Stepping away is difficult. I enjoy helping to solve problems. I enjoy being a part of a team working toward a solution. When we announced back in October of 2019 that I would be taking a sabbatical the summer of 2020, we never expected the circumstances in which I’d be stepping away. I went ahead took the sabbatical even though times were uncertain. The primary reasons being, 1) For the sake of my family and I, and 2) For the sake of the church. This might sound odd, me stepping away could be advantageous to our church, but I truly believe it was. I was told by other wise people that GBC needed to learn how to function without me. The idea being, no church should have its identity so wrapped up in its senior pastor that it would not be able to function in a healthy manner if that pastor were no longer there. Too many churches are pastor heavy, forgetting there are multiple people working hard in service to the Lord and the congregation. Stepping away was healthy for the church, but also healthy for me to come to the realization that not every problem we face as a church is mine to solve.
A side effect of leading a problem solving team is that you think you can solve every problem, or worse yet, you think every problem is solvable and your responsibility to solve. This can become an emotional burden that can be unbearable. I think of Jethro confronting Moses in Exodus 18 and pointing out to his son-in-law that his system of leadership is not sustainable and convincing Moses to divvy up leadership and decision making responsibility among qualified individuals or he will “wear himself out” (Exodus 18:18). I feel we have a great team of pastors, elders and staff. I was fully confident that they would lead well in my absence. I am biased as I have had the privilege of working with many of them for years now. When I stepped away, I was not worried about the job Jon, Brian, Cesar, April, Debbie, Jayme, and Dallas would do; plus they had the strong support of our elder board. Even though I trust them, I do, at times, struggle to release the reigns and let people act without my involvement. The great thing about the sabbatical is that I had no choice but to release those reigns and trust we prepared well ahead of time and people will lead and problem solve in their church without me just fine.
I say “their church” as GBC is not “Adam’s church.” We are congregationally led, through the appointment of godly elders who lead through a plurality of leadership. This is the Biblical model of leadership, which means we all share responsibility for problem solving, discipling, and leading at GBC. The identity of the church should be found in Christ and His Word, and believers living it out tangibly in the community. Part of believers living out their faith in the community is in how we disagree at times. One of the primary roles of a pastor is to play peacekeeper. This is Biblical, even, as we are told “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9). I have erred at times, however, in how I went about being a peacemaker. Instead of helping people disagree in healthy ways, I would help people by working to avoid the conflict all together. This doesn’t necessarily solve problems, it just delays the inevitable, or causes wounds to fester. I believed I was solving problems but instead I was enabling others to avoid problems. Sometimes my job isn’t to solve problems at all, but to help others solve their own problems or work through conflict in a healthy way.
What lesson do I hope you glean from my experience? First, ask yourself, honestly, if you are a control freak. Are you willing to hold things loosely and allow others to help, or even lead – or do you hang on to things in an attempt to help, when in fact the core issue is pride in that you don’t think anyone else will be able to do the job you can do? As humbling as it is, every one of us is replaceable because we are serving the Lord, and He can accomplish His will with or without us. This realization should cause feelings of joy and privilege that He does indeed choose to use us anyway, but if He can use us, He can use others as well. Secondly, are you spinning your wheels trying to solve a problem that isn’t yours to solve? You may think you can mend a relationship, or provide a solution, that in fact, you cannot or will not ever be able to solve. Why? Because you are not God. Can you prayerfully turn it over to Him and those struggling? Maybe you can offer assistance, or be a sounding board, or even mediate a conflict; but ultimately you cannot take the full responsibility of solving the problem. This is what should continually drive us to our knees petitioning the sovereign Problem Solver to intervene. We are His emissaries, we are not Him. God gives us things we cannot handle so the only place to look for solutions is Him. We must be humble enough to recognize our limitations and His sovereignty.