Part 3 of series: Letting Go of a Church
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On Friday I mentioned five things that are helping me let go as pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church. They were:
1. My Conviction that the Church and I Need to Move On
2. My Observations of What Happens When a Pastor is Too Involved with a Former Church
3. My Personal Support System
4. Physical Distance Between the Church and Me
5. I Love My New Job and Have Plenty to Do
Today I’ll add two more to the list.
6. A “Boundaries Covenant” Between Irvine Presbyterian Church, Los Ranchos Presbytery, and Me
If you’re not a Presbyterian, let me say that a presbytery is an organization of Presbyterian churches in a given location that helps its churches thrive in their ministries. The presbytery exercises some authority over its member churches. Irvine Presbyterian Church is part of Los Ranchos Presbytery, which includes Orange County and a part of Los Angeles County in Southern California. In most matters, the church has authority over its own life. But in matters having to do with pastors, the Presbytery offers guidance and accountability. When I left Irvine Presbyterian Church, I signed a “Boundaries Covenant”, which was also signed by leaders of the church and the presbytery. Here is the essence of this covenant:
Both Pastor & Session (on behalf of the church) mutually agree to support the following conditions of the covenant:
1. As of the above date, the pastor will relinquish all pastoral and administrative duties and will no longer function as part of the pastoral or administrative team of the church.
2. The pastor is determined to be supportive of future pastoral and lay leadership of the church and will refuse to receive or participate in any negative comments, conversations or activities which might undermine any program or person of the church.
3. Any future contacts which may occur between the pastor and the congregation will be as friends and not in a pastor/parishioner relationship. The pastor will not participate in any weddings, funerals, baptisms, nor engage in any hospital or pastoral visitation or serving of Holy Communion unless requested by the Session (which includes the Moderator/installed Pastor/Head of Staff). This is intended to allow the new pastoral relationship to develop. [Exceptions to this provision must be agreed to prior to signing this Covenant and attached as an Appendix.]
Notice that the “Boundaries Covenant” does allow for exceptions, In fact, I was permitted to perform a wedding for a church family after I left the church. It was something to which I had committed long before I was called away from the church and which was judged not to compromise the well-being of the church.
7. My Advance Communication to the Members of Irvine Presbyterian Church
After I announced that I would be leaving Irvine Pres, I preached several sermons that were intended to help church members prepare for the future. In one of these sermons, I preached on 1 Corinthians 3:5-11. This text talks about how Christians are to think of their leaders, emphasizing that human leaders are mere servants, and that God is the one who really matters. (Photo below: A preacher’s view of Irvine Presbyterian Church)
In the context of this message, I spoke specifically about how my relationship with the church would need to change. I asked people, for example, not to tell me about changes in the church they didn’t like. I asked them to respect my need to step back from my pastoral role. I urged them to support their future leaders, including their next installed pastor. These statements not only helped church members get ready for the future. They also built in accountability for me. If I were to meddle in church business in the future, my own members would be prepared to tell me to knock it off.
I also preached several sermons that pointed to the future. I wanted my congregation to focus less on me and my leaving and more on God’s future for the church. That future, I said, is wonderful. Irvine Presbyterian Church is headed for better days, days of greater fruitfulness in ministry, greater outreach to the community, and deeper growth in fellowship and in Christ. I really believe this, and feel a little like Moses on the edge of the Promised Land. I can see great things ahead for Irvine Presbyterian Church, but will not be the pastor to lead that church into those great things. I am praying, even now, for the pastor who will be called to Irvine Pres in a year or two. What a wonderful, challenging, hopeful calling it will be!
Tomorrow I’ll mention a few more things that are helping me let go of Irvine Presbyterian Church.