We are in a unique time in the local church right now. A Pastor who has led faithfully for over a quarter of a century is handing over the leadership of the church and the team, to me - a man who is new on the scene and new to the town.
During the transition period of the last few months, I've become increasingly impressed by the way in which this faithful Pastor is known and understood by good people, some of whom have walked with him for a long time. There is an ease and simplicity about life when we are known and we know. A rhythm of unspoken understanding in our words and listening, no need to analyse motives when we already know the heart from which the voice speaks.
This security is vital for the ongoing health of any local church. The absence of it is noticeable by contrast, particularly in a community where intimate relationship has formed. On a number of occasions in the last couple of months, I've had conversations with people I don't yet know well and assumed that we have understood each other. We have not - Not because I've not been clear, or because they are easily confused -but simply because they have been well conditioned over time to respond to the voice of another Shepherd. The issue is that we simply don't yet know each others voice, and this takes time.
I've read a lot of helpful encouragement in books during this period about the importance of the first 100 days in the new role. A time to make changes, a time to make your mark. I'm learning now, in month 5 that the time for building relationships is now, and will continue to be for some time yet. It's a process of trust that simply can't be rushed by management gurus or forced time expectations.
My faithful Pastor friend here learned 27 years ago to listen to what God says and do it, but to do so by walking with others. It hasn't always been easy, and he too will have gone though the early relational stages of misunderstanding, even at times suspicion and sometimes pain. But as he told his story to the church last sunday, for the last time in this context - even though many knew the script, filled in the gaps, called out prompts, anticipated the laughs, knew the ending - there was evident a rich history of Shepherding which has become so natural and instinctive for him and for the people.
This is huge blessing, in that it leaves behind a reservoir of corporate love. But the changing of Shepherds, the asking of a local congregation to follow a new Shepherd whose voice they don't yet know and heart they don't yet fully understand, is a huge step to ask a church to make. Just understanding the potential for a knowledge and trust void is probably the first step. Walking forward in growing relationship and increasing awareness of one another will be my privilege to get right as we advance from this place of safety into the relative unknown of the next few months.
As we were reminded on sunday, thank God that we are not doing this on our own! The head of the church is Jesus Christ, me and my faithful Pastor friend are simply under Shepherds. How securing for us all to know that He is leading us safely, that we can all know His voice, and be nourished in His pasture, even whilst the landscape around us begins to change.