Abraham and the Appointment System

“Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” Genesis 12:1

If you are a United Methodist, there is a good chance you will hear the word “transition” every year  between January and July. Some pastors are preparing for a life of retirement. Other pastors have received new appointments. Churches are saying their goodbyes and preparing to receive a new pastor. Transitions are happening everywhere in the United Methodist Church right now.

While I couldn’t find the word “transition” in any English Bible translations on my shelf, it seems to be the norm in the Bible. It’s also a present day reality, and not just for United Methodist clergy. Consider Abraham, who faced geographical, religious and family transitions when he left his father’s house.

god-s-promises-to-abram

God Promises to Abraham, James Tissot

Geographical. God told Abraham to pack his gear and relocate. Unlike United Methodist clergy who are transitioning, he was not given a moving service (Abram likely would not have complained about the 15,000 pound limit) or a destination with a warm welcoming party. However, he could probably relate to the sense of being a stranger in a foreign land. What is there to do around here? Where can I find a good dentist? Where do I find raw milk (while escaping the watchful eyes of the state)? Transition means adapting to strange new surroundings.

Theological. Abraham left everything familiar, including his religion. No more impressively built ziggurats, and no more moon gods to provide blessing and prosperity. He would now be a monotheist, worshipping an unseen God. While United Methodists share a common heritage, doctrine and structure, they have diverse opinions about political, social and theological issues. For United Methodist pastors, a new appointment doesn’t require changing religions, but it may require seeing things from the other end of the theological spectrum.

Family. Abraham didn’t have any children when he left Haran, but he did leave with his father’s household, his wife, his servants and his nephew. The transition affected them as well. Abraham likely had strong family ties that were painfully severed when he left town. Transitions can be challenging for clergy families, and churches can become like extended family to pastors, their spouses and their children. While United Methodist clergy are excited about their new opportunities, they also experience the grief of saying goodbye to family members.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to give up everything in this world with which we’ve grown comfortable, including our expectations of this world. Like Abraham, we sometimes have to leave the familiar in order to go where God sends us.  We’re not told that God let Abraham know where he was going. God just told Abraham he would travel with him and bless him.

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About Corey Sharpe

Where do we get our beliefs? Three theological perspectives have significantly shaped my Christian identity: Evangelicalism, the early Methodist tradition and liberation theology. From my coming to faith in a Baptist church and throughout my education in a Baptist school and college, I was nurtured by convictions that emphasized a spiritual rebirth, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the centrality of the Bible. Even when I disagree with certain aspects of evangelicalism, it has deeply influenced my sense of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. My seminary studies spawned my interest in early Methodism, particularly its approach to spiritual formation. Its leaders were convinced that only a foundation of doctrine and discipline would lead to a meaningful transformation of the heart and mind. In other words, having the mind of Christ enables me to be more like Christ. Life in a suburban culture obscures the increasing gap between the poor and rich, as well as the Bible’s close identification with the poor. My doctoral work in socio-cultural context exposed me to liberation theology, which helps me see redemptive history as a history of oppressed groups, written from the perspective of the powerless, about a God who is actively involved with the poor in their struggles. I am now the pastor at Huntingtown United Methodist Church in Calvert County, Maryland. Together my wife and I are raising 4 young theologians.
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