I wrote this article (below) for Pastor Darryl and shared it with him prior to his celebration on May 14-15. With his permission, I am posting it here for our North Roanoke church family. We love you Pastor Darryl!
As the pastor for succession of North Roanoke Baptist Church following a pastor who has served the flock faithfully for nearly 30 years, I have received unsolicited advice from several well-meaning people outside of our church about how to "handle" the transition.
Some of the advice goes something like this, "He needs to go." Or, "you will never escape his shadow," or "you need to establish yourself as the leader" and several other similar statements.
As I have processed this "wisdom," it has seemed more like the wisdom of the world than the wisdom of God, and three questions have come to my mind and heart.
1. Is this how the early church would have considered an aging but still capable pastor - told him to hit the road and find another church to care for him in his latter years?
2. Where is this sort of thinking in Scripture? Does not Hebrews 13:7 say, "Remember (ongoing) your leaders, those who spoke (past tense) to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith"?
3. Does the wisdom of God not apply to pastor transitions? Is this not an opportunity to demonstrate genuine and mutual gospel humility?
The answer to these questions seems clear. The early church cared deeply for their faithful pastors until they died. Hebrews connects our remembering of those who preach the Word to us with Christ who is the same "yesterday, today, and forever" (Heb. 13:8). This means cherishing our aging pastors is a tangible way of cherishing Christ and His Word.
The wisdom of God should apply to every aspect of the Christian life and especially to pastoral transitions. This wisdom, self-denying, heavenly wisdom, should impact the thinking of both the incoming and retiring pastor.
I am blessed to follow a great and godly man who loves Christ and His church deeply and who preaches the Word faithfully, and below I have endeavored to articulate what I have come to believe about my new role as I consider it in light of God's Word.
First, how the new pastor relates to the retiring pastor, privately and publicly, will communicate a great deal about his view of every pastor's vital relationship with the local body and the importance of life-long relationships within the body. If the retiring pastor can be easily cast off, the new pastor must not intend or desire to make deep and lasting relationships within the body himself. If the new pastor plans to just "set sail" at some point or considers his new church just a stop along a path, he will never get as close to the sheep as God intends. I want to be close to the sheep because I am not just an undershepherd, I am also, just like the retiring pastor I am following, one of the sheep.
Second, how the new pastor relates to the retiring pastor communicates a great deal about how he believes the flock should view their pastor. If the pastor who retires is sent away, then the pastor is more easily viewed as a hired hand -- performing the services and filling a role until the next guy comes along to replace him. If a decades-long, faithful pastor is easily expendable; a new pastor is easily expendable too. Neither should be.
Serving a church is a calling from God not only to preach but also to love a particular people. When the aging pastor's energy wanes and preaching lessens, his love for the church does not. Indeed, it is often at that moment that the pastor who has served well most needs the love and care of those he has served.
The new pastor trains people how to think about himself as pastor by how he treats their former faithful pastor. The former pastor is either an expendable commodity or an indispensable servant of Christ who is an integral part of God's local flock. The path chosen will likely mark the new pastor's ministry for decades. Better to endure some initial moments of awkwardness and closed-door meetings (if necessary - they have not been in my case) than to pretend the past and the pastor of the recent past is an unimportant part of what God will do in the future. This is, in part, why the God of the Christian is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Christian faith does not distance itself from faithful forefathers, it embraces their testimony as encouragement for our own (Heb 11).
The new pastor should take the low place by seeking to patiently and winsomely earn the trust and confidence of the retiring pastor. If gospel wisdom is truly operative in both pastors, the retiring pastor will reciprocate, and the church will see a living demonstration of godly wisdom at work! I have had the incredible joy of seeing this unfold at North Roanoke.
While the new pastor could simply "put the retiring pastor in his place" or "send him down the road", the new pastor's prideful overreach will eventually weigh him down. The opportunity for mutual sanctification between incoming and retiring pastor will be lost, and the body will miss a divine opportunity to see the power of the gospel on full display.
How the new pastor honors the retiring pastor and continues to allow his gifts to be deployed among the family of faith will, obviously, impact the church's view of the role of pastor. As a result, it will also, at least indirectly, impact the flock's view of Scripture.
3. How the new pastor relates to the retiring pastor will communicate a great deal about his view of the sufficiency of Scripture and the seriousness of faithfulness to Scripture even in challenging circumstances.
This has been proven in some of the aforementioned advice I have received. Many assume the retiring pastor must depart indefinitely or even forever. To me, gospel wisdom demands that he is welcome to stay and meaningfully contribute for as long as he is able. The world is either won through the foolishness of the cross, or it is not. And, if we believe this is the witness of Scripture, it must influence how we handle pastoral transitions.
4. What the new pastor says about the retiring pastor, privately and publicly, will reveal the depth of his spiritual maturity and willingness to consider others more important than himself.
Do I have hopes and dreams for the future? Absolutely yes. However, during this season of transition, I find that I am mostly consumed with wanting to give honor where honor is due -- not lip service but real, sacrificial honor. I am following a man who served this flock faithfully for 29 years and who has an inexhaustible supply of pastoral wisdom and theological insight. I don't want to be defined primarily by how I am not like him but how I am like him. We of course have many differences, but we love each other; we love the same Jesus, and we enjoy being together. Is that not how it should be?
And, he is handing me the baton. That is sobering. It is humbling. It is heavy. It is full of sadness and salvation. It is a retiring pastor laying down his life for his flock -- and for me.
So, what do I want for our church right now? I want us to not miss this moment that God has given. I want my friend and brother and mentor, Dr. Darryl Crim, to feel the undying and unrelenting love of God for him coursing through the veins of our church. And, I don't want that to end - ever.
Will I want to do some things a bit differently? I am sure that I will at some point. But, I don't want to go forward if it means we have to abandon the man God used to bring us to where we are. Despite the advice of some, I cannot find anywhere in Scripture or in the heart of our God any true wisdom in asking the retiring pastor to depart the church that God called him to serve.
This course may not be advisable to some, but I pray it is pleasing and acceptable in the sight of the God who took the low place for me. God help me, and us, to honor your Son by taking the low place for one another as He took the low place for us.
I love you North Roanoke; I love you Darryl Crim. Praise God for His work among us.