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Last Tuesday, another Apple product release came and went, leaving critics and consumers wanting. With consumers less than wowed by this latest release, many are wondering if Apple has lost its ability to amaze.
As a fan of Apple, and as a current owner of both a MacBook Air and iPhone 4, I can’t help but wonder if the company will ever be the same without Steve Jobs.

I found myself agreeing with words from Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who reminisced over the passing of his friend, Steve Jobs, in a recent interview on “CBS This Morning.”

Ellison stated, “My eulogy began, you know, I guess we’re all told that no one’s irreplaceable. I don’t believe that. I just don’t.”

Ellison’s words suggest that while Apple can seek to carry on the innovative legacy of Jobs, his creativity and passion are irreplaceable.

Therefore, critics and consumers who expect Apple’s future CEOs to be Jobs will continually be disappointed.

In the wake of yet another product launch that failed to earn high praise, Ellison’s words seem almost prophetic not only for Apple, but for the church, as well.

Serving in ministry for more than a decade, I have witnessed my fair share of staff transitions. This transitional period is often challenging for the exact reason Ellison states about Apple.

We often think the departed staff member is easily replaceable, and so we look for people who best match the vision we have lined out for the position.

The problem with this approach to hiring is that it’s often the exact opposite of what we teach congregation members about spiritual formation and God’s calling in our lives.

We often teach that God is calling us to live out of a deeper humanity and true self, using phrases such as, “Be the person God has made you to be!”

In support of this mindset, we reference biblical texts like Jeremiah 29:11 and cite quotes from books like Parker Palmer’s “Let Your Life Speak.”

Yet we expect and look for the exact opposite in our hiring of congregational staff. Our job descriptions and profiles often reflect what we either really liked about the last person in the position or what we thought was missing.

This means the new staff member or volunteer is always living in the shadow of his or her predecessor.

The belief that ministry can go on the same as it always has after someone has moved on by simply finding the right person to fill the hole denies the humanity of our leaders and volunteers.

In some ways, this approach treats people as objects, as interchangeable, easily replaced parts in a well-oiled machine.

So, perhaps it is time for a paradigm shift in how we say goodbye to pastors, staff and volunteers.

I believe we need rituals to help conclude one person’s ministry at a church that names the gifts that the leader or volunteer brought with them while acknowledging that the person who will fill their position will not be exactly like them.

In the same way, we need rituals that help us welcome and celebrate the gifts of the incoming leader or volunteer.

This welcoming ritual should provide the opportunity to begin learning more about the gifts and abilities of the new leader or volunteer and to be open to how this new person’s ideas, approaches and gifts will shape the landscape of our shared ministry.

These transition rituals are needed because, too often, we forget that people are not replaceable.

This means that things will not remain exactly the same as they were before because even those who have similar gifts express and use those gifts in different ways.

During transitions, we need to remember that people are not interchangeable parts. Things will change when someone new is hired or volunteers for a role, and this is perfectly OK.

Seth M. Vopat is the associate pastor of youth and family at Louisburg First Baptist Church in Louisburg, Kan., and a graduate of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter @svopat.

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