Saturday, November 21, 2009

Transitions in Season…

While watching a Ken Burns documentary on baseball, I picked up a phrase that is relatively new to professional sports. For decades, players remained pretty much with the primary team that had drafted them and brought them up through that team’s farm system.

But, in the late 1960’s, player arbitration came on the scene when Sandy Kofax and Don Drysdale negotiated the first “out of system” contract. After that, baseball changed forever. It is now not unusual for a player to play for as many as 6 or 7 teams during their career because of what is known as “transitions in season”. This is the process by which, at the end of a particular season or “season of seasons”, the player would renegotiate their contract, usually leaving their previous team for a new one.

The result was that once long-term relationships became “season to season” experiences where change became the mode of operation instead of identities that connected players to teams in infinity. Sure, you have a Derek Jeter who has played his entire career for the Yankees. But, for every Jeter, we now have hundreds of players who travel from team to team--- transition in season, depending on what the player asks for, what the team is willing to pay, what type of skills the player brings to the team, and what type of team the organization is wanting to build.

Add to this the basic emotions and difficulties of any change and transition, and Major League Baseball no longer means a DiMaggio is synonymous with the Yankees, it means a player is sinuous… now… for this season… until the next transition.

Unfortunately, churches are no better today, especially larger ones. In a previous generation of large, successful churches built by long term pastorates of exceptional men who intersected perfectly with the “Greatest Generation” and the Baby Boomers returning to church, the next generation of leaders, as well as the churches themselves, are finding the “transitions in season” difficult to navigate.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the events of the past week at our sister church, Frazer Memorial UMC, in Montgomery. During the past several days, Frazer has experienced the resignation of their long-time Teaching pastor for their contemporary service, John Schmidt, the resignation of another teaching pastor who bridge between services, and most recently, the resignation of their Senior Pastor, Dr. Barry Carpenter.

All of these resignations are effective immediately. Their transitions in season happened so quickly, that they did not even wait for the normal appointment process through July 1st of next year.

There is much speculation as to the cause. But, as I have learned through my own recent transition, only those closest to the situation know all of the facts. Thus, it is our job not to “figure out why” but to pray and support our brothers and sisters in the faith. Transition is not fun, and their road ahead is long.

However, given our own recent difficulties in transition, several of you have emailed to inquire of my state of mind in continuing to serve as the Senior Pastor of GBUMC. First, I appreciate your concern. But, second, I assure you that I am in the place I need to be and committed to our work together for several years to come.

In fact, just last week, Bishop Leland and I had a long meeting in which he asked my intentions for the coming appointment season, and I stated my desire to remain as the Senior Pastor for our congregation.

On that note, please pray for our bishop. He is a very kind, warm-hearted man with great responsibility on his shoulders right now. He needs our care and concern more than ever.

My perception is that congregations, including our own, have become so distracted by the Adversary during transition that we forget to live, simply as the Church together. In the process, we miss the power and potential of what God is doing from one season to the next.

That is why, for the next several weeks, I will focus us on the future of what I believe God is leading in my heart as I lead your hearts in ministry for the coming year.

For instance, in 2010, God has consistently reminded me of our covenant to Love Jesus and Love Like Jesus by the image of a man “reaching”. The idea of reaching comes in many forms, and for our congregation it means several things.

First, we will Reach Up in 2010. We will seek God’s guidance, Will, love and direction by growing deeper in our relationship with Him and by going in the direction He would have us go.

Second, we will Reach Out in 2010 by continuing to invite those who are unchurched and dischurched into our fellowship. It is more than a church program; it is the Gospel (Matthew 28: 18-20).

Third, we will Reach Around in 2010 by putting our arms around each other, to care for one another in fellowship and community. Needing one another in Christ does not mean agreeing with everything that the other stands for. But, it does mean respecting each other, as family should do.

Finally, we will Reach Behind in 2010 to help bring forward those who are the most fragile, forgotten and marginalized in our community. The church is no better than how much of it we are willing to give away--- Bonhoeffer.

Thus, my friends, please pray as we move forward in this season of our church’s life. God has great things in store for a great church in 2010, and WE WILL be faithful to live out our potential. God deserves our best in this, and we won’t disappoint him.

And, again, pray for our brothers and sisters at Frazer Memorial and at other churches for whom the season has created such contention that it has broken more hearts than it has mended. How senseless… How sad!

I love you. I look forward to working with you.


Be Salt and Light… oh… and Happy Thanksgiving!


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