All languages have several ways to say “Bye!” “Goodbye” seems rather final. “So long” implies a lengthy separation. “God’s speed” is rarely used anymore, but it suggests danger and the real possibility that one won’t make it back. Then there is “See you later.” But that still implies a period of separation. So what word or phrase fits my transition? I’ll get to that later…
I’m not leaving Pantano, but I am stepping off our staff. On August 1st, I would have celebrated 24 years on staff at Pantano. It has been such an honor to serve this great church for so long. I am blessed. I only hope my years of service have also been a blessing to you and others.
I’m so proud of our church. No church is perfect, but we are very healthy. I love our commitment to being kingdom-centered, not church-centered. I love how we are making a difference. I love our faithfulness to Jesus and his Word. I love our church.
So this is my final blog. I started this blog one year before becoming the Lead Pastor of Pantano 15 years ago – that was 2006 (Sixteen years of blogs!). Back then, very few folks even did a blog. I started it as a way to stay connected weekly. I’ve shared some personal struggles and insights I’ve had on scripture or from life and tried to communicate about what was happening at Pantano. One of my favorite blogs was back in 2013 when I talked about killing cockroaches in my in-law’s shower – you can read it here. As I start my sabbatical break, I’ll also take a break from my weekly blogging.
Pantano is still our home church. We love our church. Jolene and I will still be around when we are in town and we’ll be actively involved. Starting in January 2023, I’ll have a limited role in serving our staff and church while I figure out my next season of ministry and sources of income. I’m excited for what God has for me.
So what phrase do I use in this parting? How about “I’m off!” Maybe that’s the best way to describe this season of my life. I’m not retiring. But “I’m off” to a new focus in ministry. I’ll still be active in fulfilling our mission as a church – “Loving people to Jesus; launching passionate people to make a difference.” So “goodbye” just doesn’t seem appropriate.
I’d like to finish my final blog with some heartfelt thank yous. I’m so grateful for Roger Blumenthal. It’s been so amazing to serve together these last 18 years. Thank you for your wisdom, friendship, long hours of work, and for your support.
I’m grateful for an amazing staff. You are the best! I’m so proud of your maturity, wisdom, skill, and commitment to Jesus and his church.
I’m grateful for our elders. Thank you for being a great “boss” all these years and for your love, friendship, and support. Thank you for leading our church so well.
Finally, thank you, Pantano. I’ve already said it above, but I feel the need to say it again and again – I love you so much! We’ve lived life together. We’ve served together. We’ve been through the good times and hard times. We’ve made a difference… together!
So, I’m off with deep and profound gratitude.
I want to thank you all for the kind words and ways you honored Jolene and me on Sunday during Pantano’s 60th anniversary. We are so grateful to be a part of a church that has loved us so well. We are blessed!
Sunday I announced that I’ll be ending my active time on our church staff at the end of May. So what’s next for me? I’m reminded that the Bible tells us that none of us know the future – Since no one knows the future, who can tell someone else what is to come? (Ecclesiastes 8:7). Those are wise words for sure. While we can’t know the future for sure, that doesn’t mean we don’t plan and prepare for what’s next, as long as we remember that we don’t control the future. I’m trusting God to lead us into whatever our next will be.
I don’t actually see “retirement” as a biblical principle. It’s like I tell our Seniors when I meet with them – If you’re not dead, you’re not done. Well, I’m not dead, so I’m not done in ministry. I’m just entering a season where my ministry will have a different focus and pace.
Jolene and I did a life plan over a year ago. There were two key conclusions that we took away from that experience; First, in this next season, I want to slow down and create a lifestyle where there’s less stress and pressure. For 45 years, I’ve been in leadership roles with lots of pressure: Dean of Students, Missionary, and Pastor.
Second, I want to use my 45 years of experience to mentor, coach, and encourage other pastors and leaders. I really resonate with Donald Miller’s take on stories. He says every great story has a victim, a villain, a hero on a mission, and a guide. For 45 years, I’ve played the part of the “hero” – the one who tries to fix the problems and make things better for everyone. That season is coming to an end.
However, every “hero” has a guide. I’ve had great guides and mentors over the years. In this new season of life, I want to move out of the “hero on a mission” role and more into the “guide” role.
I’ll be invested in helping pastors right here in Tucson. I’ll continue to do some of the things I’ve already been doing in that area. I’ll have time to add a few other things, however, the details of all that are still being worked out. I’m also working with The Ascent Leader and will be coaching a transition cohort (pastors who are just transitioning into the Lead Pastor role). I’ll also be a guide for Trevor and our staff as needed or requested.
Jolene and I are not leaving Pantano. Pantano is our church home. You’ll see us around campus on Sundays. I’m so looking forward to relaxing and enjoying worship and absorbing the teaching while not having to lead and be concerned about the logistics.
Jolene and I will be on sabbatical until the end of the year. We’ll be traveling some and enjoying time with our granddaughters. After 45 years of ministry, I’m ready for a less busy season. When the new year begins, I’ll be able to serve our staff, and I’ll teach on occasion as requested.
Jolene and I are so excited and looking forward to our “next.” We enter this season without any fear or concerns. Our God has been faithful and has never let us down. He’s the same today as he was yesterday! I can’t wait to see how God will use us in this “next.”
My goal is to update our succession progress every couple of months. I’m a month behind due to vacation! Last summer, I asked the Elders to begin the process of finding my successor as Lead Pastor. We actively began looking at candidates as 2021 began. My plan is not to leave Tucson or Pantano; however, I think everyone is best served to have a younger man lead our church in the near future. Here’s where things stand as of today:
The Search Process
Here’s the process in review; Slingshot, our search company, gives the Pantano Interview Team extensive portfolios vetted based on the profile of the Lead Pastor we are looking for. Our trained Interview Team of diverse non-staff members takes an initial look at a candidate’s profile. They decide whether to offer the person one or more interviews. After one or more interviews, they may or may not recommend a candidate to the Elders for review. Then, our Elders look at the profile and hear the Interview Team’s recommendations and decide if they want to interview the candidate. If they have a favorable interview or interviews, they will ask our staff Executive Team to interview the candidate. If the Executive Team makes a positive recommendation, the candidate might be offered onsite interviews. That last step hasn’t happened yet with any of the potential candidates.
The Last Seven Months
Slingshot has sorted through many candidate profiles. Since we started, we’ve received 12 candidates from the search firm. All 12 have been dismissed after various levels of interviews.
The candidates were dismissed either because there was a lack of experience and/or formal ministry and Bible education, their teaching style, or concerns about being a good fit at Pantano. In addition, there are two main reasons why some potentially qualified candidates might not want to consider our church: 1) location (the hot, dry desert or far from extended family) and 2) concerns about following a long-tenured pastor who’s been at Pantano as long as I have (wondering if the church will support the “next guy” as you’ve supported me).
The Elders met with Slingshot to refine the kind of Lead Pastor we are looking for to get a more focused set of candidates. We want to look at racially diverse options, and we want candidates with at least seven years of experience in an executive-level leadership position in a large church.
Slingshot said they would be providing us with some new candidates in the upcoming weeks. We are also confirming that our Interview Team is willing to continue to serve. This process takes a lot of time, and the team members are spiritually and emotionally invested in this process.
Finally, be assured that I’m still leading our church. I haven’t checked out, but rather I’m invested in helping Pantano be healthy, strong, growing, and vibrant. Like the words from the song My Testimony that we sang the last two Sundays:
If I’m not dead, You’re not done
Greater things are still to come
Oh I believe
Well, Jesus isn’t dead, so I’m not done. I’m not tired. I believe God still has greater things planned for us. And I always value and appreciate your prayers as I lead our church.
Please continue to pray for Slingshot, the Interview Team, and Elders as we continue this process. And pray that God will provide the right person of character and vision to lead us forward to an even better future as a church.
In October, I announced that we were starting the public process of looking for my successor as Lead Pastor. You can read through the details of this process by visiting https://pantano.church/leadpastor/.
Every week people talk to me about my “retirement.” Let me be clear about something: I’m not retiring. Retirement is the wrong word. I’m transitioning. I’m not done in ministry. I still need and want to work. So the right word is transition. I’m transitioning out of being the person who has the overall responsibility of leading our staff and church.
Many have asked what my future role will be. As I write this, I don’t know for sure. My successor will decide that role. Once we hire my successor, we’ll have a season of overlap, and during that time, we’ll discover together what my next role will look like. I’m at complete peace about that, and the unknown doesn’t create anxiety for me. I’ve walked with God now for 51years. He’s never failed me, and I fully trust him.
Here’s where we stand today in the process: We’ve formed a diverse Interview Team led by two of our Elders. There are no paid staff members on this team. The Slingshot Group search company gave the Interview Team six candidates. It is a standard courtesy not to release candidates’ names until they are selected to do onsite interviews. This is for the protection of the candidates.
The team has completed the first round of interviews, and they have released three of the candidates. The more extended second interviews for the remaining three candidates will occur over the next two weeks. The team has common questions they will ask all the candidates and some unique questions for each individual. The candidates’ spouses will also be a part of the second round of interviews.
Before the first interviews, we informed Slingshot that we would accept additional potential candidates at any time up to an actual hire. It’s possible we might still get additional candidate options as we continue forward.
During this process, I have formed a Succession Prayer Team who are praying for the whole process, the Interview Team, our current candidates, potential candidates, our staff, elders, and Jolene and myself.
Please pray for the Interview Team and for God to provide the right person to lead us into our next season as a church. If you have any questions, there’s a place at the end of this webpage to send your questions to me.
I’ll send out another update on this before Easter!
During Pantano’s 58 years, we have thrived because of the quality and depth of its shared leadership. Our health and effectiveness as a church is not dependent on one person but shared by the great team of leaders we have.
I’ve been recently reminded that everyone is an interim. Every job has a season. Even our life on earth is only for a season. Many years ago, I started to prepare our Elders for a day when I would transition from my current role as Lead Pastor. That day has come.
I’m turning 65 next month, and I’m ready to begin the search process. This has been my choice, which I initiated. No one asked me to step down. The best time to make this kind of change is when the church and the Lead Pastor are healthy.
I believe with all my heart that this is what’s best for our church and me. To reach the emerging generations and keep our vision and mission alive, we need a younger leader who has fresh energy and ideas. This leader will build on the systems and success of today to move us into the future.
Let me be clear about a few things; first, Jolene and I are not intending to leave Tucson or Pantano. Second, I’m not retiring! And third, I’m not tired, burnt out, or done in ministry. Instead, God has clearly guided me and our leadership to enter this season of transition.
We have started a national search for our next Lead Pastor. We are using the Slingshot Search Group, who has helped us develop our succession plan. We have created a public church and position profile, and Slingshot has made that public and will do the initial screening and vetting of candidates. Slingshot will present qualified candidates to Pantano, and we’ll prayerfully and carefully select the best candidate. For more details of the succession process, click here.
We are looking for a younger man qualified to be an Elder. We are looking for a Christ-like character with experience and skills to lead a large multi-site church. We want someone who loves our vision, mission, and values and holds our biblical beliefs. We want someone who can build on the past but take us further! We are not looking for someone to take us in a completely different direction, while also giving him the freedom to innovate and bring creative ideas.
I’ll be hosting some meetings where I’m happy to answer any questions about our succession.
We ask that you would join us in prayer for God to bring us the right leader for Pantano’s next season. I’m excited about our future!