Since 2005 I have enjoyed the calling to live a semi-nomadic lifestyle as a Transitional Pastor. One of the unique aspects of Transitional ministry is the experience of working with many congregations. To date I have worked with over 45 churches ranging from weekend retreats to transitional pastoral assignments that have lasted as long as two years.
I cannot say that I am a true nomad because I have a home base in Langley. Many of my transitional assignments have been in the Lower Mainland. This has allowed me to sleep in my own bed at night. But, from a pastoral perspective, it has been a nomadic journey because each assignment is a temporary role with a clear end date. A fundamental axiom of transitional ministry is that a transitional pastor is never a candidate for the pastoral position. And this is where the journey of spiritual formation begins.
Something my wife Ruth and I had to work through in order to do this work is to give up the benefits of having a church family that we could call home. Throughout our years of pastoral ministry, we enjoyed a wealth of ways to build many meaningful relationships. This is a built in benefit of the pastoral role; you are immersed in the life of a congregational family. Transitional ministry, being nomadic by nature, changes things. God has taught us, and continues to teach us, how to be “happy foster children” who enjoy, even embrace, moving from one family to another. We get to learn about each church’s unique ways, history, dreams, and disappointments. We walk alongside knowing that we cannot and should not fully become part of the family.
What God has taught us is how to enjoy being part of the wider body of congregations that we serve. He has helped us discover how to enjoy relationships with people in the moment, while we are present in one congregation. There is something fascinating about sojourning with a group of people for a season, knowing you will move on. You get to see and observe things from a unique vantage point. For a person such as myself, who is incredibly curious, I consider it a gift to be able to explore my many questions “Why is this church the way it is?” “What makes this place tick?” “What kind of pastoral leader would be a good fit here in the future?” “How can we appropriately help to sort some things out?” There is incredible job satisfaction in seeing a church hire a new pastor from a posture of greater health and clarity of mission and vision.
The greatest sense of spiritual formation I have discovered is that God had been preparing us for many years to do this ministry. In fact, some of the most difficult experiences of pastoral ministry have been the most beneficial. This sense of being prepared has wonderfully affirmed our sense of calling to serve in transitional ministry. A scripture that has become especially relevant is Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” This sense of affirmation and calling is vital. There is some wear and tear due to the nomadic nature of the work and the challenging situations in which we often find ourselves. There are many days when that profound sense of knowing that we are doing what God has prepared us to do gives us the courage and energy for the work. And it makes our relationship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit richer, deeper, better.
Gerry and Ruth’s home church is Mountainview Alliance. Gerry has served as a Transitional Pastor since 2005 and is the founder and director of Pathways Forward Transitional Ministry consulting.