Not Saying Good-Bye…Simply Adding Friendships
When I began serving as a pastor in full-time vocational ministry, the studies were showing that the average stint of a pastor’s career was about 18 months. I don’t know if it was my stubborn pride or the passion of the Holy Spirit (probably a little of both), but I was determined to land on the right side of that stat.
When I started out on this journey, my thought was, “How could someone quit what they love? You get to spend time with people and help them follow God.”
It didn’t take long for me to figure out that lives are messy—not just those I was ministering to, but my own life had cracks showing up in the clay. I began to sense the “why” of 18 months. Still determined, I sojourned on.
It didn’t take long for me to figure out that lives are messy—not just those I was ministering to, but my own…
It has been more than 34 years since that statistic haunted my beginnings. Looking back, it was more about the grace of God and less about my own ability that has allowed my wife and me to endure the course of time and the messiness in all of us.
In 2003, I accepted my first role as the “leader” and became the Senior Pastor of a tiny church in Northern California. I dove in with the fervor of a kid who was just given a five-minute shopping spree in a candy store. There is an adrenalin rush that comes with leading, preaching and using one’s influence to impact a community. For many of us pastors, it’s easy to allow the ego to take over. I was fighting a new battle. What was driving my ministry?
I recall meeting my predecessor at the church. He was up to his neck in his own messiness. He was no longer a pastor. He was no longer married. He was hurting but growing to places of intimacy with Jesus that only adversity can bring. Over coffee, he said something that impacted my future—my coming to Scottsdale Bible Church. In contemplating his own struggle of late, he looked at me and said, “I had an affair.” I was stunned. I had not known this. Then he qualified his statement— “Not with another woman…but with ministry. My ministry was my mistress.” He had succumbed to the pull of ego—a battle we all fight.
I was determined to stay on the right side of yet another statistic. I loved leading the church. There is a rush and true joy in watching the lights come on in someone’s heart and seeing them grow. There is a thrill in being able to lead and influence a community. But there is an innate danger that can derail the best of us. That danger is when we find our motivation more in the ego boost than in the constant reminder that we are but “jars of clay” housing a heavenly treasure. We are vessels that God has chosen to use to serve His purposes for the times in which we live. Our primary work, before doing any kind of leading, is to stay close to the Master.
There is a rush and true joy in watching the lights come on in someone’s heart and seeing them grow.
In 2013, I chose to leave my role as the Senior Pastor and come join the amazing team at Scottsdale Bible Church. I wasn’t the Senior Pastor and that was good for me. My goal, in part, was to focus on the right motivation—that my validation isn’t from being in charge. My validation comes from a God who declared me “right” and “whole” and “forgiven” as I placed my faith in Jesus and the work that was accomplished at the cross.
It has been nine years here at SBC and I can say that I have learned so much about who God is—and about who I am in light of that. What a joy it has been to serve with so many of you in so many ministries. I believe God used this time to prepare me for a new season—one that is here now. This fall, my wife and I head to Asheville, N.C. where I accepted my new role as the leader again—at Grace Point Church (www.mygracepoint.com). We feel that we have so much to offer our new church family and we are excited to roll up our sleeves and get started. We are grateful for our time with you. We feel as though we are being “sent out.”
The “good-bye” part is so hard. But I like the way one friend said it: “You’re not saying good-bye. You’re collecting more friends along the way.” Karen and I will be forever grateful for our time. We have laughed with you, grieved with you, and followed Jesus WITH you. Thank you for sharing your mess with our mess. May God continue to accomplish His purpose in all of us until we meet again.
Join Neil and Karen for a Farewell Open House on Tuesday, August 16, 5-7pm in the Shea High School Building. Light snacks will be served.