Transitions in pastoral ministry are sometimes outside of our control. Regardless of the specific details, we must always remember to rest in the reality that God is sovereign. We may not be able to dictate the duration or our direction, but we can determine our actions. As we consider the example of Paul, whose life was purchased by the Savior and empowered by the Spirit, may we always seek to finish well.
Unlike God, who is immutable, human beings experience change. It’s an integral element of our human experience. Recognizing our sinfulness, we’re grateful for the ability to change, as the sanctifying work of God’s Spirit is increasingly shaping and molding us to be more like Christ (2 Cor 3:18).
In addition, the Lord has designed our world to undergo perpetual change (Gen 8:22). For most of us, we’re no longer experiencing the warm evenings associated with summer. Instead, we’ve recently begun to feel the cool, crisp air of autumn. Looking around, we see the vibrant colors of leaves changing and falling. The breathtaking beauty of this convergence of seasons reminds us that our sovereign God orchestrates the timing of all things with profound precision. It also helps us to remember, even when life is challenging, that the seasons and circumstances of our lives are completely under his lordship and control. As the nineteenth-century Dutch theologian, Abraham Kuyper, so famously said:
There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’1
This reality is especially comforting when we encounter life’s transitions. Whether we’re leaving one job and beginning another, moving from one community to another, or perhaps retiring from a career and preparing for a new season of life, transitions are inevitable. This concept is also true for pastoral and ministry assignments, as we see evidenced in the life of the Apostle Paul. Throughout Paul’s life as a minister of the gospel, the Lord was sovereignly directing his path every step of the way. Paul often had plans for ministry, but the changing circumstances providentially dictated when and where Paul would travel next (Acts 16:6).
In Acts 20, we find an example of how Paul navigated these ministry transitions. For context, while embarking on his third missionary journey, the Apostle spent time ministering in Ephesus and ran into a great deal of hostility. A riot broke out in Ephesus after Paul preached the gospel, which precipitated the need to leave Ephesus earlier than he had planned. Yet, through it all, even though the circumstances and seasons of Paul’s life were ever-changing and often unpredictable, what didn’t change, by God’s grace, was his Kingdom-centered perspective.
He Provides Encouragement
We see the Apostle’s approach in the first two verses of Acts 20. It says there:
After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia. When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece (Acts 20:1-2)
Notice, first, that as God moves Paul around, from place to place, even very rapidly at times, the Apostle does not focus on personal rejection or allow himself to be swallowed up by self-pity. Instead, during these seasons of transition, Paul seeks to be an encouragement to others. He’s intentionally coming alongside the saints who are serving and ministering in various places, and he’s finding ways to build them up and strengthen them in their faith.
Why is this important? Well, because believers don’t always do a very good job of encouraging one another. In fact, discouragement comes quite naturally to us. We do that in a variety of ways:
- By being harsh or overly critical
- By disrespecting and offending
- By being envious and jealous
- By failing to show patience
- By gossiping
These are just a few of the ways believers can sometimes discourage one another, and they’re all like a poison to the health of the local church. Yet, encouragement is something we all need, especially during times of transition (Rom 1:11-12). So, regardless of the circumstances, rather than being self-focused, let’s be Kingdom-focused and fight for encouragement.
He Desires to be an Example
The leadership Paul displayed in this account is remarkable. Picking the text up at verse 17, it says:
Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. And when they came to him, he said to them: ‘You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Acts 20:17-21).