Posted: 7/12/20 at 5:00pm. Written by Matthew Watson.
It isn’t often that a lead pastor surrenders that role to another pastor on staff, then remains on staff, taking a supporting role within the church. However, that is what took place recently at Christ City Church.
Pastors Matthew Watson and Justin Fung had been serving together for nearly seven years; and for the last three years, Matthew had been in the leading pastoral role of Christ City Church and Justin in the role of Pastor of Liturgy and Spiritual Formation. In April 2020, after a season of discernment with the church elders, Justin and Matthew announced that they would be changing roles: Justin would become the primary leading pastor of Christ City, and Matthew would take on a supporting pastoral role in the life of the church.
Below is a summary of the process leading up to this decision and the ways God had been working in them both.
WATSON: In the summer of 2019, I (Matthew) took a sabbatical and during that time, the Lord began stirring things in both Justin and me. For me, I had a growing desire to resize my own scope of work as a pastor at Christ City. I also had a sense that as a church, with a stated desire and vision to be a multi-racial and multi-class church–to be a church marked by the beautiful diversity represented in our Washington, DC neighborhood, I began wondering how God might have me continue to lead Christ City into the next season of life as a church. I had also wrestled with the question of whether I, as a 45-year-old white man, ought to be the one to lead us forward into the ever-deepening diverse future we pray for and labor towards, especially given the presence of so many gifted leaders of color on our staff and elder board.
JUSTIN: Simultaneously, God had been stirring in me. For ten years, my entire time in ministry, I have served in supporting pastoral roles; and I’m very comfortable in them. But I got to a place where I could do what I was doing with my eyes closed; I could coast. But I realized that I don’t want to do ministry with my eyes closed, I don’t want to coast in my calling. As the Lord was stirring me, I didn’t know when and where and how God would provide the next opportunity, but I began to be more attentive to that. So when Matthew came back from his sabbatical and began sharing some of the things he had been wrestling with, it felt like a convergence of God-woven threads.
WATSON: As Justin and I began processing what God had been saying to each of us, we sensed that we needed to involve the elders in our shared discernment. The elders gave us permission to open up our job descriptions, to dream, to celebrate, and to consider again our calling to Christ, to Washington, DC, and to Christ City Church.
JUSTIN: The whole process was beautiful and gracious, full of discovery and mutual respect. It was truly a gift from God, as if to say that good process is possible, that ego does not have to rear its ugly head. In the process we were able to see Christ-likeness in each other, as well as a care and deference that was Spirit-led and mutually honoring.
WATSON: We realized that sometimes, in the case of role changes or transitions, they happen because of a resignation or succession plan, and that’s not really the case here. We wanted to remind the church of my and Justin’s commitment to each other, to the city, and to the church. It was also important to me that the white members of Christ City, and the city more broadly, see me faithfully submitting to the non-white leadership on the elder board and on staff.
JUSTIN: Sometimes it can be a challenge to lead when the one who has been leading is still on staff. But much of what makes this change possible and healthy has been the level of trust and respect that Watson and I have for one another. We’ve worked well together for the past several years, and our gifts are different enough that there’s space for both to flourish. In the weeks since the announcement of the change, the church has been incredibly supportive. There has been an outpouring of encouragement for the change–from both inside and outside the church.
Over the last few months of this process in particular, I have seen the humility of Philippians 2 as well as the self-giving love of the Trinity exhibited and embodied in the people I am privileged to lead with–Watson, our elders, and our Leadership Council. It has been a reminder to me that what happens and how it happens are intertwined, and that we are always being formed by the processes we undergo. To God be the glory.
For a video clip of our announcement to the church, you can visit our YouTube channel here.