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Statement from Rubel Shelly about his changing role

Excerpt from a joint sermon delivered with John York Jan. 30 at Woodmont Hills

The following statements are posted on Woodmont Hills’ Web site www.woodmont.org.
Following a back-and-forth discussion of WHCC’s accomplishments and struggles:
Rubel Shelly: Yes, there are a couple of stirrings that Myra and I still cherish in our hearts at a personal level. One is to be very directly involved in the training of young men and women for ministry in local churches. I was not prepared for the thing I wound up doing for all my adult life, and she and I believe we’ve learned some things – at the expense of this church, I might add, in our “on-the-job training” here – that we would like to try to pass on to others. Christian colleges and seminaries are doing a good job in most cases with teaching text, languages, church history, homiletics, and the like. In my opinion, though, there is a great need for some people who have invested our lives in local churches to be involved in training would-be ministers in the real-life, practical, and hands-on side of what to expect. And the second is to participate in planting a new church somewhere – starting from scratch and working off a blank sheet of paper.
Several of you know that Myra and I have looked at some possibilities and options tied to these two things over the past few years. And today is the day for us to let you know that we informed the shepherds a few weeks ago of our intention to transition into one of those options later this year.
John York: Since I know what you’re about to tell these folks, let me ask everybody here this morning to take a deep breath and hear the word “transition” in that last sentence of yours. You’re not about to retire. You’re not quitting ministry. And you’re not leaving Woodmont Hills. Just writing a new chapter. Transitioning. Changing your role with us.
Shelly: Correct. And here is a broad outline of what is coming. This summer I will move to a part-time status on the ministry staff at Woodmont Hills. I won’t be preaching on Sundays anymore after July 2005. The time has come for me to lay down that role in order to focus on something different. In terms of this church, I will continue to write and teach from here – concentrating on regular Wednesday night teaching. I will write “The FAX of Life” and continue to play whatever role the shepherds wish me to fill in helping connect us to the larger community through service projects – Faith Family Medical Clinic, Operation Andrew Ministries, and the like. I especially want to help with the Grace Home Andhra project that was announced here last week.
But I will no longer be the “Preaching Minister” or “Senior Minister” at Woodmont Hills.
We are transitioning my role here – not quitting, not leaving, not moving from Nashville – in order for me to accept a faculty position at Rochester College. I will join the religion faculty at that 1000-student college just north of Detroit to help prepare some people to do what I have done for the past quarter century. Dr. Mike Westerfield, President of Rochester College, and his colleagues at the school have been very gracious to offer me that opportunity. More specifically still, pending approval by the Higher Learning Commission of the State of Michigan, they plan to initiate a graduate program in urban ministry that could use somebody with the sort of experience I have been privileged to get here. And I am thrilled at the opportunity.
York: Rubel, you and I have talked many times about the wonderful people at Rochester College. I know that many of our members have come from that area and have great hearts for the mission and ministry of that school, so it is hard not to cheer for Rochester College and the gift of teaching that you bring to the students and the colleagues that you will enjoy in that setting. I have a number of good friends who teach there and I know how excited they are at the prospect of your coming. At the same time, you did say that you are not moving to Michigan, right?!
Shelly: This is “transition” and – don’t get your hopes up out there! – not departure. In fact, it is the sort of transition of roles that could be precedent-setting in Churches of Christ. How do most churches make preacher changes? With blood on the floor and with people angry with one another! How do preachers too often leave works? In a moving truck in the middle of the night. What kind of relationship exists between that preacher and the church he has served? None. Or a very tense relationship. One of the final “new” things I’d like to be part of at Woodmont Hills is a smooth, loving, healthy transition to far better days than this church has experienced to date.
Nothing would cause me to feel better about the time Myra and I have spent here than for this church to grow, prosper, and thrive as we step back a bit here. I’d like to think we have helped lay a foundation that others will build on for generations to come!
York: Personal faith and the life of any church should always be driven by passion for the future. All of us who work in ministry, and for that matter all of us who live on this planet know that life is about change and becoming. We can fight change and never win – just hide from the realities of change occasionally. We can also embrace moments like these as part of the process of ever-increasing glory, with all of us seeking to learn and become. As Paul says, “So we do not lose heart!” This is a journey at Woodmont Hills, not a destination, for all of us.
Shelly: The life of this church is not about John York or Rubel Shelly or Terry Smith or . . . Well, it’s not about any of us. It’s about Jesus Christ. Constant openness to the Spirit’s transforming presence. Being surrendered to the Father’s will for us as a group of his children. So it would sadden me terribly if this news about a fresh chapter in my life were to unsettle or obstruct the progress of this church. I plan still to be part of its growth, progress, ministries, and outreach in Nashville and the mid-state area. Myra and I ask for your affirmation and excitement over our new prospects – as well as your prayers for our place in the training of young couples for ministry.
York: Rubel, you know the heart’s desire of this church is be completely supportive of you and Myra in life and in ministry. Times like these arouse almost instant anxiety and I admit that for myself and for our shepherds and for all of us as we begin to wonder what comes next. But I also know that faith is always about the unseen and being people of the Kingdom of God means living with an openness to God’s future, never knowing exactly what that future looks like. The Kingdom of God is always to come – always pulling us into the unknowns of the future, always calling us to let go of what is for what will be. So we will make this new part of the journey with you and see what God is doing in our midst! You did say you’re not leaving, right??
Shelly: Not leaving. Just writing a new chapter of life. Doing something to which I believe God is calling. Getting to be part of something that excites Myra and me to contemplate.
When I gave the staff a heads up last Tuesday that this announcement would be made today, Randy Gill began laughing. He said, “Well, I guess we’d better change the song we have on the outline to follow the lesson!” I asked what it was, and he said, “He Has Made Me Glad!”
It is Christ who gives joy! He has made us a glad, serving, and optimistic church. And we welcome you to join the journey of this safe-place church by committing yourself to be a pilgrim-seeker of Jesus Christ. To pledge to walk with us by faith and not by sight. To share the excitement of celebrating his presence today and tomorrow and into eternity.
This response to the announcement in this sermon was made by Dan Dozier, on behalf of the shepherds of the Woodmont Hills Church
On behalf of the shepherds, I’m here to respond to the announcement you’ve just heard from Rubel and John – and to help you respond to it.
Most of us who have been here for even a short time know of Rubel’s love for the classroom. I’ve heard him say many times that he’s a better teacher than preacher. You may disagree with Rubel’s assessment, but it’s undeniable that Rubel’s passion has always been the classroom.
Rubel first came to us about six months ago concerning this new chapter in his ministry career. At that time, he and Myra were seriously considering moving to Michigan to teach full-time at Rochester College. Not wanting to do anything that might hurt this church which they love so much, they sought our counsel. They wanted to coordinate anything they did with our larger vision for the future of this family.
Frankly, when the elders first learned of this possibility we did not want to believe that this could be God’s will. While we were in no position to veto that move, we urged them to reconsider and to continue their role with this church as it has been.
But Rubel continued to hear that call. So, when he told us, a couple weeks ago, of their decision, he said it with such resolve and peace we knew this really was the call of God on his heart.
At the beginning of this month we announced that we would spend January being still and listening for the voice of God. We had no idea God might say to some of us things that the rest of us did not want to hear. But finally, like Samuel of old, both Rubel and the shepherds had to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.” It was clear to us that God had spoken and that it was not appropriate for us to try again to steer Rubel away from God’s leading.
We’re happy that Rubel and Myra are not moving. We think it makes sense for them to keep Nashville as “home plate” on their playing field. We want him to continue his teaching ministry here while he also expands his work training others for ministry at Rochester College.
Is there sadness in this announcement? Yes, obviously there is sadness. But as we said the night we discussed this with Rubel two weeks ago: we accept and encourage this decision with “reluctant enthusiasm.”
Our reluctance has to do with the change that will be involved for this church. Change is inevitable-we all know that. But that doesn’t do away with the fact that change makes people feel a bit unsteady. However, God has shown His amazing faithfulness to this church through many changes in the past! And God will faithfully see all of us through this change as well! Our enthusiasm arises from our conviction that both Myra and Rubel are excited about their new opportunities, new challenges, and new roles.
This is not a time for fear or despair. While we did not choose this direction, we believe this is all a part of God’s plan. God has great things in store for Rubel and Myra, and God has great things in store for this church. It’s going to be exciting to watch God’s plans unfold.
This is but the next curve in the road on our journey of faith together. God is at work here. Our task is to discover as best we can where God is leading us and then to join HIM in whatever direction He takes us. We believe that Rubel has responded to God’s call, and we honor that. Now we are waiting on God to show us what we need to do, where to go, and how to proceed. We do that in faith, in trust, and with a great sense of expectation.
Let me repeat: Rubel and Myra are not leaving Woodmont Hills – just moving into a different, part-time role here. Rubel will teach regularly in our Wednesday night program. He will still represent us and work with us in a variety of community projects he has helped initiate. And, at some point, after this transition has been completed, Rubel will still be available to do occasional short-term preaching duty with us.
But he has asked to be relieved of his primary preaching duties. So he will not maintain an office here after this summer. He will not be the 24/7 person we have known him to be for all these years. He uses terms like being “too old” and needing to “pass the baton to a younger guy” and “not getting in the way.” But those are his terms, not ours. He has made a decision none of us has asked him to make.
Rubel has said that our best days are in front of us. He really believes that. And so do your shepherds! We believe God will raise up another servant to provide for this church’s needs just as he did 28 years ago when he brought Rubel and this church together in this wonderful and enduring relationship.
Churches of all kinds have found it difficult to transition from a dearly loved, long-tenured minister to someone else. We have an opportunity in the next few months to continue seeking the voice and leading of God’s Spirit, and doing something few churches have done well. One reason we wanted to announce this decision six months before it takes effect is to wait on God and to seek God’s will prayerfully and deliberately.
We solicit your comments, your advice, and – most of all – your prayers as we move through these changing times. God, Who is faithful, will show the way!
And we know you join us in wishing for Rubel and Myra the greatest blessings our great God desires to bestow.
Roy Hamley, who was a member of this church before Rubel arrived here and has been a shepherd for most of his tenure with us, is going to lead us in prayer as we close.

Filed under: Staff Reports Views

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