It was recently reported that Dr. Charles Stanley stepped down as senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta after a 50-year tenure at that post. It was also clarified on the same news page that the good pastor was not retiring because he could not find retirement in the Bible, but that he was going to still be Pastor as long as the church would have him, and his health would permit, or something to that effect. May God raise up more faithful ministers who year after year stay by the stuff, through thick and thin, through the good times and the bad, and in 50 years you will have your share of both!
Reading of Dr. Stanley’s retirement, it brought to mind my own, just one year ago now. I too at one time recoiled against the concept of retirement, and, like the famous southern shepherd, I probably invoked scripture, or lack thereof, as grounds to stand upon. However, sometime well into my 70’s, I came to the realization that I had come to expect and accept the government’s monthly social security deposit into my bank account even though I could not find social security in the Bible. So, yes, I am “retired.” Not that I am ready to pack it all up. I did sell several hundred of my dear old friends, a library collection of half a century, keeping a few dozen that it was unbearable to part with. Through the generosity of the Thompson Road Baptist Church and its pastor, Joel Stevens, I am able to maintain an office at the church I pastored 40 years; and I am serving the 150 year-old Coatesville Missionary Baptist Church in Coatesville, Indiana, as interim pastor; but I do not carry the load, the burdens, the responsibilities and the accountability that I did twenty or even ten years ago. I miss the personal daily interaction very much with my church family, many of whom have been a part of our (Ellen and I) lives for 40 years. I miss visiting folk in the hospital and in their homes as pastor, and I miss being able to serve them in their darkest and deepest hours; yet, I am very happy that a young and well-qualified man, Pastor Stevens, is able to do what it became apparent that I was not able to do any longer with the strength and vigor, physically, mentally, and emotionally that the job in all honesty requires.
I enjoy immensely the new life that is mine now, seeing more of Ellen, whom I could never get enough of, and family and spending more time meditating and musing over messages, most of which I have already preached at least once or twice, instead of merely “mastering” them for a 35 minute delivery on Sunday morning or evening. It is a great season of life!
I am enjoying the interim pastorate very much; and appreciate the arm of Gospel Fellowship Association which is facilitating the placing of available retired pastors in meeting pulpit committees of churches of like faith which are seeking God’s will for an under shepherd to lead them. The folk at Coatesville Missionary Baptist Church, located 40 miles west of Indianapolis, remains true to its original vision and mission of holding forth the Word of Life and of taking Christ to the world through a world missionary ministry. They are easy people to love and a joy to share God’s Word with. Interestingly, 57 years ago as a single, ministerial student in Bible college I accepted the opportunity and challenge of being summer youth and camp director in Coatesville Missionary Baptist Church. The then pastor and his wife, Malcolm and Ruby Neier, treated me like a son for the two summers of my junior and senior college years; and then, on a warm summer August evening in a white-steepled church in North Wilkesboro, NC, Pastor Neier led Ellen and myself in the repeating of our wedding vows, 55 years ago this past month. Malcolm has been with the Lord several years now, but Ruby, in her mid-nineties, still attends church (or has until Covid-19 temporarily grounded her from coming) at this little rural community Baptist Church. So, we have come full-circle and we are loving it yet praying earnestly that the Lord will give this historic church a full-time pastor to lead and feed them now.
I tell you, it’s good to be “retired!”
“And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out and set in order, many proverbs.” (Eccl. 12:9)