Twenty six years ago, I stood up here and said that I felt like a new toaster. You just got a new pastor and now at that first sermon, you were eager to know how it would do. More recently I’ve thought of myself more as a refrigerator, an appliance that usually works well but the time comes when it is time to get a new one. I realize now that such a description is far too analytical and this is far more personal, which makes this parting so difficult for us.
It’s time for me to retire after 26 years of serving this church and 35 years of ministry. It’s time for someone else to provide teaching, care and leadership for you. As I thought of how to conclude my work here, 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 came to mind. This puts in perspective this time of transition for both myself and Faith Church. Let’s read 1 Corinthians 3:1-9.
I. Let’s look first at the example in Corinth.
Verse 3 makes it clear that there were some serious divisions in the church in Corinth. Some said they were followers of Paul and others said that they were followers of Paul’s successor, Apollos. We aren’t sure what caused the people to follow one or the other. Perhaps it was based on the style of teaching or preaching they each had. Whatever the case, people were focused on Paul and Apollos as leaders.
Paul’s point is that pastors are servants appointed by God for a specific task. A servant is a person who would give of himself while serving at his master’s table. As such it appropriately describes Christian service by a pastor. A pastor is certainly not the boss of the church but is instead God’s servant. Moreover, this servant is appointed by God to do God’s work, his assigned task. God is the One to whom the pastor must ultimately answer. They are only doing the work that God had given them to do.
What does this have to say to us today in this church at this time? It means that my real boss was, and is, God. That didn’t mean that the Council couldn’t tell me what to do or correct me. God is the pastor’s boss, but God uses the local church leaders as instruments to guide the pastor in doing the work God wants him to do. However, I must ultimately answer to God as his servant for God has called me. In spite of what some may think, a pastor doesn’t determine his own calling.
Anyone who wants to be an ordained minister can send $45 to the American Fellowship Church, Rolling Bay, Washington, and they will receive a diploma and a card affirming that the bearer is, in fact, a duly ordained minister.
The goal of pastors, and everyone in the church, is to serve their Master, the Lord Jesus Christ and do what he would have them do. And that is why I must retire at this point from active ministry in Faith Church. I believe that God wants me to rest for a season and take care of my wife, Claire. I have prayed sincerely that I may be a true servant even in retirement. It is God to whom I must answer, not myself or my own or the church’s desires.
II. Moreover, verses 6-7 make it clear that God grows the church.
There are stages in the growth of a church that are reflected here in 1 Corinthians. Paul says that he planted the church and Apollos watered it. Paul came and preached to the people and a church was born. Then Apollos walked through the issues of life that they faced as new Christians. However, God is the only one who can really make the church grow through the work of his servants. God must receive the credit for the church’s growth, not any human being.
It is important that you remember that here in Faith Church. I believe God has given this church spiritual growth over the past years. I sense that people have grown in their personal walk with God. People in Faith Church have learned more of what the Bible says and have learned how to incorporate that into their lives.
I pray that God will give Faith Church numerical growth as well in the future. God has brought many new people to this church, both from other churches as well as new Christians through the years. As I have said before many times, in spite of the size of Faith Church, I still am convinced that God isn’t done with this church and he will use it in the future.
That is how we must view the past 26 years as well. I believe God has done great things and it is to him that we give glory. I thank God for his using me in spite of all my weaknesses and flaws to be part of that work here in Faith Church.
III. Finally, let’s hear a challenge from verse 9 to keep on building!
Verse 9 shows clearly who we are: God’s fellow workers, God’s field, God’s building. God’s fellow workers means that both Paul and Apollos were colleagues as they jointly served the Lord in his Kingdom. We too are co-workers with other Christians as we all serve our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, regardless of where we are worshiping and serving currently. We must all answer to God as we seek to work within Christ’s church.
Moreover, God’s field and building underscores the reality that the church isn’t the possession of a pastor or even of the people themselves. The church is God’s field and building; it belongs to him, and no one else. He owns it and determines what will happen in this field and building. The point is that the success of a church isn’t tied to the pastor or the people alone. The pastor and people are used by God to make the church a fruitful field or a useful building.
I hope and pray that not only my sermons, but my overall work, while it will fade over time, was effective for building up Christ’s church and strengthening those who were here while I was here. I have done what I could, but now it remains for you to continue.
And so that is why I leave with this challenge: keep on building! As I leave, please remember that you are God’s field. This has never been “my church” or anyone else’s except God’s. The future growth of this church doesn’t depend on me or anyone else. If you are willing to serve, God will bless your efforts to reach others and to grow.
And so with gratitude to God, I stand relieved as your pastor. I thank God for the many blessings we have received here. Thank you for the love and support that you have shown me and my family. I am confident that we will always look back on our years serving in Faith Church with fond memories and gratitude to God. May God richly bless you as you continue to serve him in Faith church.