Last weekend was my final weekend speaking at CityLife Church as it's Senior Minister. It was a very emotional time for both Nicole and myself, but with a real sense of celebration of all that God has done. We are deeply grateful for the many words of encouragement, 'thank you' notes, gifts (I felt like a Christmas tree!), and the parting love offering from the congregation. Thanks to Peter Sheahan and the Board of Elders, as well as Peter Leigh and Daljit Gill for arranging all of this. We felt very honoured.
It has been an honour and a privilege to be the Senior Minister at CityLife for the last 22 years. Nicole and I are very grateful for the opportunity we have had to serve this amazing group of people over so many years. I’ve grown, I’ve changed, I've learnt a lot (often through my mistakes!) and I’ve had many wonderful opportunities to use my gifts, build relationships, create meaningful experiences, and see God work in and through our church.
I am very proud of who CityLife has become – particularly the culture of welcome, generosity and outreach that pervades the church. The Church has grown in size and quality, men and women serve and lead alongside each other (some of our best leaders, pastors and speakers are women), there has been no scandal, and we have had healthy leadership transitions. Of course, my greatest joy has been intersecting with God's work in individual people's lives. I only wish I had had more time to slow down and speak to each person, hearing more of their story and getting to know them better. That's hard with around 10,000 people who now call CityLife their church home.
As I reflect on the last 32 years of being on church staff, it is very clear to me that, “No one achieves anything alone!” At this time, I want to give thanks to:
- Our founding pastor, Richard Holland, for believing in me as as 20Something and encouraging me into church ministry.
- My parents, Kevin and Joyce Conner, for all they have sown into my life since I was a child.
- The church leadership team of elders, staff, ministry leaders, and volunteers who I have served alongside over the years. Special thanks to my personal assistant Sue Veal and to Peter Leigh and Daljit Gill, my two associates for over 20 years. I couldn't have done it without you!
- Our faithful prayer partners: Gurmit Gill, Stan and Coral Leigh, Miva, Anthony Storey, Linda Leigh, Anne Otyek and Ray Henderson.
- Finally, thanks to my family – our three amazing kids, Josiah, Ashley and Natasha (who have sacrificed a lot and have been my best fans … and critics!), and to Nicole – still my best friend after 30 years of marriage. My most enjoyable and effective years were when we were leading side by side. I look forward to our future together.
- And most of all to God … without him I could be or have done nothing. I am indebted to his daily grace, wisdom, courage, strength and faithfulness over so many years now.
Many of you know my story, but let me recap …
I'm a PK, a "Preacher's Kid", or a TO as my dad used to call me – a "Theological Offspring". When I was younger, my dad used to say to me, "If you can get out of church miniustry, son, get out of it! But if God has called you, you won't escape it." Well, that "call" did come, and quite early – at the age of 10. I wasn't sure how it would unfold, but it did. First through worship ministry, then youth ministry, and eventually as as Senior Minister.
In many ways, I consider myself a “reluctant leader”. Not that I don't enjoy leading but I’ve been thrown into the deep end many times with new responsibilities. Over time I have learnt a lot and eventually I have really enjoyed everything I have done … but before long, another door seems to open. In many ways, my journey has been very much about responding to opportunities that have come my way, to new open doors, and to other people's encouragement.
Why change now?
This is not a sudden or reactionary move. I considered another 5 years or 10 years but "sooner rather than later” seemed to be the best decision for me and the church. I remember praying one morning and asking God, “Would you be okay if I finished up as Senior Minister?" I sensed a warm smile and a softly spoken ,"Of course." A calling is never meant to be linked or bound to a particular role or expression of ministry. We must follow our curiosity and not allow a calling to ever become a sense of duty or obligation. Nicole once asked me, "Would you apply for your job today, if you didn't have it?" That's a good question. I enjoy a lot of what I do but CityLife has become a very large organisation, the Senior Minister role is a big responsibility, and it is a burden that never goes away. I'm at a stage in life where I'd like a smaller world not a bigger one, a slower pace not a faster one, a simpler life not a more complex one. So here we are …
How do I feel?
Check out my recent poem: The Finish Line.
Coming Up: What's Next?
In the mean time, you might want to check out Home – Seasons, for some insights on the apostle Paul's departure from 3 years of significant ministry in the city of Ephesus. There are some excellent lessons we can glean from this story about endings and new beginnings.