Change is part of life. To some degree, the church is always in transition, because circumstances are always changing. Paul stayed only eighteen months in Corinth when he established the church. When he left, he warned other teachers to build carefully on the foundation he had laid, which is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10-11). At times, evangelists and congregations are blessed to spend many years together, doing God’s work and helping one another through the struggles of life. Often, when a preacher has a long tenure, it proves difficult for the church to transition to another preacher. If a congregation wants a smooth transition that honors God and is healthy for the church, several factors are needed.
The first important factor in a smooth transition is the long tenured preacher himself. He must care about the church enough to consider what is good for the future growth and progress of the church. He must decide to turn over the role he has had willingly, and to encourage the church in the acceptance of the new preacher. If the long tenured preacher is going to move away, he needs to encourage the congregation in all of this before he leaves. If he is going to stay with the congregation in a different role, he can be a key factor in helping the church through the transition. If the church sees their long time preacher loving and encouraging and supporting the new preacher, the church will accept the new man much more readily and God’s work will continue unabated.
Our congregation is such a story. I became the local evangelist here in October of 1987. I have labored with our congregation for over 31 years. During that time, the eldership has changed significantly five different times. Many people have moved in and many have moved away. Many have been baptized into Christ and many have gone on to meet the Lord. Our congregation has helped mission points all over the world. I have been an emissary of this church in Brazil, in Nicaragua, and in other places in the states. This congregation has partnered with the Bear Valley church in Denver in helping to train preachers for many years. In the process of that training, we have helped to produce evangelists who serve God all over the U.S. and in many parts of the world. One such young man has now become our preacher.
Several years ago, I had a major part in training a young man to preach. He was a student in several of my classes during his tenure at the Bear Valley Bible Institute in Denver. He served the Lord in churches in California and in Wyoming, gaining valuable experience in the Lord’s work. He was interviewed by our elders during their search for another evangelist. They brought him to meet the congregation and to preach for us. The congregation loved him and they decided to hire him. I was very minimally involved in their decision. Our new, younger elders liked this young man and hired him, believing that he would be good for God’s work here.
One of the great things about the young man they hired was that he and I already had a relationship of respect between us. I knew what he had been taught and he knew me and what I have taught. He not only wanted to work with the church here, but wanted to work with me. This was good for everyone.
Some wondered how this transition would go. We have thus far shown that it can go extremely well. From the moment he and his family arrived, the church has seen us loving and supporting one another. The church has seen us embracing one another publicly. The church has seen us publicly complimenting one another and publicly showing appreciation to one another. The church has observed kindness and hospitality between our families. The church has heard me Amen his sermons, and the church has seen him eagerly enjoying my lessons. We have been alternating in the pulpit, preaching sermon series for a month at a time, each one advertising the lessons to be preached by the other in the coming weeks. Our staff has embraced and incorporated our new preacher. Our staff has gotten along extremely well over the years and that has not changed. Our ministers eat together and talk on a regular basis.
What the church has not seen publicly is their old preacher and their young preacher regularly going to one another’s offices and talking about spiritual things, but we have been doing it. They have not seen us praying together about things, but we have been doing it. They have not seen our young preacher sitting in some of my classes in which I am training more preachers, but he has done it. As our relationship grows, so grows the potential for great unity in this transition.
Our young preacher and his family have been getting to know many of the members of the church. They have been in a number of different homes. They have been visiting different small groups, getting to know a variety of people. Our young preacher has already been active in reaching out to souls. As you can tell, I am proud of their efforts.
In another six months, I am going to cut back to half-time in my work. By that time, our young preacher will be doing almost all of the preaching, especially on Sunday mornings. I will fill in when needed, continue to seek souls, teach bible classes, and train preachers, but I will also travel some with my wife, go fishing from time to time, and try to maintain a slower pace.
Our elders have been very supportive of our young preacher and of me during the transition. They are working with us to make the transition as smooth as possible and they are seeing the fruits of their efforts. Right now our congregation is feeling blessed and unified as we go through this transition. My prayer is that God will be glorified and many souls will be saved in the years to come!