interested, because I hope to write about that topic for a dissertation some day…