The handoff from one pastor to the next is always tricky.
I’m basically at the start of my career. Now we pastor-types don’t like to use such crass professional terminology, preferring to say “calling” or “vocation” or “ministry” or “service.” Regardless of the word we settle on, I’m at the beginning of this journey in many ways. As I finish my second year in a pastoral residency at Wilshire Baptist Church, I am about to embark on a new phase of this journey.
It’s been on my mind the past week as I’ve been thinking about last Sunday’s lectionary text of 2 Kings 2. For those of you who weren’t preaching, it’s the story of the transfer of spiritual power from Elijah to Elisha. It’s an odd story and one that is hard to preach at first glance.
But it’s been traveling with me all week.
Some pastors are Elijahs and some are Elishas. And it’s our churches who are charged with discerning who is the best fit for them.
As a pastor I’m almost always going to be stepping into a pastorate in which I will be following in someone else’s shoes. I’ll be stepping into a story and history and place where I will observe and learn and join in. And there’s no telling how that person before me did, how s/he was as a person, theologian, preacher, pastor; there’s no telling if this person left in a whirlwind of fire—the good kind or the bad, with bridges and pews left burning.
I can only hope that this person ended as well as Elijah did, tying up loose ends and cleaning up messes and putting out those fires.
Most of the churches that give us first-timers a chance are the ones that have no other options available. They have to go cheaper and younger by matter of necessity, not choice. And that’s okay. It’s a reality of starting out a career. We don’t all get drafted by Super Bowl champions.
But it would be nice if more churches had the faith to trust this wild and adventurous Spirit of God. It’s not that all young pastors are right for every job. That’s quite obvious. But there’s something about the faith of a congregation to trust that the same Spirit is at work in younger and older pastors alike that opens the church up to the dynamism, vision, and leadership of the Spirit.
Just last week I listened to stories of churches who discerned this very thing.
We hosted our annual Residency Reunion where a large number of the previous pastoral residents return to Wilshire to reconnect with each other and with members of the church. It’s a beautiful experience to listen to and learn from all of these gifted pastors—pastors whose churches took chances on them, and whose churches are better off for it. These pastors are fun and lively and full of wisdom, discernment, and vision. Spending three days with them makes me proud and feel a bit lucky to be a part of this program.
And then Elijah and Elisha sneaks back into my mind.
Our senior pastor was hosting a Q&A with them for our Wednesday Bible Study, and he’s asking them questions about the state of the American church, or questions about their own philosophies of ministry or what they are doing in Oxford, NC, and I couldn’t help seeing Elijah and Elisha behind those microphones. In 2 Kings, Elisha asks Elijah for a double portion of the Spirit, and I don’t know what that looks like or even entirely what it means, but it must look like the successful ministries of so many young pastors across the country. A church like Wilshire, led by a senior pastor and staff that have invested in so many future pastors during their residencies, now witnesses them blossoming and multiplying their ministries across the country.
Elijahs and Elishas are leading our churches today—those with much experience and those with double portions of the same Spirit. It might get tricky, but having the wisdom to know when it’s time for a church to reach for one over the other is a matter of listening to the Spirit that is at work in both types of leaders.
Related BNG story: