Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Fecundity and Transitions

I have always loved the word “fecund:” productive, generative, creative, flourishing, inventive, and imaginative.  The word calls to my mind the image of God’s original creation, that lush garden for which we all were created and someday will inhabit when God deems it is time.  Because God continues to create within our lives and congregations even as we await the consummation of the kingdom, there are fecund moments in our lives.  These are times when opportunity stands before us, when a choice can inaugurate some new and good thing in us, our family, or our congregation.
Loren Mead, church consultant and founder of the Alban Institute, was asked what he had learned in his 20 years at the helm of the institute.  At one point he commented: 
We learned that every congregation went through crises, and those crises were when they were open to change.  Probably the major crisis that happens to any congregation is the change of pastors.  Every time a pastor changes, a congregation has an opportunity to change.  We came to see it as a critical point in the life of a congregation.
We see the arrival of a new pastor as the inauguration point of change, but Mead observes that the biggest changes in a congregation have already happened by the time the new pastor arrives.  The congregation has already faced the loss of a previous pastor and has made some decisions about where they want to go.  In many ways, the congregation has cast their future before the new leader is on the scene, whether the congregation realizes it or not.  Many congregations see the interim period as something simply to get through before they can call a pastor.  They see it as wasted time, like the wait in an airport before the plane leaves.  They do not take advantage of the fecundity of the time.  Some of the most creative moments in a church’s life take place between pastors when the congregation must ask:  “Who are we without Pastor Jane?”  It can be a time of self-discovery and learning new skills.  Lay people take on new responsibilities and uncover gifts they did not know they had.
 If the period between pastors is well done, the congregation is ready to go in some new directions with their new pastor.  An interim pastor is someone who works with a church to accomplish a set of clear developmental tasks that will prepare the church for a new day and a new leader and a renewed vision of what God is calling them to do.
I hope your journey with your present pastor is long and the partnership you share rich.  If, however, you should ever find yourself in a time of pastoral transition, use it well.  God is always in the change, challenging us, equipping us, holding us.  Times of changes, all types of changes, can be fecund times when we trust ourselves and future to God and listen to what God has to teach us.
Jim Kelsey