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Duration:18 mins 27 secs

 

The text from Num. 8 with which we started gives instructions about the dedication of the Levite tribe to serve in a special ministry among God's people.  I think it is not too great a stretch to compare them to full-time ministers in the Lord's church today. And I particularly want to draw your attention to those last two verses.  Did you know God intended these men should retire? I didn't ...until my preacher friend, Paul Hamm, pointed it out to me a few years ago. They were supposed to withdraw to an advisory or assisting capacity at the age of 50.  So my friend, Paul, suggested I might ought to repent for not retiring 15 years ago!

Now I've heard some preachers say that Christians should never retire.  I agree, and I want you to know I don't intend to retire from being a Christian; just from the paid ministry.  I've heard other preachers say they'd "rather burn out than rust out," and I agree with that too.  But I don't think it has to be one or the other.  I've even heard a few say they'd have to have their fingers pried from the pulpit and drug feet first from the church house before they quit preaching.  And it nearly happened that way for one preacher I know. But that's not for me. I know the Lord's church is not dependent upon any one man--certainly not me.

Today will be the last time I preach to you as the Senior Minister of Parkview Christian Church.  I admit I have a few fears about "retirement," but I also approach it with a certain amount of anticipation, and (at times) even giddiness.  Not just for myself, either. But for Parkview Christian Church! I am genuinely excited about our new minister, Jeff Randleman, and what the future holds for this congregation.

There are, however, some very real potential hazards to this whole ministerial succession procedure.  Our consultant, Dr. Eric Stevens of Central Christian College of the Bible, warned us when we began the process of the three greatest threats.  The first and greatest of which is myself. It can be hard to let go.

In his book, When God Builds a Church, Bob Russell writes, "I have watched closely and have yet to see a retired minister remain in the church he pastored for a long time and not be a burden to his successor."  Likewise, in giving Six Pointers for Leaders Getting Ready to Retire, LeRoy Lawson relates, "In my own case, my wife has insisted with every retirement that I must leave town.  She said that for my sake, for the church's (or college's) sake, and for my successor's sake.  ...She gave wise counsel." (Christian Standard, May 2016)  I even know from my own experience in a church I served before moving to Sedalia that a member who is a former minister can be a pain in the neck.  But Freida and I plan to continue living in Sedalia with Parkview as our church home. And I am especially concerned that I not become an obstacle or detriment to the ministry here.  So, as I wrote in last month's church newsletter, if I ever start to hinder the church, please take me aside and stop me.  Or do what I tell Freida to do; "Just shoot me."

The second greatest threat to a successful ministerial transition, is the new, incoming minister.  But our elders, transition team, church board, and congregation have gone to great lengths and done all we know to do in order to ensure we have the right man coming.  And again, I agree wholeheartedly with the decision to hire Jeff Randleman. It certainly appears that God closed certain doors while opening others for us to be where we are at this point.

But now I want to address that third potential stumbling block to the spiritual health and growth of the church; namely, the congregation itself!  We must work and pray and serve together with our new minister, Jeff, following his lead (and that of our elders) if we are to effectively carry out Christ's mission for the church.  To that end, let me prescribe three prerequisites for a successful transition.

 

I.

Expect & Embrace Change!

The gospel message, of course, is always the same.  But the methods used to present it should change!  Change can be hard. We get used to a certain way of doing things and fall into a rut.  We become comfortable in a regular routine, but over time lose effectiveness too. Change can be awkward at first, but change is not necessarily bad.  Change is often good!

How many of you have a cell phone?  Unless you're a teenager, at some point that phone was new, different, a little confusing, and you had to get used to it.  (And the older you were at the time you got it, the harder it probably was to use and accept!) It was a change from what you grew up with and what you were familiar with.  But now you see the advantages of it, and don't know how you'd get along without it!

Churches, like people, lose flexibility with age.  They underestimate the need for regular stretching, and overestimate their current flexibility.

Don't expect Jeff Randleman to do things just like Rodney Brown.  Jeff is not Rodney ... and that's a good thing! Parkview doesn't need another Rodney Brown anyway.  Parkview needs someone a little different, with some fresh new ideas and a lot more energy!

An article by Gary Johnson about ministerial transition in Christian Standard magazine (May 2016) observes, "A person ... can't be 'stamped' with an expiration date, but we can look for signs indicating we are near the end of our leadership shelf life.  Some of the signs include: (1) stale vision and dated ideas; (2) waning urgency and depleted energy; (3) little hunger for learning; (4) unable to adapt to change; (5) no desire to retool leadership skills; (6) passé ministry methods; and (7) coasting in neutral as the preferred speed of leading."  Ouch!  Several of those hit me between the eyes, but I expect I'm not the only one it speaks to in this congregation either.

At some point after Jeff gets here, we will undoubtedly make some changes--changes in the way we do things, changes in the order of services, changes perhaps in the style of our worship services, or the very appearance of our facilities.  Some changes we will, no doubt, immediately like, but others may have to grow on us. Resist the urge to immediately pass judgment and criticize.

I think back to a few changes we've made during the course of my 26 years here.  They weren't all accepted very well at first. We used to recite the Lord's Prayer and sing the doxology ("Praise God from whom all blessings flow...") in every service!  We used to locate the communion emblems at the front and instruct folks to hold the emblems until we could all take them at the same time.  The use of guitars and drums in some of our services was a big deal for some.

I especially remember when we moved the traditional hymn service to an earlier time slot.  There was one man who didn't like it ...and was somewhat vocal about his displeasure. He wanted the traditional worship service at the traditional hour.  But I went to him privately, asked him to look around at the number of new folks who had begun attending both services. To his credit, that man not only quit complaining, but started supporting and even promoting the idea.  He found, after a few weeks, that he actually liked coming at an earlier hour for worship.

What kind of changes can we expect Jeff to suggest?  I don't know. But I hope we try a lot of new ideas!  And I hope some of them enhance the worship experience to the point it attracts new people.  Don't you?

I once heard a wise preacher say this about new methods and change within the church; "If we keep doing what we've been doing, we'll keep getting what we've been getting."  We've got to try some new things to win new people.  Even the apostle Paul said, "I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some." (1 Cor. 9:22)  He wasn't talking about changing the content of his message, but the manner in which he presented it.

 

II.

Express Enthusiasm!

The church will always have its  pessimists and nay-sayers, but you don't have to be one of them.  Compliment the new preacher whenever you can honestly do so. Nothing so energizes a preacher as the knowledge something he has said or done has blessed someone else.  And on the other hand, nothing so stifles and demoralizes a preacher as the feeling he is not liked or appreciated.

We are expecting a lot from Jeff when he gets here.  We have a right to expect some things from him. But I would remind you that he also has a right to expect some things from us too!

  • We expect him to spend time in study so he can deliver helpful, bible-based sermons.  But he should expect us to hold him up in prayer, and be present to hear those sermons.
  • We expect him to cast a vision and set some goals for our congregation.  But he should expect us to get on board with that vision and do our part to reach those goals.
  • We expect him to visit the sick and call on the lost.  But he should expect us to pray for the sick and the lost, as well as witness to our friends and neighbors.
  • We expect him to manage the church's financial resources as a good steward.  But he should expect us to give cheerfully and in proportion to our income.
  • In short, we expect him to lead.  But he should expect us to follow!

To that end, and with that in mind, I urge you not to come to me with any complaints about Jeff, and not to criticize him or his programs to others.  If you ever have a genuine reservation or concern, talk it over with Jeff himself, or go to one of our elders. If there is to be a wedding or funeral, look to Jeff first.  I'll be around to assist in those events if you want me to, but go through him, and understand that he is your minister now.

There's an old song that encapsulates my point about expressing enthusiasm.  The chorus goes like this:

"You got to accentuate the positive

Eliminate the negative

Latch on to the affirmative

And don't mess with mister in-between.

 

"You got to spread joy up to the maximum

Bring gloom down to the minimum

Have faith, or pandemonium

Is liable to walk upon the scene."

 

III.

Encourage Others to do the Same!

My mother always told me if I couldn't say something nice about someone, I shouldn't say anything at all.  But sometimes that's not good enough. Especially so where Christ's church is concerned. If you can't find something nice, positive, or encouraging about your home church that is also truthful, then maybe it's time to find a new church home!

The church is the bride of Christ. (Jn. 3:28-30; Eph. 5:25-27,32; Rev. 19:7; 21:2,9)  Anyone who continually insults, degrades, runs down, or makes fun of the bride will eventually have to answer to the bridegroom!

In addition, all who are saved, and only those who are saved, are added to the church. (Ac. 2:47)  So if you want others to be saved, you'd better extol the church's virtues rather than criticize her vices.  And if you don't want others to be saved, you are a wicked, unfaithful servant in danger of being cast out of the church yourself!

No congregation of believers is perfect, nor is any individual believer.  But we are forgiven in Christ and accepted by Him. We are God's family. (Eph. 2:19; 1 Tim. 3:15; 1 Pe. 2:17)  If God loves, forgives, accepts, and adopts the church as His family, should we not also?  Our earthly families aren't perfect either, but if we love them, we can usually find something good to say about them.  We rarely (if ever) parade our "dirty laundry" in public. How much more so should that be true of our spiritual family, the church?

 

Conclusion:

From the time I first announced my upcoming retirement I have urged everyone to think of the next minister not as my "replacement," but as my "successor."  If we would find the success in ministerial succession, then it will be realized as we...

...Expect and Embrace Change,

...Express Enthusiasm, and

...Encourage Others to do the Same.

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