Dear ABC/Ohio Pastors, ARMS, and Member Congregations:
(June 2018) When I became your Interim Executive Minister I made a commitment to communicate with you on a regular basis. I believe that communication from me throughout this transition season is important because keeping the ABC/Ohio family connected is essential to the spiritual vitality and health of the Region. I hope that you agree! In this communication I will share a few thoughts about transitions. I apologize in advance for the length of this communication, but ask that you give it your time and attention.
Transitions are a normal and expected dynamic in all organizations, including the church, and in this case ABC/Ohio. A transition is a movement, passage, or change from one stage in life to another. A simple example at this time of year is when students graduate from high school or college. Graduation is a transition from the years of high school education to the next chapter of life that might include a college education, employment, or whatever lies ahead for the graduating student. Graduation, while expected, marks the beginning of a journey to something new, and yet to be discovered. Such is the case whenever the People of God begin a transition.
Dr. Ernest Jones’ passing initiated a season of transition for ABC/Ohio. It is a transition that includes a search for a new Executive Minister. Yet this transition has a deeper purpose than simply finding a new Executive Minister. Every transition provides the challenge and opportunity to discover what God is doing in our lives and organization. The writer of Ecclesiastes 3 affirms this when saying, “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
I find that biblical stories help establish foundations and meanings for every transitional season we face. In my interim ministry training I learned that the story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt and journey to the Promised Land provides a wonderful backdrop for a church or American Baptist Region that is in transition. The reason for its value is that Israel’s Exodus included a journey by the way of the wilderness. “God led the people around by the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea.” (Exodus 13:18)
The way of the wilderness was God’s chosen path for Israel. The Exodus 13:17-22 passage teaches that the wilderness way was the longer and more difficult route to the Promised Land. In-fact, there was a shorter route, “by the way of the land of the Philistines,” but God didn’t lead them that way because God knew his purpose would be discovered on the longer and more-difficult wilderness path.
Churches and ABC/Regions are often tempted in the transition season to take the quick and shorter route to call a new ministry leader, rather than take the time to discover God’s purpose for the next chapter of ministry. The ABC/Ohio Region Board of Ministries has prayerfully decided to delay the appointment of an Executive Minister Search Committee until later this year. The Board acknowledges the importance of grieving the loss of Dr. Jones, and discovering God’s purpose for the future. I celebrate this wise decision.
The “way of the wilderness” helps us realize that God is never caught by surprise when transitions happen. God knew long before Israel did that their transition from Egypt would begin at God’s time. God’s time was very precise. Exodus 12:40-41 says, “Now the time that the sons of Israel lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. And at the end of four hundred and thirty years, to the very day, all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.” It is important to remember that ABC/Ohio’s current transition is exactly in Gods time.
Finally, it is important to always remember that Israel didn’t wander in the wilderness alone. God was with them every step of the journey. While Moses was their guide, God was their presence. Exodus 13:21-22 reminds us “the LORD was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, or the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.” As with Israel long-ago, God will be with ABC/Ohio throughout this transition.
I hope you find these thoughts about transitions helpful, regardless what the transition may be. I pray that your summer will be restful and filled with discovery. I continue to ask for your prayers for ABC/Ohio as walk the “way of the wilderness” together.
Rev. Dr. Lawrence Swain
Interim Executive Minister