Time to Say Goodbye

Posted by on May 14, 2011

Friends, this is a letter to the congregation at Trinity, but anyone interested can read it to find out more about what I’m doing and why.

Background

I’ve been pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in West Sacramento for almost 8 years now. And in that time, God has done many amazing things in us and through us. There has been great personal and church transformation… And Eleanor and I agree that – despite the many struggles and challenges – this has been the best time of our lives. God has been very, very good to us.

We were surprised to find ourselves being called out of Trinity. There had been signs that my time there might be wrapping up, but I hadn’t wanted to believe it. We had figured that we had 4-5 more years of work to do before a different kind of pastor would be needed, but it turns out that now is that time. At some point we felt that asking the same question again an again after having received such a strong answer wasn’t the right thing to do so we began to pray for the transition.

In late April, Eleanor and I committed to a discipline of daily prayer for discernment, and we got some of the clearest answers from God that we have experienced. Every single day the answer to “Is it time to leave Trinity” was yes. Every time. Down to the details. We both saw a date in our minds for talking to the chair of the personnel committee – and it ended up being the same date.

Concerns

I’ve heard a few concerns or positions that I would like to address:

“If he’s leaving then I’m leaving.” Please don’t do that! I believe that God has plans for Trinity.  I believe that my departure is part of a process that will allow the church to come together as a whole to claim its mission.  If the people who believe in our church’s mission leave, that’ll mess it up for everyone.  At the very least, please commit to praying and seeing what happens next before you make that decision.

“They shouldn’t be kicking him out.” After June 26th, my family and I will not be worshiping at Trinity.  It’s traditional in Presbyterian Churches for pastors to step aside and give the church space when they end their pastoral relationship.  In general, there are very good reasons for this, and in this case it’s even more important.  I believe that I have become the focus of a potentially church-splitting conflict.  My presence as a change agent – and that’s what I am – has become polarizing.  I need to step aside to let the church do its own discernment.  It’s way too easy to say, “That’s Steve’s plan.”  I don’t want that to happen, and if I hang around Trinity I believe the problem will still occur, making my resignation a waste!  So I’m voluntarily stepping out.  I believe it’s God’s will and God will bless my family.  (My kids will likely visit from time to time with my sister or parents or their friends.)

“What will you do next?” This one’s harder to explain.  All we know so far is that it’s time to step out.  I don’t have another job lined up.  But I am confident that God does know what’s next for me.  There are many possibilities.  I don’t think I’m going to know until I’m done with my ministry at Trinity.  What I am very confident about – and I have had it confirmed by a pastor from New Mexico who didn’t even know me when he told this to me as well as someone i met at a conference yesterday – is that God will be taking care of my family and me.  We are doing what we’re supposed to do, and when God’s people do that, God provides what we need.  It will be better than any of us expect.

“What about our friendship?” I’m allowed to have friends from the church; I just won’t be discussing the workings of the church with you.  This means we’ll have to learn more about each other since we can’t “talk business.”  Nobody’s asking you to shun us.

“What will happen next at Trinity?” For about two months after I go, Trinity will ask people to step in temporarily to preach, teach, provide pastoral care, and handle church administration questions.  Then they will hire an “interim pastor.”  Interim pastors are pastors who are specially trained to help congregations find their way through transitions.  They help the church with the grief process and also empower the church leaders to define themselves (by writing a “mission study”) and to choose a new pastor wisely.

Long-term, what happens at Trinity is up to you.  If you have thoughts, questions, ideas, or concerns, please make your voice heard!  Talk to your elders: Rob Armijo, Don Brooks, Steve David, Terri Davis, Sue Goodwin, Carla Hanson, Jill Thom, and Jill Whitney.  Talk to Pastor Tina.  You can also talk to me about it until June 26th.

Stepping into the Future

I’ll be preaching this Sunday (May 15th) about Moses and Joshua and explaining some more of this and how I see it working out.  Please come!

I have six weeks ahead to talk to people who want to talk – I’m hoping to set up a meeting time or two to explore it with people.  If you’d like to talk to me, please let me know!

Finally, on June 25th, we’ll be having a dinner to celebrate our ministry together.  They’re hoping for a roast, and I think it would be fun to laugh with you.  Eleanor and I have done plenty of crying too, but let’s end out time together on a high note!

Eleanor and I have committed to praying for you in this transition.  I hope you will also pray for Trinity and for us.  God knows what he’s doing so let’s give Him a chance to show us what He has in mind. Remember, our God “can do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine.”  (Ephesians 3:20).  Keep up the good work and remember that you are a family and the Body of Christ.

I’ll write more later.  Let me know what topics you might like me to address.

Love in Christ,

Pastor Steve

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