Four years ago, in mid-September 2013, I preached at Collierville Christian Church for the first time. I was in the middle of a much needed rest period between what I had been doing and what I would do next. For more than twenty years I had moved from one ministry to another, from one church to another, without a break. For many of those years I was also teaching history at one college or another in addition to serving as a minister. I was dangerously near burn-out. My colleagues, my various regional ministers, and my seminary professors had all stressed the importance of transitioning slowly from one ministry to the next. I had read numerous articles about how important it is to take some time between churches, if only a week or two, to create some space between your last ministry and your next one. But that was advice that I had ignored. In fact, in my last two moves I had not separated the ministries, I had overlapped them by starting to work at the new church before fully leaving the former one.
So when I was asked to come here, without my knowing it, this was exactly what I needed. I was able to start very slowly, filling in on Sundays, working a day or two each week, for several months before coming on staff full time. I like to think that was what you needed as well. You needed some time for reflection and having a part time minister kept basic functions operating while allowing your budget some time to catch up with demand. By March of 2013 I had rested and was ready to commit more time and you had plenty for me to do.
It’s difficult to believe that four years have passed so quickly. So much has happened. We have seen long time members move away and new families come to be a part of our community and our church. We have begun a visioning process and strategic plan and we have also adapted that plan along the way. Much remains to be done, but I believe these four years have been productive.
As we move toward a new liturgical year (which will start the first Sunday of Advent, November 27) I have been thinking about the next four years. That sounds like the distant future, but as quickly as these last four have gone by it will be here before we know it. What have we learned from our time together? What changes do we need to make? How can we help one another to grow more faithful in discipleship and thus make our congregation more faithful? How can we allow God to use us in reaching out to others in our community?
As I was working recently on sermon planning for the fall and winter it occurred to me that I won’t go through the three year lectionary many more times before I retire. I have never thought of that before. For more than thirty years I have read those lectionary texts and written sermons and looked back at old ones to see how my thoughts had changed. And I made notes for next time – planning ahead to make sure that my preaching would be as relevant as it could be.
That makes the things we do now even more important. We have only so much time to serve and make a difference. Opportunities are too precious to be squandered. Time passes so quickly that we, in order to be faithful, need to make the most of every moment.