Who do you think Paul is, anyway? Or Apollos, for that matter? Servants, both of us—servants who waited on you as you gradually learned to entrust your lives to our mutual Master. We each carried out our servant assignment. I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow. It's not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow. Planting and watering are menial servant jobs at minimum wages. What makes them worth doing is the God we are serving. You happen to be God's field in which we are working.(The Message, trans. by Eugene Peterson)
A minister who was a mentor to me had just left his church to go serve God in another place. I asked him how his congregation had reacted to his departure. He said: "Same as usual. Some are glad, some are sad, and some are mad." I laughed. Because it is true in own experience. Whenever I have left one congregation to go serve another congregation, the reactions of the congregation I'm leaving usually falls into one of those three categories. Some are sad. Some are glad. And some are mad. However you may feel about my leaving is okay with me.
There is a natural grieving process that congregations, members, and friends of the church go through whenever a pastor leaves. This occurs whether the pastor's tenure was a good or bad experience for the pastor and for the church. Let me tell you as clearly as I can that our time in Batesville has been a good time for my family and for me. I have grown tremendously as a person and as a pastor over these past eight years. Many of you have graciously let me into your lives and let me be your pastor. We have journey together through hospital visits, home visits, baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and funerals. We have laughed together and cried together. My pastorate here has been a good experience for me and for the church.
We have been close and we have grown together. I have baptized babies, officiated funerals, taught confirmation classes, taught new member classes, taught the Xyz class, officiated weddings, and visited you in your homes and in the hospital. After the pastoral relationship between this church and me is dissolved on August 15, I will no longer do such things for this congregation. Our presbytery has ethics guidelines that forbid former pastors from performing pastoral function in congregations they have previously served. These guidelines exist to foster relationships between interim pastors and installed pastors and their congregations. Call on your interim pastor or installed pastor to do your baptisms, weddings, and funerals. After August 15, if you call and ask me to perform any pastoral functions I will say no. I will abide by the presbytery's ethical guidelines for pastors and their former congregations.
What we have experienced as pastor and people has been a precious commodity and I don't give it up lightly. I realize that not every experience between pastor and congregation is a good one. There are times when the pastor and congregation are not a good match. Perhaps they don't jell. They don't see eye to eye. Things fall apart. But not with us. We've been good for one another. And that is what we are celebrating here today. Some may wonder why I would even consider leaving here when things are going so well. We seek stability in our lives. We seek order and simplicity. Change, even positive change, can be stressful. Well, let me answer that question. The reason I am leaving you is because that is the Biblical pattern.
You can see it right there in our text this morning. Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, says, "Who do you think Paul is, anyway? Or Apollos, for that matter? Servants, both of us—servants who waited on you as you gradually learned to entrust your lives to our mutual Master. We each carried out our servant assignment. I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow." The great Apostle Paul didn't stay in any one place for too long. He moved in, organized a cell group of Christians, and then moved on. He repeated the process many, many times. Much of the New Testament are Epistles, letters written by Paul because Paul did not spend his entire ministry in one place. Neither did Jesus. Jesus, during his three year ministry, moved around from town to town, so much so that he once said of himself, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but I've got nowhere to call home." Moving along is in the DNA of Christ's church.
Paul says in our text today, and here I paraphrase him: "The church is not about the pastor. The church is about God. God is the one who makes things grow. Your pastors are basically migrant workers. And you happen to be God's field in which we are working." Wow. What an image. Imagine your life as God's field and your pastor as a migrant worker in the field of your life.
One of the positive things we know about migrant workers is that they work hard. That is true for most pastors. Yes, our schedules are more free. But pastors are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We work on Father's Day, Mother's Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We work every Sunday except a few each year. Pastors work schedule is a bit like migrant workers. And like migrant workers we pastors frequently move. We've got work to do over there, you see. Tomatoes to pick. Orange groves waiting to be picked. Chicken houses to clean. You name it. There is work to be done. We do the job. Then we move on to work somewhere else. In the power of the spirit. There are exceptions to this rule. There are so still some decades long pastorates. But that doesn't happen much these days. People are more mobile and so are ministers. Let me tell you why I'm leaving here. I'm not leaving because you did something wrong. I'm leaving because we both did something right. We accomplished the mission for which God sent me here. Now God is sending me on to another congregation to work in God's field there. After I leave, God will send you a new servant leader. In the meantime, keep it together. Keep moving forward. God expects you to do that.
From this day forward let's focus on the positive things we accomplished together. This congregation is at a much better place now than when I arrived. You can do even better now. This is not the end for you. This is merely the prelude. Decide today that you will give thanks to God for the time we have had together. And then make up your mind that, with God's help, this congregation will move forward and accomplish great things for God's kingdom. Pastors are spiritual migrant workers laboring in God's field, your lives. Any good that comes from our work together did not come from me. It came from God. As Paul puts it: "It's not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow."
To God be glory. Both now, and forevermore.