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I’ve been watching the flight map and we just reached the halfway mark on our trip to the United States, 6,799 kilometres from our home in Johannesburg, and 6,799 kilometres from what for many years was our home in the USA. As we head downward on the global, I am realising that, in a matter of hours, a lot will change. I will shed my winter coat as I experience summer in the northern hemisphere. I will be driving on the other side of the road and, when I go for a run, I will need to be extra alert, making sure that I look in the right direction as I run across intersections. Jill and I will find ourselves surrounded by strange accents (like the Southern American hunter sitting across the aisle from me!), shifting vocabulary from “petrol” to “gas,” “robots” to “traffic lights,” “bonnets” to “hoods”, “boots” to “trunks,” and “shame” to, well, Americans have no equivalent. Ja-nee, you know.

The transition from one culture to another can be adventuresome, but it can also be disconcerting. Most changes in life are like that: some delightful, others more painful.

As Jill and I contemplate what we will find where we grew up, we anticipate significant and even sad transitions. The church of which we were a part for over 25 years has changed. It continues to preach the gospel though the congregation is half the size it was when we came to South Africa 33 years ago. The pastor is a faithful man whom I met in the late 1990s when he was a teenager on a short-term missions trip to South Africa. He is the second pastor since my father-in-law retired from that ministry in 1997. And, speaking of Jill’s father, I am uneasy knowing the change we will see in him.

Upon landing in Cincinnati we will head straight to the step-down facility where he has been for the past week. It will be hard to see a once robust man now frail. A faithful preacher of the gospel of nearly sixty years will never preach again. His now double vision will inhibit his ability to devour books like he used to. Having driven many miles with him as a young intern as he made pastoral visits, he will never drive again. And what I find perhaps the most significant of all the changes we will encounter is that now it is my turn to “pastor” him in his time of need. I will pray by his bedside remembering how, as an eight-year-old boy, he visited and prayed for me (and brought me a bag of toy soldiers!) when I was hospitalised. The doctor has become the patient, and the patient has now become the doctor. Thinking about this transition brings moisture to my eyes. Life does not stand still, nor do the effects of the fall. But neither does the faithfulness of God for, as the Scriptures inform us, the Lord will never leave us or forsake us, for Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:5, 8). Transition is a fact of life, but so is the triune God in whom we are called to trust.

Transition is much on my mind. I have a folder in my carry-on luggage labelled, “Pastoral Transition.” That file contains several articles as well as some email interactions with pastors who have given thought to preparing their churches for a transition from one pastor-teacher to another. This is the reason for my sabbatical, and why I am 39,000 feet in the air.

As our church is aware, the elders have asked me to think through the inevitability of my stepping aside as pastor-teacher of Brackenhurst Baptist Church and how best to prepare the church for the next one. This will occupy much of my time in the weeks ahead. Not a lot has been written on this, yet countless churches have undergone the process. I am praying that my labours will prepare our church for a smooth transition, God willing (James 4:13–15). After all, there is no guarantee that a proposed plan will actually follow that plan. Debilitating illness, unforeseen circumstances, or death could make my sabbatical study irrelevant. But all things being equal, I do pray that I will return home with a plan that will assist BBC for a pastoral transition. I would greatly appreciate your prayers as I read, think, interact, and write.

Ten years before my father-in-law retired from the pastorate (but never from serving the Lord) he made a plan how to do so. After thirty-five years of faithfully shepherding the flock of God, the plan was executed. You can be sure that I will be seeking his counsel and gleaning from his wisdom. Though so much has changed for him in the past year, nevertheless, I continue to see him as my teacher and I his student. No transition there.

Somewhere over the Atlantic, preparing for change,