“Love the One You’re With” (a sermon for pastoral transitions) I Corinthians 3:4-9a and 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 (GNT)

Well, time is rapidly moving, and the moment of our pastoral change is almost upon us. You know, when a pastor has been with a congregation for any length of time, a bond of love develops which is hard to break. Terri and I have grown to love you all, and have been strengthened by experiencing your love shown to us. And even when I am no longer your pastor, we will still be bound together with you in love, although the nature of our relationship will change. I thank God that our friendships will continue throughout this life and eternally in heaven.

There’s is an old rock song I remember growing up (I can’t even remember who recorded it), but I think it gives some great advice for pastors and congregations that are in the midst of pastoral changes. The song offers this sage advice: “If you can’t be with the one you love, LOVE THE ONE YOU’RE WITH.”

Well, in just two days, I will no longer be your pastor. Charley will step into that role. I am asking you to show your affection for me by supporting and loving him, the way you have supported and loved Terri and me. And in that spirit, I’d like to challenge you to be very intentional about encouraging Charley and showing your love for him and him family. There are at least twelve things you can do to demonstrate your love for your new pastor. (Turn to the back of your bulletin and find the sermon notes so you can jot down the points I will be sharing.) These twelve words of advice are the things every congregation needs to hear – they are things I share with congregations whenever I am moving. So here it goes:

1 Don’t criticize.

There is nothing that will cripple a pastor’s ministry quicker than criticism. Ministries are established on relationships and positive energy. Unfortunately, there are always a few people in every church who will find some shortcoming with every pastor who comes along and be very vocal at expressing that opinion to others in the church or community. Criticism is the most difficult thing pastors face in ministry, and it will negatively impact the tone and effectiveness of the entire congregation.

I’ve got news for you… Studies have been done that show that being a pastor is one of the most stressful vocations There is – right up There with police, air traffic controllers etc. Every single Sunday we are on display, and must perform in ways that are pleasing to 100% of the people in worship, all of whom have different ideas about what makes a great pastor. Every pastor is aware that every sermon we preach and every service we plan is being critiqued by dozens, or even hundreds of people in the pews who are making a judgment about whether or not the sermon or service measures up to THEIR expectations and preferences. Even though pastors know they can’t please everyone, we know that we will be judged on what percentage of the congregation gives us high marks, or at least, don’t give us low marks. And we know that people will vote with their feet and their checkbooks if we don’t “measure up.”

In addition, the job description of the pastor is unending. Pastors are expected to meet every member’s need, and in our spare time, minister to those outside the church AND convert the world to Christ. NO pastor, no matter how good and effective, ever meets those impossible criteria.

So, you can show your support for Pastor Charley by not holding him to unrealistic expectations – cut him some slack – show him a little grace – and he will be far more effective for Christ and serve the church with much more joy and effectiveness. So my first advice: Don’t Criticize!

2 Pray for your new pastor daily.

I want to thank every person in this church who has told me over the years that you are praying for me every day. You’ll never know how encouraging that is to your pastor. It is an encouragement because I know how powerful prayer is. Your prayers not only have sustained me in my ministry role, but your prayers for my continued health have been answered. I covet your continued prayers, not only for my health, but for my new responsibilities in my new ministry Sebastian.

But as you prepare to receive Pastor Charley, I’m asking you to commit to begin praying daily for him. Bathe him in prayer, that God will bless him, and that God will prepare the hearts of this congregation to receive him. And don’t just do it, but tell Charley that you are praying. Nothing will help your new pastor succeed quicker than being supported by prayer.

3 Express your appreciation.

As our Scripture from 1 Thessalonians tells us, when it comes to their pastors, congregations should “pay proper respect to those who work among you, who guide and instruct you in the Christian life. Treat them with the greatest respect and love because of the work they do.” Everyone needs to feel appreciated – and pastors are no different. If anything, WE need MORE affirmation than most people. You see, to counteract the negative impact of criticism, it takes a whole LOT of positive words of appreciation. And if you want to REALLY make an impact, put it in writing.

If your pastor has blessed you with him sermon, TELL HIM SO. If you appreciated his visits, let him know that. If he did an especially nice job with a wedding or funeral, drop him a thank-you note. If you pastor has qualities you admire and would like to emulate, write him a letter affirming that. (In fact, expressions of appreciation are often so rare that many pastors keep a file of these “love notes” so that they can take them out and reread them whenever they feel discouraged.)

And of course, the Staff-Parish Relations Committee should always remember to recognize your pastor during “Pastor Appreciation Month” every October. Everyone likes to be told they are doing a good job – and pastors are no different.

4 Use your skills to assist your pastor.

Because pastors focus most of their time on ministry, many of us have never mastered some of the skills that lay-people take for granted. Maybe you could help your pastor learn the computer or show him how to better care for his lawn or garden. Perhaps you have mechanical skills and could offer to change the oil in his car. Or you might be handy around the house and you might offer to do a light repairs at the parsonage. Or perhaps you know all about taxes and might let him know you’d be glad to help him complete his tax return. And why not offer to teach him to golf or to fish sometime?

These are small things, but they can give great encouragement to your new pastor – not so much because of the things you might do for him, but because they represent your friendship. Pastors often have very few real friends. Be a friend, and show him love by sharing your life with him.

5 Squelch gossip.

This should go without saying. Gossip should have no place in the church. And yet, to some extent, it exists in every congregation. Unsubstantiated stories begin to circulate, erroneous information gets passed along, and before you know it- it’s a rumor! – Great damage has been done. And when that rumor involves your pastor, it can sabotage his ministry and the overall ministry of your church. The Letter of James warns about the danger of gossip (1:26) “If any think they are religious and do not bridle their tongues, …their religion is worthless.” So, snip all gossip in the bud!

6 Offer to meet a need in the church.

There are countless areas of ministry that need to be done in a church – yet oftentimes many of those ministries never occur because no one volunteers (thankfully, at Mims UMC, we have a good number of folks who volunteer, but still There are jobs that are left undone). When that is the case, the pastors and staff, and a handful of volunteers who are already overloaded, must do the jobs that are most essential to the life of the church.

The Scriptures tell us that God has equipped the Church for ministry by giving all believers spiritual gifts. When everyone knows their spiritual gifts AND puts them to use, the Church flourishes, and no one gets burned out. So seek to discover the way God has equipped you for ministry, and use those gifts for the cause of Christ.

Do you want to see your new pastor rejoice? Decide now that you will volunteer to meet a need in the church. Don’t make Pastor Charley resort to begging!

7 Participate fully in worship.

There are two ways you can support Pastor Charley when it comes to worship: You can make it a point to be in worship as often as possible; and when you are here, you can be fully engaged in worshiping God.

One of the sad trends in most all churches today is the decline in the regularity of worship attendance. Part of the reason is a decline in members due to the fact that people are not interested in being a part of a church the way they used to be. But, another trend is that even people who consider themselves “active,” are attending worship more and more sporadically.

Oftentimes people think no one will miss them if they don’t attend worship, especially if no one makes a fuss over them when they’ve been gone. But I can tell you – preachers notice! One author put it this way, “The empty pew has an eloquent tongue. To the preacher it says, ‘your sermon is not worthwhile.’”

Often when someone stops coming regularly, the first thing the pastor thinks is that they are unhappy with him or her (a least that’s how I feel). “Maybe they don’t like my preaching style, or my theology, or the way I put the worship together, or the hymns I choose or the way I dress or the fact that I failed to say “hello” in Walmart.” Preachers are insecure like that!

When in reality, their absence may likely have absolutely nothing to do with the preacher. Yet, because the preacher (and many in the congregation) assumes that a member is staying away because of him, he is hesitant to approach them about it. And the longer they are absent, the more troubled the preacher becomes about their absence.

So you can spare your new pastor all that “neurotic paranoia” by being regular in your worship attendance. And, if you can’t be in church for a period of time, be sure to tell your pastor why, so he won’t worry about it.

And when you are in worship, make sure you are fully engaged in praising the Lord.

Nothing is more discouraging than to stand in front of a congregation full of sour faces. Ask the choir! Most of you are attentive and engaged in worship, but some of you out there look as though you were baptized in vinegar! Others of you look more like you are asleep than awake. I’ll tell you a little secret – When I preach, I seek out the faces of five or six people who are obviously engaged in what I’m saying and I preach to THEM.

You can encourage Pastor Charley by making it a point to be in worship as often as possible, and showing him that you care about what he is saying. I promise you that YOU will get more out of the sermon, and he will preach better, knowing that you are listening.

8 Throw away the measuring stick.

Don’t compare preachers. When I came to Mims in 2017, I couldn’t have been Pastor Denny, even I had tried to be. And Pastor Charley will not be me. Each and every pastor is different, with God-given gifts that are as unique as their personalities. Charley is a delightful person with a unique skills and talents that will be a blessing to this church. Please don’t expect him to be me. Instead, celebrate who he is!

9 Insist that Pastor Charley takes care of himself and takes care of him family.

It isn’t unusual for those charged with the spiritual leadership of the church to neglect their own spiritual life, their own physical and emotional health, and their personal relationships. I know, because I am guilty.

A pastor often fails to have a prayer time because he or she prays so much with others as part of the job. We tend to neglect personal devotions because we spend so many hours a week in the word preparing sermons and Bible studies. And because the ministry is so all-encompassing (being on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week), we often don’t get the proper exercise – or spend enough time with our spouses or families.

If you want to have a spiritually strong and healthy pastor, INSIST that Charley takes AT LEAST one full day off (better 2); that he take the time for spiritual renewal; time for physical exercise; and time for him personal life and family.

Often, if congregations DON’T insist that their pastors take a Sabbath rest, they’ll work non-stop – their health and relationships will suffer, and they will burn out. And that’s not good for the pastor OR the church!

10 Provide a fair wage and benefits.

People don’t go into ministry for the money. Any pastor worth his or her salt could make lots more money in the secular world than he or she could ever make in the church. (With my nine years of college including one bachelors and two master’s degrees, I could be a medical doctor or lawyer today.)

But just because preachers could make more money outside the church doesn’t mean that they don’t still have financial concerns. Just like all families, they have children to raise, bills to pay, college to fund, retirement to prepare for, etc. Unfortunately, sometimes churches tend to think that they should pay their pastor and staff as little as they can get away with. Fortunately, that hasn’t tended to be the case at Mims UMC, but with the financial challenges, there is always a temptation to have that mindset.

In Galatians 6:6 Paul teaches that pastors deserve a fair wage: “Let him who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches.” Or in 1 Cor. 9:11, “If we have sown a spiritual crop for you, is it too much to expect from you a material reward?”

I know There are financial challenges all churches face. But I would encourage you to try your best to show your love for your pastor and staff by helping them provide financially for their own families. They will be grateful and more productive if you will do that.

11 Affirm Pastor Charley’s call into the ministry.

Whenever a church receives the appointment of a new pastor, there are always some folks who are anxious as to what to expect. There has been expressed some concern that you are receiving a “Local Pastor,” rather than and ordained “Elder.” I want to explain a little about what that designation means, and assure you that Pastor Charley is fully capable and empowered to be the pastor of this (or any) church.

Most of the pastors of the Conference are Ordained Elders. This means that they have completed an undergraduate degree, plus three years of seminary. They have also been examined by the Florida Annual Conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry, and passed that examination. Elders (and Deacons – another ordained category of ministers) are then ordained by the bishop. Elders then devote a lifetime of service to the Church, and make vows to submit to the bishop, and go wherever they are needed.

The alternative path into ministry is to become a Local Pastor. Local pastors often are “second career” ministers – having worked for some time in careers outside the church, and hearing God’s call to ministry during mid-life (Charley sent many years as a funeral home director before entering the ministry). Because of this, they may not be able to drop everything to spend three years at the seminary. Instead, they can complete a “Course of Study” with seminary professors while they work at their secular job or in a ministry role. Once they complete the Course of Study, they can apply to the Board of Ministry to become “licensed” for ministry by the bishop. Local Pastors do not have guaranteed appointments, but may serve any congregation an Elder can serve, but their license is only valid in the “local” church to which they are appointed. This means that, as you pastor, Pastor Charley can do anything that I can do. His ministry among you will be just as it has been with all your previous pastors.

Many of our most effective pastors in the Annual Conference are Local Pastors. I think this is because they have spent much of their adult life in the secular world, so they bring all kinds of experiences and skills to the ministry that seminary graduates may not possess. I am confident that you will love Charley and Toni, and that his ministry here in Mims will flourish. So, please affirm Pastor Charley’s ministry among you.

12 Trust your pastor’s judgment and respect him authority.

The writer of Hebrews gives this warning to the church (13:17): “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with sighing – for that would be harmful to you.”

I chose this as my final word as a way to say thank you. As I said earlier, Mims UMC has been a fabulous place for me to serve for these years – you have really tried to live out these twelve words of wisdom in your dealings with me, and for that, I thank you! Before we say farewell, I wish to say thank you for the ways you have always trusted my judgment and respected my authority as your pastor. I can tell you from experience, this is not always the case in congregations.

There are congregations that seem to specialize in second-guessing, undercutting, and undermining what the pastors and staff of the church are attempting to do, with devastating results.

But not here at Mims. I have always known you were supportive of my leadership, and trusted me, even when you may not have fully agreed – and for that, I will be forever grateful. And I want to challenge you to be just as trusting and respectful to Pastor Charley as he comes to be your pastor.

This congregation will be blessed if you will do that.

So, there you have it – one dozen things that you can do to guarantee that your new pastor will have a powerful ministry here. If you will do these twelve things, I promise that God will bless this congregation. To paraphrase Paul: “I beg you, my friends, to pay proper respect to those who work among you, who guide and instruct you in the Christian life. Treat Pastor Charley with the greatest respect and love because of the work he will do.”

Or in the immortal words of the Rock Star: “If you can’t be with the one you love – love the one you’re with.”

Prayer:

Gracious God, you are the one who appoints all of us, both lay and clergy, to our places of ministry. While you are soon sending me to serve the congregation in Sebastian, you are calling Pastor Charley to serve this congregation.

Bless every one of us through this time of transition, that we may prosper your kingdom by whatever we do and wherever we are. Father, I thank you for the privilege of serving you here at Mims UMC, and I ask you to cover this congregation with your power and grace as they prepare to welcome Pastor Charley. In Christ’s name. Amen!.