Friday, June 17, 2011

following Jesus into unfamiliar territory

I have had the privilege of being a part of a group of pastors, men and women who serve large and/or growing congregations and meet together on a regular basis. A year ago we went through a leadership development experience and I had the sense that I was being called to give up something I really loved in order to be available for something else that might be my calling in life.

As a couple of participants in that group reminded me recently, some of that has come to pass. At last week's annual conference (Western North Carolina) it was made official that I will be concluding my eighth and final year as senior pastor of Providence United Methodist Church in Charlotte, and will begin serving as the Superintendent of the Waynesville District of the Western North Carolina Conference next month.

I have written about my love for Providence and it really has been a place and a people that has helped me to grow as a leader and a preacher. It is not a perfect church, even as I am not a perfect pastor, but I am really in awe of what the people in this congregation are doing. Some of this is intentional and is a part of our strategic planning, developed with people like Janice Virtue, Gil Rendle, and Bishops Larry Goodpaster and Robert Schnase. Some of this is unintentional: our people have been passengers on the plane that landed in the Hudson, or they were serving in Port-au-Prince during the earthquake, or they have been spouses and parents who have lived through the loss of loved ones and written about all of this in CaringBridge; in each case thousands upon thousands of people have come to know our church indirectly through them and they have been witnesses to God's power and grace.

I will miss all of this. At the same time I am delighted in the person who will serve as the next senior pastor of Providence, and the way the staff is taking shape. I also believe that I will enjoy the role of District Superintendent. I do feel a calling to encourage clergy, to intervene where needed in the life of the church, and to try to make opportunities possible for others. I have chaired a conference board of ordained ministry and committee on episcopacy, served on denominational search committees and two commissions to study the ordained ministry, and written books on spiritual gifts and United Methodist identity. I am hopeful that some of this will be relevant in what I will be doing. I know that I will depend on the experiences of my fellow superintendents, even as I have on the gifts of other pastors and leaders along the way.

So I will be giving up close friendships, the glorious opportunity to experience transformative worship each week and the creative work of developing a sermon that connects with people I have come to know well. But I will be entering into a season where I can perhaps work with clergy who are also on a journey to fully discover their gifts and offer them to others.

At the same annual conference I was also elected by my brothers and sisters in our annual conference to lead our delegation to the 2012 General Conference in Tampa. This will also be a new ministry: to help bring together a group of 56 leaders (22 delegates to General Conference, 22 delegates to Jurisdictional Conference and 12 reserve delegates) who are themselves leaders and care deeply about the church and its future. I believe it will be a historic General Conference, for many reasons, and that there are resonant voices from across the church calling for change. I believe this change can reconnect us with our historic theology (grace) and purpose (mission); in other words, I sense all of this as a time to rediscover who we are and why God has called us into being in the first place.

Grace and mission are centered in Jesus Christ, who is the source of life, the head of the church and the solid rock upon which we stand in the midst of a changing church and a turbulent world; I know all too well, as the hymn of my childhood had it, that "all other ground is sinking sand". And so I am trusting that in the time ahead I will follow him more closely, and allow him to lead me into unfamiliar territory.


Blogger John Meunier said...

Blessings upon your new adventure.

4:28 PM  
Blogger Peter Wallace said...

Exciting times! Grace and peace to you, Ken.

6:29 PM  
Blogger Talbot Davis said...

We'll miss you in Charlotte and in the Reynolds!

3:50 AM  
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