An electric wave of God's presence and glory filled the sanctuary Sunday night, Oct. 24. It was more than warm emotion, human expectation or divine confirmation--It was a demonstration of God's power and pleasure with a culmination.
It was the night I stepped aside after 30 years as senior pastor of The Church on the Way, and the mantle of spiritual leadership for our congregation was transferred to Scott Bauer, my primary associate of the preceding decade.
Now we are six months into realizing the wonderful fruit of having sought God and served a process. Many who have observed this close enough to see what took place and what has happened since have said: "Jack, write about this. The body of Christ can benefit from the pathway God led you and the way you pursued it."
This brief column doesn't provide space for giving the essential details that would make the entire process intelligible to those seriously interested in elaboration. But I can relate two things: (1) that God did govern a gracious transition for us, and (2) that His blessing is continuing and His purposes advancing at The Church on the Way.
It's delightful to experience "stepping aside" when it happens this way. Let me give you four reasons why I did.
1. I stepped aside because of a holy sense of God's call and promise.
As I approached my 60th birthday, it made good sense to my mind that I make inquiry of the Lord concerning His mind for my term of leadership at our church. I have always been energetic and blessed with health. Further, having experienced an unbroken flow of blessing for more than a quarter century, I realized how easily those two facts--health and blessing--could lead anyone to think, "It's not broken, so don't fix it."
But I had too realistic a view of human finiteness and transiency to yield to the illusion that "feeling great" and "being blessed" are ever conclusive arguments for continuing to simply "keep on keeping on."
During the months I sought God's guidance for my future, He strongly impressed on me that my later years were to be used to steward my pastoral experience through serving younger pastors. I was led to think toward founding what has become the Jack W. Hayford School of Pastoral Nurture, a ministry that now occupies one very full week every month. Since launching this school more than 30 months ago, over 700 participants from more than 30 denominations have come to experience a "consultation" with me, and the results have been overwhelmingly rewarding, judging by participants' testimonies and my fulfillment.
Later a startling and profoundly surprising directive came from God: "Found a seminary." As a result, and after three years of preparation, The King's Seminary opened its doors in January 1999. The amazing story of God's grace on this graduate school of theology, dedicated to training men and women for Holy Spirit
--instructed, --inspired and --ignited leadership, continues to unfold. You can look into either of these programs via the Internet, at www.jackhayford.com. Their mention here is simply to say that I have "stepped aside" because what I am now called to do requires my full attention.
2. I stepped aside because of a conviction about an all-too-human tendency.
Besides the very human habit to forego decisive thinking about transition on the grounds, "I'm feeling great--no need to change," there is another. It is the subtle but real, subconscious but powerful, tendency to clutch onto whatever position, security, recognition or prestige God's grace or people's favor may have given us. It was my parents who instilled in me a healthy suspicion of the flesh's capacity to so protect its own interest that it can justify virtually anything--as long as it retains control.
We who move into our later years are, I believe, especially vulnerable to yet an additional deception. We too easily forget that the blessing God has given us is not the product of our wisdom, but the fruit of His grace. Thus, it becomes too easy to convince ourselves against surrendering what seems "ours" to the hands of those less experienced. We tend to keep control for fear our carefully built systems might not be properly tended without our touch, and thus the results of our long-term labor be lost.
Rather than trust His grace to make a younger leader equally or more fruitful, we can fall into the trap of waiting, waiting, waiting--presuming the future can only be secure in the hands of someone we feel as sure about as we do ourselves.
Resisting that, I stepped aside because I was more confident of God's continuing grace assisting a younger and less experienced leader than I was of my continuing works securing something He was calling me to surrender.
3. I stepped aside because of a persuasion regarding pastoral integrity.
For three decades, I have been blessed with remarkably gifted staff members. Consequently, having delegated so much responsibility, authority and ongoing oversight to so many effective leaders, there is almost no limit to how long I might have continued, seeing as I had so little to do with actually keeping things moving on a daily basis.
Moreover, since I had discipled most of those men and women, their love and supportiveness toward Anna and me would have assured their willingness to pursue this mode of leadership for, I daresay, at least another five to 10 years.
But I became persuaded that to continue allowing them to undergird and fulfill my pastoral assignment while I was basically pursuing a new auxiliary vision to the church was to be dishonest with them. To keep my position for the sake of whatever credibility it might add to my media or seminary duties would have been, for me, a compromise of my convictions about the importance of the ministries of those who serve beside me.
I always believed that, under God's hand, He has given such gifted leaders to me as my partners. When I knew I would not truly be "partnering," but would have a decreasing degree of real participation due to the demands of my new and rising mission, I chose to step aside.
And there was another group with whom I felt I must keep trust: the under-40 crowd. I believed the younger adults and young families in our church, even though they fully received my leadership, deserved to have their generation enfranchised. I've seen congregations "gray" and leaders fail to make timely decisions about transferring the reins of leadership.
"Graying" elders are not necessarily ineffective by reason of age, but we can too easily lose touch with those chronologically behind us. In a healthy church this will not likely evolve into a power struggle of the younger challenging the older for leadership, but will inevitably manifest in the gradual disappearance of the younger, as they discern there is little or no thought for embracing their "hour."
4. I stepped aside because of the confirmed evidence of a qualified successor.
As I faced all of the above, I wrote a letter to our elders, recommending we seek a procedure for my transition. Since I had written them almost five years before, suggesting the day would come when we would need to discuss this, they were ready for this thinking.
We began a three-year process involving so much prayer, pragmatism and planning that even an outline of the process would be impossible here. But as we began, the elders expressed their conviction that one man was the obvious first choice for a new senior pastor. They agreed that Scott Bauer should be asked--a just-past-40-year-old who had served beside me for the preceding decade, serving all this time with neither a promise or a prospect or even an aspiration that such an invitation would ever be made.
Let me add that I feel the fact that Scott is my son-in-law is something of a liability for him at this particular time, given the ease with which anyone may suppose that relationship influenced his placement. But such a conclusion would only be possible outside our congregation by someone who was either ignorant of our local church's lifestyle, unaware of our denomination's polity or unacquainted with Scott's remarkable qualifications and excellent spirit. If relationship has had a part, it is only a "discipling" issue, not a "family" one.
Scott was a new believer and a sophomore at UCLA when he began attending The Church on the Way in the 1970s. Thus, my pastoral ministry was, under God's hand, the environment of Scott's primary discipling. He was "schooled" at UCLA, Fuller Seminary and Oral Roberts University (BA, M.Div. and D. Min respectively), but he was "fathered" as a Timothy through our spiritual relationship, even during the years he was away, serving his own pastorate elsewhere.
It is an unbelievably fulfilling time of life I'm experiencing!
By God's mercies and through His wisdom and grace as He enabled the raising of godly men in our church, a biblically founded and spiritual order for local government through our elders has been in place for a year. Our Church Council (as these elders are called) oversaw, prayed through and labored together with me to see this transition realized. Thus, I can say, "Yes, I've stepped aside." But, praise God, the church seems stronger than ever.
And I can unhesitatingly say I'm happier than ever (and, Anna says, busier too), as we are tasting even more of the "glory to glory" goodness God's Word promises where His ways are given place.