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.”
I’m so excited to have Trevor DeVage here this week. It’s starting to feel real! Trevor is Pantano’s 9th Lead Pastor since we started back in 1962. Yes, that is right, this year we are also celebrating our 60th birthday as a church!
You don’t want to miss this Sunday – in person or online. I’ll be formally passing the baton of pastor, oversight, and leadership of our church over to Trevor. And then, Trevor will deliver his first teaching message to our church.
I had the benefit 15 years ago of having an amazing and smooth transition into becoming the Lead Pastor. Tim Coop, my predecessor, handed me the proverbial baton of leading our church. He was so gracious, supportive, and encouraging of me. I knew Tim had my back, and he set me up to succeed. I am forever grateful for him, his role in my life, and the life of our church. It’s my desire to do the very same for Trevor.
If you haven’t picked it up, I’m thrilled that Trevor is my pastor. I trust him. He has a godly character. I so admire his love for lost people. I’ve seen him loving people to Jesus in action. We share the same basic values and beliefs. He loves how we are a church that cares and invests in our community. Trevor checks off all the boxes that were important to me for whoever would succeed me. And it’s a huge plus that we are friends.
It is an absolute honor to have Trevor DeVage succeed me, and I’ll be sharing a bit more about that on Sunday.
Some of you are wondering what’s next for me. Let me provide a friendly reminder – I’m not leaving. Trevor and I see this as a season of transition from now to June. Trevor and I have been discussing my new job description and plan to have it finalized by April. Trevor and his family will move here in June.
I’ve requested a six-month work sabbatical from June to November 2022. Why? There are two main reasons. First, I will have been leading at Pantano for 24 years (in various roles) by that time. I believe I serve Trevor best by being absent from the office and meetings for a time to ensure that staff and our congregation see Trevor in his new role. I won’t be completely gone from our church. You’ll see me on Sundays, and I’ll get to engage in the things Pantano is doing as a participant. I’ll start my new job description in December 2022. As things become clearer, I’ll share more about what I’ll be doing in my next chapter.
The second reason this Sabbatical is important is that while I’m not tired and for sure I’m not done in ministry, I’ve been serving full-time as a pastor for 45 years. I think I ought to take a little break from work! My wife retires from the UofA at the end of February, and we need to have a little freedom to travel a bit, be grandparents or do a few things we just have not had time to do.
So, for now, I want all of our love, support, attention, and honor to be focused on the man God has brought to Pantano. Trevor will lead us into our next season as we continue to love people to Jesus and launch passionate people to make a difference.
I’m in my 23rd year here at Pantano, and there has never been a new year with so much change and a profound sense of a new beginning. I believe God has timed everything to help us start 2022 fresh and new.
Our remodeled auditorium is almost done. The carpet will be finished this week, and the theater seats will hopefully be installed at the end of January (due to supply chain issues; we have temporary chairs set up)! We are installing the sound, lights, cameras, and video wall this week. We’ve moved the Café back inside. Since holiday break has ended, let’s all reconnect this Sunday as we start a new year and launch a new teaching series!
New Lead Pastor
Pantano has its 9th Lead Pastor – Trevor DeVage. Trevor will be with us the next two Sundays! Trevor and I are in a season of transition from now until the end of May. I’ll continue to lead and teach as the Campus Pastor until Trevor and his family move here in June. Trevor and I will be developing my new job description this spring that will take effect this summer. We’ll officially install Trevor as our new Pastor on Sunday, January 16th, and he’ll be teaching that day.
New Teaching Series
This Sunday (January 9th), we’ll start a new teaching series called Rooted. “Rooted” is our church One Word for 2022. It’s based on Colossians 2:6-7, and I’ll be sharing what it means for us. I’ll also be asking you to prayerfully identify your One Word for the year based on the idea of “rooted.” I really like how Jeremiah uses the rooted metaphor; take a moment to reflect on these verses:
But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit. Jeremiah 17:7-8
A New Beginning
Michael Goodwin has been hired as the new Lead Pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church (Alvernon/Pima). He starts on January 10th! I’m so excited to launch Michael to help Emmanuel be a life-giving church in a part of town that so needs Jesus. Our Elders will be ordaining Michael this Sunday, affirming our confidence in his call, character, and gifting. Pantano will continue to partner with Michael to help him thrive in his new role.
And Some Things Never Change
There’s lots of change and new things at Pantano these days. But, some things never change. Over the holiday break, I reflected on how amazing you are, Pantano. When I say that, I’m talking about YOU. I’m so proud of our church! You are generous! You serve our church, each other, and you serve our community in amazing ways. You faithfully give so we can to accomplish the mission God has given us. For our Christmas Eve offering, you gave $95,888 to support the Tucson Homeless Work Program. Wow! That’s incredible! Thank You! I’m so grateful to be able to serve with you all.
I have great news! We have a new Lead Pastor. With overwhelming joy, excitement, and honor, I get to introduce to you Trevor DeVage. Trevor will be Pantano’s 9th Lead Pastor in our 60-year history. See the DeVage Family photo here.
First, let me share the process that got us here. I’ve known Trevor for about nine years. He was one of the guys I wanted us to consider as my successor, but he wasn’t available until September of this year. I made contact, and he entered our process. His profile, which our search company vetted, was given to our interview team.
The team did two interviews and unanimously recommended him to our elders. The Elders did an interview and asked the Executive Team to do an interview. The Executive Team also did extensive social media and online reviews and unanimously recommended Trevor back to the Elders. Trevor just completed an onsite visit, met with the staff, and had two meetings with the elders. This past weekend, the Elders unanimously offered Trevor the Lead Pastor role, and he accepted.
Trevor checks off every box for the person we were looking for. While no one is perfect or the “complete package,” Trevor is uniquely suited for who we are where God is leading us as a church.
It took just under a year to find my successor. We had looked at and released 15 candidates previous to Trevor, and so I affectionately call him “16.” Thank you for all your prayers and patience over this past year.
Trevor went to college at Lincoln Christian University and completed his degree in preaching with a minor in youth ministry. He followed this up with a teaching degree from Wheaton University. During the next three years, he pursued his love of music, playing as a drummer in a band. However, the Lord led him back to ministry—first youth ministry, then preaching, where he spent ten years serving at Compass Christian in Dallas, Texas. Trevor joined Christ’s Church (Mason, Ohio) as Lead Pastor in 2013.
Trevor is married to his wife, Laura, and has two daughters, Ella (senior in high school) and Natalie (freshman in high school). They enjoy the outdoors, and this means lots of basketball and walks in the park. Trevor’s other passions are golf, music, photography, the arts, and the Florida Gators. His ultimate goal in life is “that it is evident that I’ve spent time with Jesus.” You can learn more about Trevor at https://www.trevordevage.com/.
Trevor is an excellent communicator. He’s creative. He’s a pastor who loves to be with people. He’s had excellent experience in some great churches and has great mentors. He’s a man with high integrity and passion for those not connected to Jesus or a church. He shares our Pantano vision, mission, values, and “DNA.” We are set to be led into an amazing future.
Here’s a summary of the plan and timeline for transition: Trevor and his family will be here over Thanksgiving, and we’ll introduce them on Sunday, November 28th. He will start part-time on January 2nd. His daughter is a senior in high school, so they will not move until after she graduates. He’ll begin full-time on June 19th, 2022. However, he’ll be here in Tucson for eight days each month through May. Those trips will include two Sundays; the first Sunday of his time here will allow him to connect with folks and observe, and he’ll preach on the second Sunday of his visits. During his time here in 2022, he and I will begin discussing what’s next for me. Trevor desires that I continue here at our church, and we’ll discuss what that might look like. I look forward to serving my new Lead Pastor!
Please pray for the DeVage family as they begin their season of transition and change.
There’s been a lot to beat us down these last couple of years. Covid related issues, racial conflict, political polarization, and more. It’s been a tough couple of years at Pantano as well. We’ve had more than usual staff turnover (like the rest of the country!). There’s no systemic problem here, as each person’s departure was unique. But that change has been disheartening, and it has especially affected our students. Relationships are important! Then, add that during Covid I announced our search for my successor. More unsettledness. Then, add the disruption of remodeling our auditorium…lots of challenge, change, transition, and uncertainty. That’s not good for a church or any group of people. But today, I’m so encouraged. Here’s why…
Serve Our City
This Sunday (November 14) is one of the best Sundays of the year. It’s Serve Our City day. Over 1000 folks have committed to serving all over Pima County. 11 other churches are joining us, and there’s still time to sign up! Find your place to serve by going to https://pantano.church/serveourcity/. Remember that we will not have regular Sunday services as we’ll be the church out in the city.
Our auditorium remodel is coming along well. The construction crew did their final cement pour this week. It’s all looking good for us to use the new room in January. But please pray, as our biggest concern is that the chairs arrive with enough time for installation. Shipping concerns are a challenge for everyone! By the way, you can help us pay for the remodel by giving to our Building Fund – Room for More at https://pushpay.com/g/pantano. And, we’ve got some great things planned for January to start the new year better than ever!
New Lead Pastor
We have a very promising candidate who has been enthusiastically endorsed through all the interviews that are a part of our process. We’ve carefully vetted him. Keep praying, as we will likely make an offer this week. It’s not done, but we are close. I can’t wait to introduce my successor to you. I’m so excited and encouraged!!! I’ll be giving you an update and more details soon.
Christmas Eve Service
I’m also so excited about our Christmas Eve service at the Tucson Convention Center (December 24, 6 pm). I love that we’ll all get to be together for one service! We are inviting the city, and we’ve got some ways to encourage our guests to begin a journey of faith. Plan now to invite your friends, family, and your “one” to join you. You don’t want to miss this.
I can also add how exciting it’s been to see and connect with so many new folks who are visiting Pantano for the first time each week. I’m encouraged that God is bringing us through a season of challenge and change!
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.
March is here, and in my mind, that translates to Spring has arrived. Even though we are in a drought, somehow, the weeds are starting to pop up at my house! This is a good time to give some updates, and look forward as Spring approaches here at Pantano.
Lead Pastor Search
Please remember that we are not in a hurry to find my successor. We will be prayerfully careful in our process and selection. Please pray for the Interview Team and Elders as they do the initial work, which requires lots of time and is not an easy process. Once we find my successor, there will be a period of overlap, which could take a year or so. So, you won’t see any real changes until possibly sometime in 2022.
Let me clarify again that I’m not retiring. At 65, I’m not done in ministry. I’m just looking for a change of role. I will give my successor the freedom to determine what that role might look like after I pass the baton.
The Interview Team and Elders are well along in the interview process of the first round of candidates. They started with six candidates. We have recently received five new candidates that the Slingshot Group vetted, and the Interview Team is just getting started with those candidate profiles. We are not releasing the names of any candidates at their request and for their well-being.
Engage One Series
This Sunday, we launch a new series that I personally believe is one of the most important that we’ve done in the 22 years I’ve been at Pantano. Why would I make that huge statement? Here’s why: About 85% of Pima County doesn’t go to any church. Most of our neighbors are post-Christians, meaning that they lack an understanding of who Jesus really is or what the Bible and the church are all about. Except for a few Atheists, most are not against God; they just don’t know him or have a relationship with him. They are unlikely to visit a church, and COVID has made it even more unlikely that folks will want to go to a church building.
So we have to go to them. Our mission and purpose is to love people to Jesus, launching passionate people to make a difference. In this series, we are unveiling a year-long effort to equip and prepare our church to intentionally engage those not connected to Jesus. Starting Sunday, I will introduce this idea and share with you some of the tools, resources, videos, and courses we’ve been developing over the last year.
We need to fix some things in our East Campus Auditorium. The carpet is beyond repair. Many of the pews are broken, and we can’t fasten them to the floor. The floor has a terrible and dangerous slope, and the list goes on. For years we’ve tried to push the proverbial can down the road, but we’ve come to the place where we need to make some changes. We are in the process of planning so we can’t give details yet, but once we decide and commit to a plan and have permits, I’ll let you know more about the details, timing, schedule, and cost.
Easter – April 4
I love to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus! This year, we’ll have four Easter Sunday services, both in-person and online, at 7 am, 9 am, 11 am, and 1 pm. We are using a reservation system (choose a service here) for in-person attendance to ensure that none of our services are too full and provide safe physical distancing. Sign up now!
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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!
We are beginning the search for the next Lead Pastor at Pantano. You can find out more details about the plan and process at pantano.church/leadpastor. However, you might have some questions that we haven’t addressed, or you’d like some clarity. I’ve scheduled three question and answer sessions. Join me if you’d like to have a better idea about our plan to ensure a smooth and healthy transition to our next pastor and leader.
Or, you can email me your questions at email@example.com.
Thanks for supporting me and our church through this process. Your prayers are greatly appreciated!
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!