No person lives forever. Every leader chosen by God has the responsibility of fulfilling his assignment in a manner pleasing to God. Beginning in Genesis we see God’s plan for the transition from one leader to the next: father to son. God chose Abraham, whose oldest son was Isaac, whose oldest son was Jacob. To this point the transition from one leader to the next, from the father to his eldest son, flowed smoothly and Israel’s experience was generally positive. In Exodus we read that Moses was chosen by God, and Moses trained Joshua, and Israel remained faithful to the Lord. In the Gospels we see that Jesus chose the 12 and prepared them for servant leadership.
God chose me to become the pastor of the Bakerville United Methodist Church. As the shepherd of the flock, it was my responsibility to care for my/His sheep. We worshipped together, studied together, worked together, and laughed together. Together we celebrated God’s faithfulness, taught God’s word, cared for God’s people, built a healthy organization, and cared for the church facility. God guided and blessed what we did. Though I did not use the phrase, Sally Jo and I were living In Partnership With God – and increasingly others in the congregation did also. As servants of the Lord Jesus Christ we kept in mind that the ministry was not ours. If we should suddenly die, the ministry must be able to continue on without us.
When we were to be gone for several weeks one summer, I asked a fellow student who was from Japan if he would come and pastor the church. Toshi and his wife Shoko were warmly received by the congregation and served the members well. And there was a side bonus: Shoko taught Japanese Tea Ceremony and flower arranging. It was a great experience for this rural church and the Adachi’s. The church did fine without us!
When plans were made for the new parsonage, we made it very clear to the people that they should not build the parsonage for us. After three wonderful years we had no plans to leave the church any time soon, and my guess is that the church did not think we would be leaving soon either. The parsonage was completed debt free.
Four months after we moved into the parsonage, on the Sunday morning after Easter, I told the congregation we would be leaving in June. Emotionally this was a very tough morning: we suffered together. Every person in the sanctuary was there as a direct or indirect result of our ministry. Yet we all knew the decision was final – it was time for us, and the congregation, to move forward.
Who would the new pastor be? This was the United Methodist Church, and the District Superintendent was responsible for the appointment of the new pastor. I had received a letter from this District Superintendent asking that “I keep my conservatism more hidden and my evangelical fervor under control”. Things did not look good! I do not remember the details of how it happened, but George Smith was chosen to replace me. George was solid spiritually, biblically, and physically! His wife, Judy, was a gifted piano player. Both were delightful people.
To facilitate a smooth leadership transition, George and I planned to lead a week-long bicycle trip in August for the church young people. I am sure this was George’s idea – he had already biked across the United States with a group called Wandering Wheels. Sally Jo and I spent the summer studying at Labri in Switzerland and Capernwray Hall in England in preparation for the student ministry we would begin leading at Middle Tennessee State University. Then she headed for her family in Illinois – and I went back to the church for a bike trip in beautiful New England led by George. I should have known better!!!! Our days became increasingly challenging – and then George planned for us to bike, as I remember, 135 miles in one day. On that day we started at early day-break and finished in the dark.
Crazy, but we did it! Through this trip the young people got to know George as the very special person he was, and time and again they saw God’s care and provision.
George and Judy provided the leadership for the Bakerville church 34 years. Under their leadership church attendance grew from about 100 to over 400 each Sunday. Sally Jo and I were present on the Smith’s last Sunday: Judy led the worship team and George spoke and served communion individually to each of the 500 people present, taking the time to say a word to each. To God Be the Glory.
Deerfoot Lodge was able to make a similar transition from Sally Jo and me to Ron and Anne Mackey. God used Sally Jo and me to build a strong ministry and organization – and part of that building process included having Ron as a camper, Guide, counselor, head of tripping and as my assistant – and Anne worked with Sally Jo in the office for a summer. We became close friends. During the year previous to this leadership transition, the four of us met together each month to talk through a variety of subjects. Ron and Ann spent our last summer at DL with us. The 75th anniversary celebration marked an orderly transition from one couple to the next. Today Deerfoot Lodge remains solidly committed to the “building of Godly young men in a Christ-centered community through wilderness camping.” The camp is healthy in every measurable way. We are pleased, Mom and Dad Kunz would be pleased, and I feel confident that God is pleased.
Living In Partnership With God is our life long assignment, within which are temporary, God-given assignments. These assignments may include being a godly parent, a school board member, a construction worker, a pastor, a business leader, a camp director. Regardless of our God given assignments, God expects that we will do our very best work – which can only be done in partnership with Him. Ultimately there should be a smooth transition from this temporary life on earth to eternal life in the presence of God.
“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14