We don’t have formal commitment contracts for staff at Lancaster Baptist Church. I’ve always felt like I wanted the people who serve on our staff to be here because they want to be, not because they signed a commitment to be.
That said, before someone comes on staff, we do have conversations about intent. If someone is joining our pastoral staff or leading a team, I would prefer that their intention at least is to stay long enough that I can invest in and train them and that they can become a real asset to our church family.
Just over eighteen years ago, Tim Christoson and I had this kind of a conversation. At the time, he was in his last year of Bible college, engaged to Nicole, and looking to serve as an assistant pastor. When I interviewed him, I could see that he had a heart for the Lord and a desire to be used of God. I asked him if he were to come to Lancaster Baptist Church, if he would commit to stay at least ten years.
As I said, that was eighteen years ago. Over these past years, Brother Christoson has led the True North adult Bible class, organized many of the events and functions of our ministry (including the Spiritual Leadership Conference), and overseen several of our last building programs (including the Walther Center). His administrative gifts and the servant’s heart with which he exercises them have been a blessing and help to me beyond what I can describe.
Transitions: When God Calls Your Staff Away
Several months ago, however, Tim expressed to me that the Lord seemed to be stirring his heart to provide pastoral leadership. That was tough to hear, because not only do I rely on Tim’s help in the ministry, but he’s a friend as well.
It’s never easy to lose staff—especially staff you have trained and invested in and served with for nearly two decades. Some pastors refuse to let their staff go with their blessing. Some refuse to train their staff because they are afraid they will leave.
Henry Blackaby, however, made an insightful comment that applies here: “Inevitably other organizations will recognize quality employees and seek to hire them. However, if no other organization is impressed with your staff enough to want to hire them, that may be an indictment of either your hiring or your training practices! It ought to be a matter of great satisfaction for you to lead men and women who are highly coveted by other organizations” (from Joshua: Called to Be God’s Leader).
I haven’t always felt “great satisfaction” when staff leave or when others try to hire our trained staff. But I do strive to remember that it is an honor when the Lord allows us to invest in other churches through our staff that become their pastors. In fact, there are seventeen men who have labored on our staff now serving as senior pastors in other ministries. It’s always hard to see them go, but it’s always a blessing to see how God uses them. We love each of these men and praise God for the way in which they’re being used.
Ethics: When You Partner Together to Follow God’s Leading
In the same conversation that Tim first told me he sensed God leading him into the senior pastorate, he expressed that he was counting on my counsel and prayer and that he trusted that if this were the Lord’s will, He was confirm it in my heart as well.
It’s honestly amazing to me how quickly basic ethics of integrity are discarded during times of staff transition. On a regular basis, I get calls from youth pastors or staff members who want to talk with me about their future—either for counsel or hoping to come on our staff—but my first two questions are always, “Have you talked with your pastor about this?” and “Does he know you are calling me?” It’s staggering to me how often the answer to one or both questions is “no.”
In Tim’s case, we prayed both together and individually and sought the Lord’s guidance over the process of several months. The way that Tim allowed me to be more than his boss, but his pastor, through this process was encouraging to me—and I believe helpful to the Christoson family.
Although I encouraged Brother Christoson to seek counsel from others, I was thankful for his careful deference to me in not sharing the decisions he was making with those he had opportunity to lead or influence in our church. As the senior pastor, I was also seeking the Lord’s guidance in leading our church family through this transition, and I greatly appreciated Tim’s help in that by not making announcements—even by way of prayer requests—early.
The entire process of how Tim approached this decision, allowed time for the Lord to confirm it in my heart, and waited on the Lord for direction on where he would serve was so godly, and I’m thankful for it.
During Tim’s last week in the office, we sat down together for a formal “exit interview.” I asked him the basic questions: Is there anything you see we could do to improve? In what ways did I most help/hinder your growth as a leader? What can I do to help your family transition?” But because of the process we had worked through before this time, this interview was more a time of fellowship and reminiscing than anything.
Saying Goodbye: Our Loss, Others’ Gain
Once Brother Christoson was sure he was to pursue a senior pastorate, he began following through on suggestions and invitations to candidate. Some were large and some small.
In the end, the Lord led the Christosons to Bible Baptist Church in Howell, Michigan. The church is modest in size (thirty-five members voted Tim in as their pastor), but it is in the heart of a growing suburban region near Detroit.
The church’s most recent pastor, Dr. Joseph Nemer, retired after serving the church faithfully for over three decades. The current core members are eager to move forward under fresh leadership to fulfill the Great Commission in their area.
It’s hard to say goodbye to the Christosons, but I’m excited to see how the Lord will use them at Bible Baptist.
Please pray for the Christoson family as they transition into a new ministry. Pray for Tim as he provides leadership to a new church. And pray for Bible Baptist church as they endeavor to reach their growing community with the gospel.
As for us, the Walther Center as well as the lives Tim and Nicole have influenced for the Lord will be an enduring legacy to them here at Lancaster Baptist Church.
And we look forward to seeing the Christosons again when Pastor Christoson comes to speak at the Spiritual Leadership Conference this June, along with several other former staff now in the pastorate. We look forward to celebrating our thirtieth anniversary with them.