Departures

So today was a little (unexpectedly) bittersweet. I went to church in the early evening, and I – along with pretty much everyone who was in the worship center, I believe – was stunned to learn that one of our teaching pastors  – let’s just call him Pastor Ben for the sake of this post – will be leaving, in order to serve as a senior pastor in another state.

[Small digression: You should know that we Californians possess a relatively limited knowledge of U.S. geography, generally speaking. I’m painting with a broad brush here, but in a pinch, we can readily identify New York, Hawaii, and Texas/Florida (mostly due to their sheer size). The rest of the states are usually lumped together in an amorphous “other” category. We know that the “other” states are there and are important, but – candidly – we struggle to find them on a map. I’m not saying that this perspective is right, but it’s how we look at things. To that end, Pastor Ben is heading to one of the “other” 46 states].

When the news was announced – and Pastor Ben took the stage to share his news – there was a collective gasp of stunned sadness from the congregation as we processed this revelation. I surprised myself when I realized that I had tears in my eyes, and noticed that others did, too.

I am so very grateful for Pastor Ben (although we just call him “Ben” at our church). God has blessed him with an amazing teaching gift, and there is much that we have learned from him. Beyond this, Pastor Ben’s family has been a blessing to us as well, and we will miss them all something terrible.

It is especially bittersweet for me, since I serve in children’s ministry at my church. I’ve been blessed to have two of Pastor Ben’s kids in my classroom over the course of his tenure, and I’ve enjoyed them immensely. It is no small thing for me to say that I will miss the children so very much! Just the thought of their leaving makes me feel sad.

However, I cannot be sad for long, because Pastor Ben is responding to God’s call on his life. He could have stayed with us and disobeyed God, but that would not have been right. And I could see how challenging it was for him at church this evening – having to tell a congregation he clearly loves (and we love him, too!) the tough decision that he had made to leave – although not right away, thankfully. I sense that this must have been a profoundly difficult decision for Pastor Ben (and his wife) to have made.

After church, the Lord put these Bible verses on my heart. I feel like they present a fairly accurate picture of how we were feeling this evening:

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Now let’s be clear: There wasn’t a massive outbreak of emotional hysteria and kissing. Rather, I think this passage reflects how we were all feeling on the inside (as well as the tears that were flowing on the outside), and how we both celebrate this next new step in Pastor Ben’s life, but also recognize how much we have grown to care for him and his family. We will miss him, but we can rest in the knowledge that God has great plans for Pastor Ben, and that He’ll take care of us in this season of transition, too.

When I got home, I decided to send Pastor Ben a note thanking him for his years of service to our church and wishing him well. There was more to the missive than that, but you get the gist of what I was trying to say. While I cannot say that I know him terribly well on a personal level, I have seen his children, and how Pastor Ben carries himself as a teacher, husband, and father, and what I have seen is commendable. I wanted him to know that.

Anyway, today, I am grateful for Pastor Ben and the legacy that he will leave in our church. I am praying for wisdom and discernment for him and his family and they make the courageous decision to move to one of the “other” states, and build new lives for themselves there.

That’s the great thing about being a family of believers: it matters little how much geography separates us – we are still connected! This brings comfort when we discover that many miles will separate us from people we have grown to care for deeply over the years.

Dear Lord, thank You for Pastor Ben! It’s been a bittersweet day for all of us, but I thank You for his life and his ministry. You know how much I’m going to miss the children in particular, but I trust that You have a plan for them, and will continue to take care of them as they transition to their new lives in the “other” state. I pray for continued wisdom, discernment, and knowledge as Pastor Ben prepares to enter this new and exciting phase of ministry. Please grant him favor, peace, and confidence as he steps out in faith-filled obedience to You.

PS – When You’re ready, please send us an amazing successor for Pastor Ben! Indeed, the new man will have big shoes to fill, but we trust that You will send over the right person at the precisely perfect time. In Your name I pray, Amen.

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