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About a dozen years ago, our daughter, Katy, decided she would like to begin running. I agreed to occasionally run with her. I would run much slower than my normal pace and yet would often need to double back because she lagged behind. A couple of years later, things became very different, and the rest, as they say, is history. I thought about this the other day when we ran together on a 14km route here in Atlanta. And I realised that what I was experiencing applies equally to pastoral transition.

Katy kindly accompanied me on what would be a hot, humid, very hilly run. We were not far into it when she, at a slow (for her!) pace, began to pull away from me. Knowing my limitations, I made no effort to catch up. About a kilometre later, she turned around and ran back to her slower partner. She would do this several more times until we finished. (Well, I was finished; she ran an additional 7km). We compared our GPS watches and, though we had run the same route, she had run an additional half kilometre. I smiled, contemplating how the roles have reversed. She no longer needs my assistance, but she is now helping me to complete my race. So it needs to be when the Lord identifies the next pastor-teacher of Brackenhurst Baptist Church.

During a yet-to-be-determined time of mentoring, I will intentionally come alongside the next pastor, pacing him as he exercises his gifts, learning how to run the race of a pastor-teacher. I will need to be sensitive to what he can handle, being careful to not exhaust or discourage him as he puts one pastoral foot in front of the other. I will need to considerately run beside him while also deliberately at times running in front of him to stretch his abilities. There will be times when I will need to “circle back,” patting him on the back encouraging him that he is progressing well, fully expecting the day when he will leave me behind.

Several years ago, I agreed to pace Katy in a marathon as she wanted to break the 3:50 barrier. At about 25 kilometres, she graciously asked, “Dad, do you mind if I go ahead?” And go ahead she did—3:26! I was thrilled for her as I, exhausted, crossed the finish line nearly twenty minutes later. The student had literally passed her teacher. The roles had reversed, and I could not have been happier. I anticipate a similar kind of joy when the next pastor-teacher runs ahead of me, leading the church and the church happily following.

What a joy to anticipate the next pastor-teacher exceeding whatever fruit my ministry has produced. What a blessing to think of the next pastor-teacher expounding and applying God’s word more skilfully and effectively. What joy that the next pastor-teacher will be loved and supported as I have been. I pray that I will have much joy as the next pastor-teacher leads me rather than me leading him. But for this to happen, there must be a Christ-centre mutual partnership, a mutual and humble cooperation between him and myself, and equally, among all of us at BBC.

My prayerful intention is that I will be an encouraging exiting ex-pastor to the incoming pastor-teacher of BBC. Rather than being envious of his success, rather than resisting the changes he makes, rather than holding him back as he runs ahead with his unique gifts and abilities, I pray that I will be a support to the brother, and to encourage other “oldies” like myself to do so as well. But it works in the other direction as well.

In a healthy pastoral transition, the incoming leader must not run his race as though the leader he is replacing has been left in the dust. Rather he should encourage the “retired” pastor that he still has much to offer. From my research, I detect that successful transitions are characterised by mutual respect and a strong cooperative relationship between the transitioning pastor-teachers, fuelled by mutual humility. Specifically, the former pastor affirms and encourages the incoming pastor as God uniquely uses him, while the incoming pastor respectfully acknowledges and affirms the good of the former pastor’s ministry. Just as Katy is a far better runner than me, and yet she affirms my past while encouraging me in the present, so the incoming pastor will be wise to do likewise in a pastoral role-reversal.

Let me summarise. It is wonderful for a church when every member, including the leadership, cooperates in the process of pastoral transition. It is a mark of spiritual health when the leadership is glad to be excelled by the rising leadership and when the rising and eventual new leadership remembers the past, sometimes slowing down, circling back, and encouraging the “old timers” to keep on running the race. Role reversal in pastoral transition at BBC should be, and by God’s grace can be, a joyful and rewarding time. May the next pastor-teacher set a “course record” of gospel progress, and may the former pastor-teacher cheer him on.

Slower, but still running with you,