It’s hard to believe that just under three years ago I showed up at Lindenwood, during one of Memphis' famous ice storms, filled with apprehension and not knowing a single person I met. It was a church full of strangers. Well, the first day, it was a church filled with no one. The church was closed because of the weather. Nancy and I showed up because we have spent several years living in the snowy regions and didn’t find the roads all that frightening or challenging. After driving in Memphis a few years I now know we were blessed that day with empty streets.
I drive to dialysis every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning at 4:30 in the morning. Normally the streets are almost deserted. One morning the roads were icy and I only saw two cars all the way to dialysis. And those two had managed to run into each other and were waiting for the police to show up. Only in Memphis.
Three years in Memphis and I have come to love the town. Lots of cool places to visit, some great music and music history, lots of great places to eat, great water (I would rate ice cold Memphis tap water as one of the 10 best drinks in the world.), and wonderful people. Like most America cities Memphis has some problems. But it is beautiful, diverse and filled with great people.
The church I have been serving is amazing. When I say that, I am, of course, talking about the people because the church is the people. I am finding it very difficult to say goodbye to them. Like most churches, some of the members think I walk on water. Others pray daily begging God to kill me. And most people in the middle aren’t really certain what my name is. There is no doubt that some people who don’t now attend worship will return upon my leaving. They have been lying in the bushes just waiting for my exit. Some don’t like my personality; some don’t like my leadership style and some don’t like my sermons. I remember talking to a lady who had left a church I served as pastor and asking her why she had left. She said, “I left because I don’t like you.” Supporting her premise, she didn’t like it when I found our conversation humorous. Like most ministers, I used to obsess over the people who don’t like me. I expended great amounts of energy trying to get them to like me. And they just didn’t. This worried me until the day I remembered some of my mother’s wisdom. On more than one occasion she said, “If somebody doesn’t like me, there is probably something wrong with them.”
Some people in the church are put off by my straightforwardness. Most likely most of the pastors within the realm of their experience probably had a tendency to dance around issues and make sure no one was upset. Early in my time here I had a conversation with a long time church member who had come to tell me what to do and made it clear that if I didn’t she would be very unhappy with me. I wish I had a camera handy to take her picture when I said, “You need to understand that I am completely comfortable with your unhappiness.” I love people but I have learned to not let them walk all over me. I’m nice but I don’t take much crap. I am always willing to listen but there is a good chance I won’t do what you tell me to do. Not to sound too egotistical, but what makes an average church member at a church in dramatic decline think they know how to do church better than someone who has been doing church and studying church for over 40 years? Who, of those two, is egotistical? When you to come talk to me about the church, you would do well to come armed with a better plan and I will receive it joyfully. But if what we are doing is not working, I am always in favor of changing what we are doing.
So I am leaving and some people really hate to see me go. What they fail to realize is, they are going to miss me – one person. I am going to miss them – a few hundred people.
I am so thankful that God led me to Lindenwood Christian Church. I have had the opportunity to meet and get to know scores of wonderful people. I have made some new lifelong friends. I have shared in some deep and profound spiritual moments. I have received literally thousands of warm and loving hugs. I have wept and I have laughed so hard I couldn’t catch my breath. I have met some of the most intelligent, interesting and insightful people ever. This experience has been a gift from God for me. And I will be eternally grateful.
Please know that I will remember you, love you and pray for you. Thank you.
Copyright © 2015, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved
Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press. He can be contacted @ email@example.com. Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon.