Today, the first Sunday in December, 2013, was like every other first Sunday. We rose this morning, attended Sunday School, participated in the baptism of a new member, and had a wonderful time in worship. But in actuality, this really wasn’t like any other Sunday. It was one year ago this Sunday, where I was introduced as the new Senior Pastor of the St. Luke Baptist Church, Crockett, TX.
The events of that day are still vivid in my mind. My wife and I arrived to town on that Friday evening, but our furniture was scheduled to arrive late Saturday night (it did not…more on that later). We spent the next day and half shuffling between the hotel and our new house, getting things ready for the movers, and meeting many of the members of the church. Our furniture did not arrive until Sunday morning at 7:30, and I needed to be at the church at 9 for Sunday School. Needless to say, the movers did not expeditiously unload our things, which meant that we missed Sunday School and even the start of morning worship. I finally got to church and the reception for my wife and I was heartwarming and loving. What a moment! What a great day!
As I took time today to reassess my feelings about that day and the 1 year mark, I also paused to remember my excitement, nervousness, and concern that both Penny and I felt in days leading up to the move and the final transition to Crockett, TX. Our excitement was present because we know that God has great things in store for the church as a whole and for us as a a family. At the same token, our nervousness was present because the Lord was relocating us to a part of the country that was completely foreign to us. We were concerned because we understood the challenges of adjusting to a “southern” way of life as opposed to what we were used to and the challenge of connecting with a congregation that I had only met once and my wife had not met at all before our move.
While our transition has had a few “bumps in the road” in our 1 year in Crockett, we have no reservations that the Lord brought us to East Texas at the right season in our lives and ministry. I wanted to share what I believe has helped us experience a good transition to a new place despite the challenges.
1. Totally Trust The Clear Voice of God
The great thing about being married to a praying woman whom the Lord placed in your life for life, is that while the Lord is speaking to you about a move He wants you to make, He is also speaking to your spouse. When I shared with her that I felt the Lord was leading us towards Crockett and St. Luke, to my surprise, Penny revealed to me that the Lord settled it in her spirit as well. That gave me a great sense of relief, as I was worried about her feelings towards the possibility. This proves that when God speaks, He will make sure you are able to trust what he said through confirmation. And I trust that the same God who would send us to a place, is the same God who will keep us while He has us there.
2. Recommit Your Support For One Another
This is a very important component of having a smooth transition to a new place of ministry. I had to understand that while I was being sent to lead a local congregation, Penny wasn’t, and for the first time in her life, she was away from her sons and family. This can be difficult and a shock to the system for your wife. She had to find work in an area that her field of expertise was not present. All of those factors, plus trying to make new friends with the ladies in the church can be daunting to say the least. What has helped us is our recommitment to supporting one another until we both are comfortable in our new place. Reality is, my wife has been super supportive in giving me time to get familiar with “the lay of the land” here, and it has made a difference to which I am grateful. I have supported her any and every way possible to make her adjustment as smooth as possible. Both spouses must be sensitive to the others concerns to achieve a smoother transition.
3. Engulf Yourself in the Work of the Ministry
I preached at St. Luke on the first Sunday, and I did not let a moment go to waste, I immediately had my secretary schedule meetings and the like to quickly get me acclimated to the atmosphere and operations of the church. I set up meetings with all ministries over the first 2 weeks of my pastorate, to introduce myself to them and gain from them their duties and activities presently going on. I initiated something I called “Quality Time With the Pastor & First Lady,” which I had the members schedule meetings with my secretary for 30 minutes each every day over a 4 hour period, where they would bring their families, and get to know us, and we get to know them. My reasoning for such a hectic early schedule was, if the transition was going to be a smooth one, I had to get a handle on the pulse of the church. My suggestion is, when you relocate your ministry, GET TO WORK! You have a lot of work to do, so you might as well get started.
4. Connect With Your “New Family” in Christian Fellowship
Along with the Quality Time, we took time to visit any member’s home who invited us over. Our feeling is this, 30 minutes is not enough time to really get to know each other, and we discovered that most people are more comfortable in sharing their hearts when they are in their own settings. Go and visit members at home, if they own small business in town, go visit, spend time talking to them at the Walmart or restaurants, show them that you are genuinely concerned with their lives, not just wanting them to be concerned about yours. Real recognizes real! That’s a colloquialism but it rings true. If you are not honestly attempting to connect with your members on their terms as well as yours, they will be able to tell and the transition will be difficult.
5. Don’t Neglect Quality Time
Please don’t gloss over the importance of you and your spouse, taking time to get by yourself just the two of you. With all the ministry demands, opportunities and struggles, it can easily become that all your time is spent at the church, and home suffers. Man’s first ministry is not the church or his calling, but it’s his family. So I would make sure that at least once a week, Penny and I left town to not be Pastor and First Lady, but husband and wife. No personal time together is meaningless. If you cannot afford to go to a fancy restaurant or the like, just take a long drive one Sunday after church, or Saturday morning and spend good quality time together. A movie and some fast food chicken will do wonders as long as it’s just the two of you alone.
6. Make Time To Go Back Home
This is probably the most difficult part of the transition, because you are caught between your family at home wanting you back home, and your new family here wanting you with them as much as possible. Herein lies the difficult decision when to tell your family you cannot come, and your new family when you need to leave. The truth is, while the majority of your time will be spent in ministry with your new family, you and them need to understand that you need to go home sometimes. Penny and I went home to NJ a little over a month ago, and it was exactly what we needed. Just to see our kids and family and friends, eat at familiar restaurants, shop at malls and even drive down familiar neighborhoods. Although we weren’t in town long enough to see everybody, you need to get home to stay grounded and focused.
This really should have been number 1 on the list, but while it’s the most important factor in having a smooth transition, I have it last because it’s the most important. Nothing you do will ever be successful until you seek God’s direction in prayer first. And after you get to where God sends you, pray that God keeps you in your new place. And as you engage in ministry and fellowship, pray that God will give you a clear view on those around you, to show you who to trust and who to leave in the Lord’s hands. What I’m trying to say is, a consistent prayer life is the key to whether your transition is a great success or a complete failure. The same God you prayed to open the door, must be the same God you pray to so you can stay in the room.