May 31, 2011 marked my final day as the pastor of Mission Bay Community Church and this post will be the last time, for a while, that I'll focus on my pastoral life there. It has been a splendid 11+ years, our good-byes were healthy and, after a few last administrative hand-offs, it will be time for us to move onto the next stage of our ministry. For those who have gone through this process before, you know that it can be a difficult one for all involved and that there are no hard and fast rules about how to approach the transition in this day and age of social media.
First a little context setting. As a Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation, MBCC will work with the local governing called a "presbytery" to move through a process of seeking and calling a new pastor. This usually means having an interim pastor, doing some kind of search and then calling someone as their new pastor. As for me, since I am not headed to a new church AND I am staying in the area, I will become what is called a "member-at-large" and will affiliate with a congregation as a Parish Associate. This is usually not a paid position, but one that allows a minister to support the pastor of a congregation and is usually held by folks engaged in other areas of ministry that are not congregational in nature.
Throughout the entire process, we strongly encourage the departing pastor and the congregation to extricate themselves from each other's lives in order to allow room for new pastoral leadership to take hold. In a case such as mine where I was the founding pastor, it is even more important that I do not inadvertently influence the life of the church as they go through a pastoral search for the first time and seek to discern God's hopes for their future. And while it seems severe and harsh, this means being very clear about boundaries of interaction after I am no longer the pastor.
These boundaries are often difficult to maintain, especially when the pastor stays in the area. Most of us have heard of many pastors that have an unhealthy influence on a congregation after their time as pastor is done. With the best of intentions and love, many pastors who can't let go can end up doing harm to the very community they are trying to help. Usually geography helps to build separation, but in this day and age of social media, geography no longer can be assumed to be a determining factor in creating healthy space between the pastor and the congregation.
In the case of Mission Bay Community Church, social media was not seen as a strategic use of technology, but a way of life. Via texting, email, Twitter and Facebook we cared for one another, shared news and enhanced the nature of how we were a church together. It would be one thing to acknowledge that we will bump into each other at the local cafe or farmers' market, but when there are hundreds of updates showing up in Twitter and Facebook streams, there is an added layer of intentionality that must be addressed when a pastor leaves.
As we talked about interaction after I was done being their pastor, we went from being painfully rigid, trying to think of every possible interaction that might happen to being overly general and just trusting that folks would figure it out. As I worked this out from my perspective, thinking through what I believe would create difficulties, it became clear that I hit the, "It's going to be really hard to create division" trifecta: I'm not leaving the city, I'm all up in the social media and I'm not moving to serve another congregation.
In the end we came up with a "covenant" for our future rather than a list of dos and don'ts. While the elements may feel somewhat harsh, I feel it is necessary, especially as the founding pastor, to highlight the importance of creating separation if they are to be most open to where God may be leading. I don't think that anyone feels that I no longer care about their individual and communal joys and struggles in life, but we need to be clear that it is no longer my place to offer pastoral care, input on congregational life and/or commentary on pastoral leadership.
Here is the Covenant for Our Future that was received by the congregation on May 8, 2011 when we officially dissolved the pastoral relationship between myself and Mission Bay Community Church. Feel free to "liberate" some and/or all of it for your use.
We also acknowledge that there are complexities which can and will influence the nature of this particular pastoral transition: existing social networking relationships, the Reyes-Chow/Pugh Family remaining in the area, Bruce not moving to pastor another congregation and his visibility and involvement in the public arena.
We all covenant to . . .
And for those that want some concrete advice, here are few things to be sure to do in terms of social media connections . . . or at least what I have done as the departing pastor. If you have any other good ideas or insights, please offer them here or on the Facebook Status Update. It would also be great if you could share any litanies, prayers or other resources like this Litany of Farewell offered by youravgpastor.
And a last thank you to any of the MBCC crew who may be reading this, it has been a privilege to be your pastor. Peace.
If you would like to comment, this post originally appeared on my main blog located on Patheos.com, Pastoral Transition in a Social Media World.
Follow Bruce Reyes-Chow on Twitter: www.twitter.com/breyeschow