The Times They Are A-Changin’: Leading the Church Through Transition

The Times They Are A-Changin’: Leading the Church Through Transition

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As the present now will later be past
The order is rapidly fading
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changing

As the saying goes, “The only thing constant is change.” This cliché is certainly true. Trinitarian Congregational Church in Wayland, MA – the church where I have been serving for the past 4 years – is entering another season of change. It is a season we are all too familiar with around here. With the previous pastor beginning just three years ago (hey, Jesus’ ministry was only 3 years!), it feels as if we were just starting to get the wind under our sails when the rug was pulled out from under our feet. Upon hearing the news, and after processing my initial shock and fears about the future, my mind began to go to the very practical questions that lie ahead. Who will lead our church? Who will care for the community?

Of course I knew the answer to all of these questions. Christ will, just as He has, and just as He always will until He returns.

But is that just another cliché as well? Of course we know that Christ leads the church, but what are we supposed to do in the very real absence of a senior pastor? The more I think about it the more I rest in the fact that the essentials are all we need: Remember the Gospel, and continue to be and make disciples. As it turns out, sometimes having the rug pulled out from under your feet can remind you that Jesus is really in control, that the church is strong, resilient, and ready to work hard for the sake of the Gospel. As I look ahead to this coming year of transition, I want to keep the principles of Christian worship at the forefront of my planning.

I’ve noticed something since the announcement was made public – our gatherings have taken on a sense of urgent significance. Our planning meetings have been energized by a collaborative spirit. A love for the congregation and its immediate needs has catalyzed our brainstorming.

The same is true for Sunday mornings. We still gather as the people of God for worship, and we are still sent into the world for mission. As the worship leader, I have the responsibility for setting the tone for the morning, so I want to joyfully gather us and point our minds towards Christ. Yes, it is sad that our pastor is leaving, and yes, we want to celebrate his ministry here, but we can’t let that become the main focus. Despite this change, our worship, at least in form and content, should remain pretty constant.

This is worship 101. Not a suggestion, but a command from our Lord. Consider these words from Moses to the people of Israel during their time of transition:

When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. (Deuteronomy 6:20-24, ESV)

Despite being rescued from slavery through a supernatural miracle at the parting of the Red Sea, Israel was still prone to forget what God had done. That’s why they were commanded to remember. Even supernatural miracles would be forgotten if not passed to the next generation, which is why teaching children is a common refrain in the book of Deuteronomy.

How much more is it easy for us to forget what God has done. We might not have something as obvious as a Red Sea, but we might have had our own “Red Sea moment.” Indeed, anyone who has been rescued from sin and death and made alive in Christ has had a Red Sea moment, and we need to remember by telling each other our stories. It’s no coincidence that during the Last Supper, Jesus left his disciples with the words “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19, 1 Cor 11:24).

By remembering the good things God has done, it reminds us that God is real, alive, and will continue to lead and guide the community through the next season. It gives us courage to continue in ministry despite the uncertainty of the future. So though change is indeed ahead, the cliché should really be, “the only thing constant is Christ.”


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