I praise God for the blessings He has poured out upon our church. Certainly we long for a greater realization of His mighty grace, surely we need more profound repentance, undeniably we have a need to increase in our love and compassion and boldness - toward each other, but especially toward the lost. And yet God has blessed us with so many graces. But we must be vigilant in prayer and alert to Satan’s ploys in order to be ready for whatever comes our way as a church.
I pray that God would keep the Lashes here at GPC for the rest of my life, but we still have no assurance that this will take place. I do not even have any reason to assume that my life will continue on another week. And so I would like to give you, as a congregation, some advice in case one day I am taken away from you as your pastor, whether through death or some other circumstance.
The first thing I urge you to do is not to panic. I am not indispensable. If God takes me away, it will only be because He has a better plan for this church. Go forward in this confidence. If Jack is gone, it doesn't mean that God is gone. He is the One that holds this body together, not me. I hope that no one comes to this church because of me, I hope and assume that each member is here out of allegiance to Christ, not to Jack. God brought me here and if He takes me away, He will bring someone else. Whenever a pastor leaves, differences among the congregation that have often laid dormant sometimes surface. But this is no reason to panic. God can still be trusted to lead His beloved. Don't think only of your own needs. God will honor you if you think about the best interests of the congregation, and not just your own. And He will not only hold each of us accountable for influencing the church in a wise or unwise direction, but also for how we go about doing it. Whatever we do, we must do it in love and in grace and in respect and in proper order. Panic is a failure to trust God to do His will in our lives. If we throw aside the fruits of the Spirit and operate in the flesh in order to accomplish something for the good of the church, we are not serving God but opposing Him, no matter how right our convictions are about what should be done.
The second piece of advice that I want to give follows on this: let the elders lead. These are the men that God has put over you by your own election. Hebrews 13:17 says it better than I ever could: "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you." Our elders are godly, mature, knowledgeable men. They care deeply about Christ, about His kingdom and about this congregation. You have no idea how thankful I am for each one of them. I wouldn't trade them for anyone (not that I've received any offers). Give them loving feedback and advice. But if they make decisions that are not what you would decide, do not resist them. They have to make the decisions that they believe are wise and most beneficial to this congregation. Let them lead. Look for ways to support them and encourage them.
The third and final piece of advice that I have is to be patient in seeking a new pastor. In my opinion, the system of finding a pastor that most churches employ today is shamefully shallow. It is likely that the process of finding a new pastor will take a long time. At times it might seem as if the elders are not giving proper recognition to the need of the congregation to have a pastor to minister to the present needs of the congregation. But the long-term health of the congregation must be put as a higher priority than the present pastoral needs. I would advise a significant time of getting to know someone before he is chosen. This may be awkward, but I think it is wise.
I feel a little self-conscious about writing this, because it seems as if it might be taking myself too seriously. I only do it because when I shared with the elders my thoughts on this subject, they requested that I communicate them to the congregation. I sure hope there won't be a need anytime soon!