This week has been one of much reflection for me. I have been revisiting many of the thoughts that have gone through my head in the last several days, in light of the announcement of my pastor’s resignation. It is quite interesting, contemplating the thoughts that go through our heads when we are preparing to say goodbye to someone we love, is it not?
I’ve said goodbye to pastors and partners in ministry before. Brother Jimmy is the third member of our ministerial staff to leave since I came on staff. The church where I grew up had pastors coming and going pretty frequently while I was there (though they’ve had the same man in the pulpit there for about 15 years now). It’s been difficult every time I’ve seen someone leave.
This is different, though. Jimmy Arms has been my primary shepherd for most of my Christian life, and all of my adult life. I admire and respect him as much as any man I’ve ever met. Conventional wisdom would say his leaving ought to hurt more than any of the others. While there was the inevitable wave of emotions when he informed the staff on Sunday afternoon of his decision to resign during the evening service, my very first reaction was simply: “Oh, it’s you.”
You see, God’s been pounding a lesson into me for the last year or so, regarding a particular area in my life over which pride had taken hold. I love my job with the church orchestra and the School of Performing Arts, but for years I had been treating them as if they were “my” ministries. As if I were somehow responsible for and critical to their success. Because God has gifted me in ways that make me particularly suited to the work He has ordained for me to do for His Kingdom, I was able to see some small successes as a result of my labor. However, I had placed on myself the God-sized task of growing ministries, as opposed to simply growing a school or writing music.
This is why, when all three of our guitar teachers told me they were leaving the School of Performing Arts in 2009 (two for seminary, and one to assist in a new church plant in another city), I panicked. How could I possibly find enough teachers to fill those spots so quickly? I tried to be happy for them, and to rejoice that they were going into new and exciting ministries, but it was hard.
Two encounters late last year (both written on our family calendar because they were so important to us) helped me see this part of my life I had not released to God’s sovereignty. In November, Brother Jimmy shared with our Lifegroup the importance of being willing to renounce all that we have in order to be Christ’s disciples (Luke 14:33). He said that the sweetest memory he and Diane have is the time they sold or gave away literally everything they owned in order to follow God’s call to Africa.
A month later, Lee Bailey’s message to the men in our group was that the only place we are irreplaceable is at home. He told the story of how, when he left his job as a bank manager to enter the ministry, he thought the bank would have a hard time finding someone to take his place. A day after turning in his resignation, he said there was someone else at “his” desk, with “his” secretary, managing “his” accounts. The bank never missed a beat. He had been applying most of his energy to his job, when his real focus should have been on his role as a husband and father. That is a job that no one else can do.
I realized I had been doing the same thing. I thought that if I left, the SPA would fall apart. I thought that, even though I have the greatest assistant in the world, things would somehow go terribly wrong if I didn’t stay long into the evening on the nights when there are late lessons. This was sin, and I knew I must turn it over to God, come what may.
Almost immediately, the Lord brought three new excellent guitar teachers to our school. I’d never met any of them before January, though I’d been searching for over 6 months for instructors. Yes, I placed the calls and conducted the interviews, but it was God who provided for the increase of His ministry.
We now have two more SPA teachers contemplating leaving (one for seminary, and one to teach music as a missionary in a foreign land). Despite the fact that they are two of the most gifted music educators I have ever known, I have been able to tell them truthfully and honestly that, while they would be missed, their current roles will be filled by others whom God will (and perhaps already has) lead to us.
I have also realized that if I am not leading my areas of ministry in such a way that they will thrive without me, then I am not being faithful to the responsibility God has entrusted to me. My family has no plans whatsoever to leave Stevens Street in the foreseeable future, but I have a duty to renounce everything, including my prideful and misplaced sense of self-worth, so that if God should call us to follow Him in service elsewhere, we will be free to respond, just as our pastor has.
And so it was with many of these thoughts already in my mind over the weekend that I was reading Luke 4 in anticipation of receiving Pastor Jimmy’s teaching on the text. His messages as he has preached through Luke have been some of his most challenging in years. When I got to the end of the chapter, though (from which he’ll be teaching this coming Sunday), I was very convicted by verses 42 & 43: “And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, but he said to them, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” It was then that I “knew” that someone would be leaving us soon. I did not know who it would be or when… and thought for a moment that it might even be me. When I heard Jimmy’s news, then, I was emotionally shocked, but it was not a surprise.
I have long felt that God has been preparing our church for some great work. I feel that now more than ever. It will of course be a difficult transition as our pastor of 19 years moves on, but it can be nothing but a tremendous multiplication of ministry. Many of us would keep him from leaving us, but we have no more “exclusive right” to this man of God than the people of Capernaum had to the Lord Jesus.
Of the many emotions that I feel in light of Jimmy’s resignation, the strongest is excitement. I am excited to see how God will use this man to impact the Kingdom on a much larger scale. I am excited to see how our congregation responds to this great act of leadership from the man who has led us for so long. Is there a chance that the church falls apart? Of course there is, if those of us in leadership positions try to handle things in our own strength. But God has blessed our congregation with very Godly leadership. Our pastor has always led us in such a way that the church will thrive in his absence. He has never been our head, but has shepherded us in submission to the true Head of the Church, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:23). Pastors come and go, but our Lord will never leave us or forsake us, and He will never change.
These are indeed exciting times! May we all follow our pastor’s lead as we worship, mature, and serve together at Stevens Street Baptist Church. May we not see “resignation” as something negative, but as a positive step of submission to our Lord! This is, after all, not a resignation from Stevens Street, but a resignation to God’s call on the life of His humble servant.
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. ~ Hebrews 13:5-8