Passing The Baton

Passing the Baton
January/February 2024 Blog

*This blog will be longer than usual, for good reason, as you shall see.

Passing the baton is a time-honored skill which occurs often in team relay running races. It requires that both runners keep moving forward, stay within their lanes, and time the handoff appropriately.

In 2 Timothy 4:7, Paul wrote “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Paul trained up and passed the baton of Christian leadership to his beloved disciple and friend, Timothy.

In similar ways, I have had a similar relationship with someone in our dear church to whom I’ll be passing the baton at the end of June.

In November, I turned 65 years old. While this doesn’t necessarily dictate retirement, it is time for me to do so. I have been seeking the Lord on this for the last several years.

As some of you know, I have been battling autoimmune disease since 2017. While the large wound on my back is finally no longer bleeding daily, (praise God and thank you for your prayers, saints), I am still receiving bi monthly Remicade infusions to continue to fight the disease. I am healed, and being healed. There are also non-cancerous nodules in my lungs which come and go. I fight this as well with walking and stairs whenever I can. I believe in the healing power of Jesus Christ. For God’s glory. I walk in it. I have received and continue to receive it. But, I am tired. It is time to carve out more time for self-care.

I’ve also been in ministry almost 25 years. Before that, I served as a nurse educator. Before that, I was a critical care nurse. I was also a full-time homemaker for seven years when our kids were very young.

When God called me to be a pastor, I didn’t believe women were supposed to serve in this role. He has shown me, and many others, beyond a shadow of a doubt that He does indeed call women, and men, to shepherd His people.

Over the last 25 years my family has not received all of me as wife and mother that they deserved. The role of pastor is a 24/7/365 experience. You try to keep your family first, but you are always thinking about, praying for, planning for, trying not to worry about the church, most hours of most days.

It is an exiting and gratifying thought to think that after June 23, 2024, I’ll be free to give my husband more of my time and attention. He retired in 2020, and has been waiting four years for me to do so.

I’m also excited about being able to be there more for our now adult children.

Both are still unmarried, though our son just got engaged! This is another reason for retirement. Jake’s lovely fiancee, Judy, will be starting a job in Vienna, Austria, beginning in March. (She is Austrian) They will be married, in Austria, in May. They will live there. We look very forward to visiting them in that beautiful county, often.

In 2022, I had a 3 month sabbatical. I thought sure God would say, “Now’s the time.” He did not. I came back more energized than ever. And that was good because last year we got to accomplish our move, and build-out beforehand, from Creekside Middle School, where we worshiped and served for 14 years, to Venetian Bay, where we’ve always been called. It is so good to have our offices, day school, and worship center all under one roof! We’re experiencing growing connections and steady growth as a result. This is a very healthy time to “pass the baton.” We are classified as a “strong and successful church” in one of the Transition books I’ve been reading. We give God all the credit for this. It’s been His idea all along. We are simply His servants.

As a founding pastor, the longer I’m here, the harder it will be on the church when I retire. Thankfully, we’ve been listening closely to the Lord for His direction and He has been guiding us.

Last April, at a Dove ILC, one prophetic prayer person said he felt like the Lord was saying to me that it was time to “hang up my coat- like in Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
I did not like hearing this at all.

But now, I see that it is time. The prophetic prayer person did indeed hear from God.

I’m happy to share with you that Jon and I will still get to be members of our beloved church. In Dove, you don’t have to leave. (Like in some denominations we know of.) You just become “an elder in the house.” Like Marty Smith. We’ll still be supporting and working for the Lord in our church when we’re here. I’ll be happy to help with Children’s Church!

Meanwhile, God has been at work preparing for next lead elder.

There is a young woman who is twenty years younger than me, who has been feeling called for several years now. Amanda Stiles. She’s been with our church for 13 years, which is a gift to all of us. She came to me a few years ago sharing the calling with me. We promised to bring it to the Lord and bear down in prayer, fast and pray, and see what He said. We’ve also done this with our families. And the elders. And the leaders. And now the rest of the church. One step at a time.

At Asbury Seminary, I learned from a great professor, that the calling is the most important factor of anyone ever going into full-time ministry. No matter what credentials or education or experience there may be, if someone isn’t called, they should not be doing it. The Call is what keeps you going when the days are hard or the times are difficult. Unfortunately, we’ve all probably experienced a pastor or church where someone wasn’t really called. According to one book I read, the average tenure of American pastors is just short of 4 years! And we know it’s true that, “to those God calls, He will equip.”

So. Amanda was feeling called. I was wondering about retirement. We were in prayer.

Last January, Amanda left a well-paying, full-time job to step out in faith for ministry. She wasn’t sure what that was exactly, but felt the other job was severely limiting her. The Lord has blessed her and Phil for this, and she’s contributed so much to our church already through her many gifts with marketing and administrative work and planning, etc. She has also gotten to know many of the church staff and leaders and people during this past year. She’s also been mentoring closely with me. I’ve been impressed with her teachable spirit as I spiritually parent her, including gentle corrections from time to time as needed.

She’s finishing up her BA degree in Christian ministry, with plans for seminary after this. I was in seminary while serving as a pastor too. It’s a mutually beneficial experience for the church and for the pastor. Amanda has also successfully completed the Dove Leadership Training.

In addition to all of this, there has been a process we’ve been following.
It is a thoughtful, systematic progression of informing everyone in layers.

Last June, in an elders meeting, our “youngest elder,” asked me, “Pastor, with all due respect, will you be retiring anytime soon? And if so, I think Amanda would be a good choice to be our next lead elder.” Amanda and I looked at each other in response, and laughed. Then we shared where we were on this timeline. We all agreed to continue to keep it all in prayer, along with spouses, and then revisit it in two months.

Meanwhile, I received another unsolicited affirmation. Someone asked me, also with due respect, also if I was going to retiring anytime soon, and they added that they thought Amanda would be a good choice for our next lead elder.

In October, we had prayed, and felt that God was leading us forward in this. The Dove leaders had begun praying too. Once again, in October, I had that same, unsolicited conversation with another ministry leader in the area, who also suggested Amanda. It happened again in December. Someone (a retired pastor in our church) suggested I need not wait too long to retire, and thought that Amanda would be good.

After sharing with, first, the elders and Dove leaders; then, the church leaders; and then the entire church at our January town hall meeting, we’ve been gradually widening the circle. Now we’re letting everyone know. By the time we get to the June 23rd date, everyone will have had a lot of time to get used to the idea. I expect a very smooth transition. We continue to keep it all in prayer, too, as we only want God’s will.

Meanwhile, Amanda continues to mentor with me, and others, and also move forward towards completion of her ministry degree. She also has business management, bookkeeping, and administrative education and experience. As we’ve recently negotiated rent rates with our landlord, and also reviewed our day school charges, with a suggested 5% increase, (first ever), we’ve seen her abilities shine. As Jon, my husband says, “she’s sharp.” I believe she will lead our church to the next level, alongside her husband Phil, who fully supports her calling and plans to be an active leader with her. He is currently leading a Grief Share support group and doing an excellent job of it.

As everyone in the church has seen and heard, Amanda has a strong teaching and preaching gift. Evangelism, too. Best of all, like me, she will always keep her head close to our Father’s heart to hear from Him for the church. Like the calling itself, this is an essential quality of a lead elder, I believe.

In addition to all of this, Amanda & Phil have been receiving prophetic words since 2020 about being leaders in ministry.

The Bible also gives many examples of spiritual parents and leadership transitions: Joshua/Moses; Ruth/Naomi; Timothy/Paul.

It’s important that everyone keep in mind that Amanda is not me, and I am not her.
She brings brilliant gifts to this role, but they’ll be different from mine. The needs of the church will still be met, and then some, but please, don’t expect her to be me.

I ask you, instead, to please support Amanda & Phil in this calling. Encourage them. Support them. Pray for them. It’s exciting times for our church!

We know pastoral transitions can be challenging, and we want to do everything we can to make it a smooth one. We offer question and answer periods throughout this process, and invite everyone to feel free to talk with any of us and the elders as needed.

Beloved readers, as we usher in a younger lead elder, (who also has a lot of deep, valuable life experience, among other things), I believe it will be a healthy and helpful thing. But never forget we are an intergenerational church. We love sharing life together as various generations.

One of our older, long-time church members said this to me recently:
“I’m excited about this transition. It feels like forward movement.”




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