“I [Paul] planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” 1 Corinthians 3:6 (NRSV)
The Corinthian church was bickering and fighting. Apparently, they were divided over a number of issues, including who was their true leader. This was a church that Paul had started (let’s face it – he had a lot of “new church starts”), and when he left Apollos took over as their spiritual leader.
Does this sound familiar? In my previous parish, one of the long-time United Methodists who had been in that church for many years learned that I was being appointed to a new charge (with two churches). Her comment was that whoever followed me would have a hard time because I had been a popular pastor.
Wow! That’s heady stuff! I had never been popular in my life, and all of a sudden, I learn that I was! It was tempting to be proud of that, but then I realized and remember this passage above. It isn’t about me. It isn’t about the pastor before me. It isn’t about the pastor who follows me. It IS about God.
I sometimes wonder if pastors realize how they transition for the person who follows them. In one church, the pastoral position was supposed to be quarter time, but the pastor (even though the person was paid for quarter time) was there full time. I followed that pastor and tried to be half time, but there were a number of disgruntled people who thought I was favoring the other church. In essence, I was working hard to keep that church moving forward.
However, I was never there enough according to some of the folks. Fortunately, we eventually straightened out the expectations even though I continue to try to work full time in both churches. That could be a problem for my successor. I hope not.
Now that I am near retirement, my sermons will be talking about change, focusing on how God is in charge (I’ve been doing that all along, but now it will be a little more noticeable), and helping them to be open to new leadership. There are no guarantees, of course.
When I left my previous church, it turned out poorly, and so much of the work we did together fell apart. However, some of it endured since they are still in ministry, so that is something.
There are a number of books I have read about how to leave a parish and prepare the congregation for the transition. They are guiding me along with a lot of prayer and meditation, as well as the Staff Parish Relations Committee.
Ultimately, it’s out of my hands. As pastors, we all plant and water, but it is God who gives the growth. We do our part and trust God to do the rest.