After 34 years of preaching, Bishop Neil C. Ellis, 61, is stepping down from the office of senior pastor at Mount Tabor Church.
Ellis’ retirement is scheduled for December 2022.
While he is stepping down from the office, he won’t be retiring from ministry per se.
“I am still sought after for conferences and special church events. I am stepping down from the top spot of the church, but I am not retiring from active duty. A lot of this would have to do and depend upon what the new pastor would require of me once in place – how much of me he would need or want. I want to make myself available to him.”
Following a years-long search, the officers and members of Mount Tabor Church unanimously ratified Pastor Dario Carey as the incoming senior pastor during a special called meeting.
It was during his 2012 annual November sabbatical that Ellis said the Lord told him to give the church one more decade. He returned home and made the announcement that December of his impending retirement to the church.
“It was a very intentional and slow but careful and prayerful process,” said Ellis. “We’re talking about putting in place the person who will one day become only the second pastor in 35 years at Mount Tabor, and most persons in Mount Tabor have only known one pastor their whole life. And [it was going to be] a person assuming responsibility for one of the largest congregations in the country.”
The “road” to Ellis’ retirement over the years involved a series of meetings with church leaders and members, the launch of a search among prospective pastoral candidates, vigorous interviewing process and eventually deciding on a successor.
“The last 12 months was very intense,” said Ellis. “We opened up the process formally for the interested to apply and boiled it down to two persons. Then they had to be interviewed by three people individually, two colleagues out of country, and one here. One interviewed on theology and ministry; another on integrity, character and vision; and the person here, a prominent business person on budgeting, administration and people skills. After that, there was consultation between the three and myself and we ended up with a person we would recommend to the church.”
Carey was recommended on September 6. Mount Tabor’s membership had 21 days to launch any concerns, complaints or uncertainties about the recommended person, and agreed that they would return to the church on October 4 for ratification. Ellis said they got no complaints or concerns.
“During the last month, I’ve met with all the levels of leadership at the church and we had discussions, and they were able to express their views. We went to the church with a unanimous decision. We had no dissenting voice from the church,” he said.
The Mount Tabor founding pastor will lead the church through its transition.
“I’m going to give my focus to Mount Tabor for the next year. He [Carey] will be joining my staff January 2022, so he will work for me for the full year. He will take over in January 2023.
While Ellis’ retirement is December 2022, a transition team is deciding the dates.
Ellis said the smooth process overwhelmed. And that he felt “blessed” to have the privilege to assist with selecting his successor. He said a lot of pastors don’t get the opportunity to do what he is doing because they either died, or are too up in age to assist in succession planning.
“I was really overwhelmed [on Monday night], but what quickly came into my spirit was that it’s the results of the process. It was slow, intentional, careful and prayerful, and it paid off.”
He said “there cannot be success, without a successor”.
And that turmoil usually erupts when pastors die in office and the church has to go through the process or the senior pastor is old and can’t guide the process.
“To be able to step down when you’re still full of energy, when you’re still in the right frame of mind, to step down when the people want you to remain and having the opportunity to participate in choosing my successor – this is what I like.”
Ellis’s successor is a Bahamian, and a longstanding member of Mount Tabor Church who has spent the last seven years as senior pastor of Solid Rock Missionary Baptist Church in New Orleans, Louisiana.
“He [Carey] met the Lord in Mount Tabor,” said Ellis. “When he first visited us as a teenager, he was living in the Ranfurly Homes [for children]. He met the Lord at Mount Tabor and was among a group of people that we sent to seminary. Four of the six came back. All worked at the church, but [Carey] and one more person never returned to The Bahamas to stay. He met his wife there – they built a family and he landed two wonderful jobs that led him to managerial positions. Eight years ago, he was called to a church in New Orleans. He is still there today.”
Through it all, Ellis said Carey never disconnected from Mount Tabor Church. And over the last nine years, said Ellis, Carey always made time to bring in the new year and the first service of each new year at the Willow Tree Avenue church.
Ellis describes Carey as a “son of mine in ministry”.
“A young man sent to school is now coming back home to succeed the first pastor there,” he ruminated. “I was pleased to see how the Lord brought this full circle. I believe he [Carey] with the help of God will be able to take the church to the next level, and I will be there as his biggest cheerleader to lend whatever assistance he needs.”
Ellis is also the founder and presiding bishop of Global United Fellowship (GUF), established eight years ago. He won’t be stepping down from the organization, which is headquartered in New Providence, and has expanded to over 40 countries, embracing over 1,400 churches and organizations.
“One step at a time,” he said. “I do ascribe to the view that a fellowship as intricate as mine should be led by a senior pastor.
“Having done this for 34 years, preaching every Sunday, preaching and budgeting, I am a pastor at heart. Next year August would make 40 years I will have been preaching the gospel. At some point, you have to know when to fold [and] you can fold from part A and not necessarily part B. The time for active duty in the pastorate is winding down.”
Ellis, who is married to his wife of 38 years, Patrice, said he is open to see what else the Lord would have him do.