A few weeks ago, on February 4th, we made an announcement in our Vision Weekend services that was significant for my family and for our church. Our pastors, my parents, announced that I would step into the Lead Pastor role and that they would take on the titles of Founding and Teaching Pastors. They told the church that this would play out over a year of transition. It was a big deal for all of us to bring this news to the church, naturally. We were excited about sharing the news and aware that it would stir up emotion and reaction. We moved forward because, after a long period of prayer and discussion and seeking wisdom, we all knew it was the right move to make. And, it was time.
My husband Rod and I love our church with a deep passion. It's an extension of our family, it's where our roots are, and it is what we dream about. We have gathered wisdom for years under the mentorship of brilliant mentors - my parents, and others who have led us - and we are humbled and honoured to carry our church forward. We have a vision to see Relate Church grow in a new, powerful way. We see multiplication and expansion. Rod and I see ourselves as bridge builders, connecting the generation running before us to the one that will follow. We're pretty ordinary people who have lots of growing to do, but who are committed to empower leaders and seek God and spread the gospel in our city. We've decided that we'll do whatever it takes.
Many people have been so encouraging and have responded with joy, and I am so thankful. Some have questions and I am grateful when there's a conversation rather than assumptions, so questions are welcomed. I'm sure some people have mixed emotions, and I actually think that is wonderful. I have the same feelings. If our church family feels unsettled because they have been devoted to our pastors for so long and feel unsure about this change, I believe that's good and healthy. Change is uncomfortable. Change also always precedes growth, so we like to embrace it around here. I know of a few questions floating around, and so I'd love to address some of them, with the blessing and input of my parents and husband.
What does this actually mean for our church? What will change?
Pastors John and Helen aren't leaving the church. They aren't going anywhere, and I'm not sure we will notice a great change in their presence or platform. They will continue to travel and minister as they have for years, and they will preach when they're home. Dad will be teaching through the month of April on the Book of Revelation. I am currently under the coaching of Pastors John and Helen as I work directly with our others pastors and staff. We're in constant communication, and I'll continue to take on more responsibility this year.
Typically a succession in leadership involves the passing of a baton. One leader passes on a title or responsibility and moves away to let the new leader take over. We recognize that our plan and what we are modelling is unique, but we believe it's powerful. We are running this lap together, working together to make the best decisions for our church. Together we have the wisdom of decades of experience and the insight of a fresh generation. It isn't an easy race, but it's a strong one.
Once this transition is complete in 2019, our founding pastors will still be here, still adding strength and wisdom. If you know them, you know they wouldn't have it any other way. This is home. They're completely invested.
How did you come to this decision?
Dad quotes 2 Timothy 2:2 often, a scripture that encourages us to pass on truths to faithful or trustworthy people who will then pass them on to others. A goal of ministry here is always to invest into faithful people who will then lead and minister to others. When we began this discussion around succession five years ago as my dad turned 60, we were looking earnestly at faithful leaders, sons and daughters of our house, who could potentially take the lead in the future. I was personally involved in these discussions without any thought that I might be the one. I wasn't really interested, actually. I'm a woman, for starters! And my husband once said that God would have to speak to him audibly in order for us to ever consider leading the church. It's funny how God works, though. Over the last few years he's changed our perspective and grown our hearts exponentially. I have been working for years to create alignment on our team, to define our culture and our values, and to bring clarity to the vision we've heard from our pastors. My love for Jesus has deepened as I've been desperate to know him and hear his voice in order to pastor people well in the Executive Pastor role. I've always loved our church, but God has changed my heart for people in a way that has forced me to develop greater character and capacity over these last years.
Last year, Dad told me that he felt it was time to make this transition. He was clear that he wanted me to lead, and I knew it was what God was asking of me as well. When Rod agreed that he was all in, and our kids responded positively, it was settled for us and the work of planning began.
One thing that has freed me was the realization that Rod and I don't have to be "John and Helen." My parents are big personalities, wise and loving and connected. They are like parents to so many people, which is amazing. I am biased, but I'm in awe of them and so proud of them. I'm going to lead a little differently, and I'm empowered to do that. If there is anything that makes me excited about leading, it's that I might inspire people who have so much potential and strength who are currently holding back because they think their voice or energy isn't needed. I hope that young (or old!) people look at me and think "If she can do this, I can step up too." That's my prayer. We need everyone on board, pressing in, to build Relate Church in this season. We know our strength is in the team. If we were looking for the slickest, smoothest communicator to be the next Lead Pastor we would have gone in a different direction. I'm excited to raise an army of brilliant communicators, but I'm even more committed to growing a church that's completely changed by Jesus, secure in their freedom, changing their world.
I shared on Vision Weekend that this position wasn't my dream. Some people weren't sure what to make of that statement. I said it purposefully, because I hope we all re-evaluate our plans in light of what the need is and what our gifts are. While I am drawn to to creating, writing and studying in solitude, I have seen that the call on my life is much greater than my preferences. In fact, I've learned that my introverted nature is a great strength because it allows me to really see people and understand culture in a way that lets me lead strategically. I have been and will continue to do work to grow in my gifts to better serve our church, and I'm cool with feeling uncomfortable in this season. My word for this year is PRESS and that's exactly how this feels. Rod and I are embracing the stretch. While it wasn't the original dream, that has definitely changed!
Were you chosen because you're their daughter?
I'm sure people wonder about the issue of nepotism. Did I get the job because I'm related? I hope not. I'd be angry if I thought that there was privilege involved. As pastors' kids my sisters and I have always felt more pressure to serve harder, be extra humble, and carry responsibility quietly because we're aware of the perceptions out there. We weren't looking for a family member to take on this lead role, but I happen to be family. My parents are big cheerleaders and they are vocal in their support for our family, no question. It's who they are. (They extend this kind of support to many people, pastors across the globe and team here at home, too.) I can't worry about defending myself, but I'd encourage people to look at our track record. We aren't afraid of that. We would be just as committed if there was another leader stepping in.
Can a woman pastor the church?
Right - there's that little detail! If this is your home church, you know that we are about empowering both men and women. We believe that both men and women are called to use their gifts in every capacity of the local church. We think the world needs all of us, all ages and genders and backgrounds. It may be a surprise to hear that we will have a woman in the lead role, or you may have had questions from others about this. We will address this question in detail soon so that there is clarity and so that you can answer questions well.
I've personally only ever known church to be a community where both men and women lead. My parents operate in partnership and were ordained together. We've had women serving in pastoral roles since the beginning at Relate Church. We hope this isn't an issue that divides and we have great respect for other churches who may interpret scripture differently than we do.
People will often quote from 1 Timothy 2 when questioning women as pastors or church leaders, where it says that women are to be silent and aren't permitted to teach or have authority over a man. It goes on to say that Adam was formed first, then Eve. We interpret this to be referring to her marriage, her relationship to her husband, as it refers to Adam and Eve. A woman shouldn't lead in church if she dominates her husband (a man = her man) and usurps authority from him. If you read on in 1 Timothy 3 there are also some guidelines for men in ministry and how they're to be committed to their (one) wife, sober and not violent or greedy, etc. Paul was addressing cultural issues that were valid then, and largely still are. Our marriage is our top priority and if Rod wasn't completely committed to where we are going I wouldn't feel comfortable taking on this role.
We believe that scripture must be evaluated in light of culture to make sense of what we're called to walk in today. 1 Corinthians 11 tell us that men must have their heads uncovered in worship, and women must have their heads covered... Men must not have long hair, but on women long hair is glorious. Obviously these are cultural issues addressing that time in history, not foundational to Christianity. However, we will continue to talk about this as a church and we encourage you to do some research as well. We've been encouraged by the recent succession announcement at Willow Creek Church, where a woman is taking the lead role. We've also seen Hillsong Church recently launch a new plant in Israel with a female pastor. These are exciting days, where God is pouring out his Spirit on all people - his sons and his daughters.
I've already seen the growth that is ahead for our church, and so I'm in. We're in. We are so grateful for what has been built over the last 32 years and we are pumped to champion our incredible dream team and church family to bring the message of hope that we have to multitudes more. We believe that the best days are ahead for my parents as they have more freedom and capacity to mentor leaders and preach on a greater platform. Rod and I are so thankful for our pastors, our team, and our church. Thank you for your encouragement. God bless you for praying! When I put my hand up, I was counting on you to go with us. We need your prayer more than ever, and we are committed to praying for you. We know the best days are ahead for Relate Church.