Here is my latest version of “How Great Thou Art” by a young lady named Mary Sarah, a nineteen year old rising star from Texas. Have no idea where she will be five years from now, but this version is so simple and so good I had to pass it along to you!
Change brings about lots of questions. Many of you have asked great questions about the changes going on in my life as pastor at Providence so I want to answer the most common ones for you. I love the fact that our brothers and sisters in Christ want to know what’s next for us and how they can pray. So here are a few of the questions.
- What changed to shift the timeline from October 2018 to January 2016 as the date you are planning to step down as senior pastor?
When the search process began in the summer of 2014, I could see then that the timeline would of necessity be moved up. The coaching and grooming of a new pastor can only take so long! Once we knew that it was to be Brian Frost, we were able to see that his long-term connections at Providence would shorten the transition period even more because there was so much he already knows that I do not need to teach him. Therefore, we began to look at what needed to take place, assessed the process involved in getting things together to do that and realized that we could move forward far quicker than any of us would have thought.
The succession team appointed by the elders worked diligently to develop an orderly plan that would take care of Cathy and me, keep any commitments already made to us, clarify ours to the church, and then sort out the details of dates and times to see this through. And so we arrived at the schedule you have heard. Brian will become senior pastor on January 1, 2016 and I will officially no longer be a pastor on the Providence staff, but simply a loyal, faithful member glad to call this church my home!
- How involved were you in the selection process and transition plans?
When the search process began for a new senior pastor who would succeed me, a couple of important decisions were made right away. First, the bylaws prescribe how that process should go and we wanted to be scrupulously careful to follow them. Second, my role would be limited to initial questions the Search Committee might have about process which I answered in a meeting with them soon after they convened to begin their work. Third, I agreed to send out letters to my own network of pastor friends inquiring about names they might want to recommend for the position. Fourth, I was available as a reference for any candidate who might be identified with personal connections to me. Beyond that, I did not play a role in the selection process.
When Brian Frost’s name was brought to the elders by the unanimous vote of the Search Committee, the elders met to interview him without me present so that questions would not be awkward in any way. But when the official recommendation was ready for the vote of the elders, I asked for permission to make the official motion that we call Brian! I love that guy and will gladly follow him as my pastor!
- Why step down as senior pastor at all?
Well, there are two ways to answer—reasons I am not stepping down, and reasons I am.
Reasons I am not stepping down…
- I am not retiring! The idea of retiring at age 63 does not compute with me, since the decade of the 60’s is typically the most productive of one’s life.
- I am not tired of ministry! Any pastor gets tired in the ministry, but if I ever get tired of the ministry something is wrong!
- I am not looking to move away! Florida has nothing to fear…we are not leaving Raleigh, one of the best places in the world to live!
- I was not encouraged nor urged to do so. Because the timeline changed, it is natural to think that someone(s) is pushing me out—not at all! In fact, I am surrounded by elders and pastors who are some of my greatest cheerleaders!
- I do not love Providence any less! On the contrary, Providence is my church family as evidenced by the fact that once I am no longer on staff, I will still be here as a faithful member who loves his Christ-centered church and the people there!
Reasons I am stepping down…
- I am putting my actions where my convictions are! For years, I have taught and tried to model a ministry that embraces 2 Timothy 2:2 and Ephesians 4:11-12—passing the torch on to the next generation. That has long been a biblically formed passion of mine. If “next generation” leaders are to get a chance, my generation needs to give due consideration to the dangers inherent with staying too long and occupying positions that could, and in some cases should, belong to younger leaders. Getting out of the way early enough to watch that happen motivates me in an exciting way!
- I am finding a shift in my priorities for ministry. In our environment of grace, I believe I could stay at Providence for the rest of my life. But as my ministry gifts have developed over the years, certain emphases have emerged that have re-shaped my priorities. Providence needs a pastor who gives top priority and energy to the right things at the right time. I believe I have done that passionately over the years, but now I detect a shift in the kinds of things that are fulfilling to me. I will always be a vision-casting and dreaming kind of pastor, but the level of energy and focus needed to fight for those things seems to be less satisfying, even when I know I gave everything I had. What is more satisfying to me lately is investing in a ministry to equip leaders, training up others to have a significant impact for generations to come. I have been doing that for over 25 years here at Providence, but now sense that God has prepared me to devote more time and energy to that purpose than remaining as a senior pastor would ever allow.
- I am longing to write, coach, consult, teach and preach more than ever. Being a senior pastor offers all kinds of opportunities for all of those things. But to be honest, any pastor counts himself blessed if he gets to do what he really loves doing as much as 40% of his time. The 60+% of remaining ministry duties is necessary work and makes a huge difference in ministry effectiveness. But I believe the time has come to find a way to maximize the opportunities to do what I love most and to do it with un-divided focus.
- I continue to be committed to help other churches and their leaders. For many years, I have answered the calls as they have come in. Church leaders and other pastors have come and asked for counsel in one aspect of their ministry or another—not because I am some church “guru” but I have been around long enough to learn through experiences of success and failure. But I have also gleaned much godly wisdom from the trenches of hands-on pastoral ministry to be able to offer some hope and help. I long to keep doing that until I am physically or mentally incapable of making myself available to others who need me.
“Equipping” is the one-word focus of my life! Equipping leaders is the next tier of that focus—equipping leaders anywhere and everywhere is the third tier, whether across town or across the world. After decades of doing that, I am excited about how the Lord can shape the next decade to allow me to keep at it.
- Since you have said that you are not retiring, just changing your ministry focus and context, what will you be doing?
Since this article is already far too long, I will end by offering a short answer. I will lead a new ministry called Equipped for Life that will provide a platform for me to do the things I love doing—just as I explained in the previous answer. Next time I will explain more of what Equipped for Life is all about!
Well, the time is fast approaching!
As a 26 year-old pastor without much of a clue about what leading a church meant, back in 1978 God put me in the right place at the right time to become the pastor of a new congregation, Providence Baptist Church. All I knew for certain was that God always provides abundantly for anything He asks of us, that I had a talented and supportive wife named Cathy, and that an extraordinary opportunity had been placed right in front of us to make a difference in the city of Raleigh for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Now, almost 37 years later, I am down to my last few months as senior pastor here at Providence. This is the only place I have ever pastored and the only place I have ever wanted to be. The environment of grace at Providence has given me the rich privilege of loving and being loved by a gracious people as we have pursued Christ together. With many missteps and stumbles, I have learned in the trenches of practical ministry the ups and downs of shepherding God’s people, and yet have been given room to grow through the failures, rejoice in the victories for Christ, delight in seeing scores of pastors ordained, hundreds of missionaries sent out and thousands of people come and be better equipped to go as God has led.
June 28 proved to be a memorable day in my life. Sadly, that morning, my Mom died at 6:15 after enduring failing health for the past couple of years. It was tough to watch her go, but with a sense of relief and joy to see her enter into her eternal home with Christ. A new day for Mom has been secured by grace through Jesus Christ! That evening back in Raleigh at Providence, the members stepped up in an astounding display of unity and affirmed their support for Brian Frost to be my successor as senior pastor at Providence. By a secret ballot vote, he was approved by a 674-0 vote of the congregation. A new day for Providence has been set to begin under Brian’s capable, godly leadership!
On that same night, the elders then had the opportunity to announce that I would spend the next six months coaching and mentoring my good friend Brian as he prepares to take the reins as senior pastor on January 1, 2016. That also means that on that date, after 37 years and 3 months, my ministry will change and be something other than senior pastor of Providence Baptist Church. Other than a few early years of student ministry, I have never known anything else but being the pastor at Providence so the adventure before me is huge!
As this transition begins, lots of people have been asking great questions about what’s next for us. Indeed an exciting new chapter of ministry will be coming my way beginning in 2016. Some have asked about my “retirement” plans. I have to answer by saying I don’t have any such plans at this point! Far from retiring, I see some of my most active days of ministry yet–and they are just around the corner! Providence has made chapter one in my ministry years a satisfying and amazing journey. Now, we anticipate chapter number next!
Pray for Cathy and me as we wind down our labor of love here over the next several months and wind up our new adventure as I step into the lead role for a ministry called Equipped for Life. I have just finished year one of my PhD studies and know that much profitable labor remains for me in that direction for some time to come. A season of rest early in 2016 will be followed by a period of intense focus for the development of Equipped for Life as Cathy and I work on the foundation stones for this exciting new ministry.
In a later post, I will answer some of the questions I have been asked the most about this period of transition, explain what Equipped for Life is and hopes to accomplish, and in general how I am feeling about where the Lord is directing our steps.
For now, thank you for your interest in reading this far! We have been most blessed to serve Providence for most of our lives and will continue to call her our church home. We love this place and her people and intend to be right here supporting Brian and the rest of the ministry team as long as the Lord gives us breath! Until next time, know this–I am one grateful man for the goodness of God, for the love of an amazing wife and family, and the privilege of serving alongside some of the best folks in the world right here at Providence. Thanks!