In 1983 I became the pastor of a small church that, at the time, was four and a half years old. I made a commitment to God and to myself that I would not leave there until I was certain that it was time. I based that commitment on something I learned in the Marine Corps.
There are 11 General Orders that all Marines everywhere are to memorize and follow when they are on interior guard duty. The 5th General Order is this: “To quit my post only when properly relieved.”
I determined that I would not resign my church unless and until I had received a clear indication that I was being relieved of my responsibility as the pastor. Even if it meant that I stayed a lifetime or a short time, I would remain at my post — until “properly relieved.” It was a good decision that kept me through good times and bad.
When the bad times came — as they do in every church, job, relationship, or situation — I stayed at my post. If the attendance was down, if money was short, if my feelings were hurt, if someone attempted a coup, it didn’t matter: I would not resign and walk away until I had been properly relieved.
It also kept me in place during good times. If the attendance soared, if programs were successful, if we became well-known, I wouldn’t break out my updated resume and try to capitalize on the situation to find a bigger church and a higher salary.
Both sets of circumstances tested that commitment. At least four times, I wanted to quit and, on one occasion, I was clinically depressed and slid into a black abyss. Still I remained at my post.
Twice, because we did grow significantly and constructed a new sanctuary, large churches came calling to see if I would become their pastor. One church had a sanctuary that seated 1,800 and I was their only candidate. I actually went for two interviews and did some house hunting. On the way home, however, I realized that I had not been properly relieved. So, I remained at my post.
Thirteen years later, after 18 months of study, seeking, and prayer, I was properly relieved. I can point to the time and date when I knew that my time at my post was over. The next Sunday I resigned.
Too many decisions, I think, are made in haste and without proper release. As a result, people change jobs, spouses, houses, friends, and locations when they should have remained on post.
On the other hand, one can stay beyond the time appointed and all sorts of chaos can occur. The key is to know how to listen (to God, especially) and to be able to discern when one has been relieved.
Someone at church asked me some time ago, “How long will you be our pastor?” My answer was, “For the rest of my life — unless I get relieved of duty.”
There’s a security in that, I think — for the church and my family and also for me.
When that time comes, I will then follow the 6th General Order: “To receive, obey, and pass on to the sentry (or pastor) who relieves me, all orders from the Commanding Officer…”
When that day comes, I will have done my duty.[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and is the mission pastor of Christ the King Fellowship in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]