Back in 1976 a professor of mine at the seminary said to me, “Justin, the mystery of life is not so much what happens, but rather how fast it happens.” That certainly is not a Scripture quote. But boy is it true!
When I graduated seminary that year and began my ministry, I simply had the outlook that I would be a pastor for the rest of my life, and that seemed that it was going to be a very long, long time.
As the years have unfolded I have been so blessed in every aspect of my life. I married my beautiful and talented wife, God gave us three wonderful children, I have been privileged to serve in three churches, each of which have given me the joys, blessings, and challenges that matched my gifts and skills for ministry at the time I served each. I have been blessed with good health.
And now after nearly 43 years as a pastor, and 33 here at Prince of Peace, I can see God’s Hand leading and guiding me also into a still bright future. Made even brighter, I will add, by my five nearly-perfect grandchildren. (Isn’t that the opinion of all of us grandparents?)
The truth of “the mystery of life – how fast” was beginning to become more and more real to me about two years ago. About that same time my wife and I had lunch with dear old friends, when the man, himself retired a few years ago, came right out and said, “What are you doing to transition yourself and the church into your retirement?” I had to answer that at that time I had done nothing. Lovingly he said, “Well, I’m going to call you next month and you’d better tell me that you have a plan, which must include some time to transition a new pastor into the role of senior pastor.”
That’s what good friends are for.
Shortly thereafter I was put onto a book entitled “Next, Pastoral Succession That Works.” It covers the waterfront of many different scenarios and case studies of pastors and churches. One of the main scenarios with which it deals is the best way to have a successful transition from a pastor who has served the congregation for more than 30 years. Their findings also affirm that a transition time with old pastor and new pastor serving together is by far the best way to make the transition successful.
There are many reasons cited for this, the best one is so that the new pastor observes and becomes deeply familiar with the inner workings and “DNA” of that particular congregation. A phrase I added to this process is this: “It is a time of information for the new pastor, not indoctrination.” The new pastor will eventually need to bring new ideas, new strategies, new energy, and changes. That can happen so much more successfully if a relationship of trust and some history together have been set in place.
So, shortly after these timely concurrences, I presented to our church council a detailed outline of my progression of thought on this matter, a timeline of my retirement plans, and a plan to have us pursue finding a younger pastor who would come to us for a time of transition with me and then become our new senior pastor.
Our leadership, which is and always has been of the highest caliber, received my presentation and plan and gave their commitment to carry out this plan for the sake of the congregation’s future and the future success of the next senior pastor. Subsequently, we mailed out to the entire congregation my letter of explanation of all this, which included for the first time my announcement concerning my retirement.
The news of my retirement plan was a natural “shock” to many in our congregation. Not because anyone thought it could never happen, but simply because the norm for 32 years has been that I’m the pastor here, and no pastoral changes have taken place in that length of time. But soon this reality began to be viewed as the natural reality, and we seem to have had a collective resolve to make this all work the best way possible.
Our lay president also sent out his letter to the congregation to explain again this plan for succession and it’s transition time. He wrote very supportively of this plan and gave examples of why it will be the best for us all.
After a few months of getting this information spread across the congregation, then it was time to form a call committee to serve as the front line of finding the right pastor for this rather unique situation. Great effort was made to have the various areas and interests of the congregation represented.
To be continued…
Justin Kollmeyer is Sr. Pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, on Hwy. 314, between Lowe’s and The Pavilion. Contemporary Worship 9:15. Traditional Worship11:15. Sunday School 10:20. Pastor Kollmeyer invites you to “try us out” as a modern church with a rich foundation of faith. www.princeofpeacefayette.org