From the Pastor….

This column is longer than the ones I usually write, but if you’re a member of the Parkway family I would appreciate it if you would bear with me and read it all.

When I was in my late forties I remarked to a friend and fellow church member that I hoped that I would have the good sense to retire one day before the first person said, “I wonder when he’ll retire.” My friend’s quick response was, “It’s too late.”

That might have been a bit premature, but it is natural for members of a congregation to speculate about their pastor’s retirement, particularly when he or she becomes eligible for Medicare. It’s probably time for me to get the issue out in the open. I’ve been praying about this for quite a while and you need to be in on the conversation.

First of all, it is important to note that I recognize this isn’t entirely up to me. Unless the Lord directs me otherwise, Parkway will be my last full-time pastorate. However, as is the case with most Baptist pastors, I have a weekly call. The congregation can decide, within the parameters of our policies and procedures, that it is time for me to spend my time doing something else. I never take your trust in me for granted, and I understand that it is something that I continually have to earn.

However, assuming that the congregation allows my retirement to be, under the Lord’s leading, up to me and my family, I do have some clear thoughts. And the first one is that I am in no hurry. I love being your pastor. It is not just a privilege; it is a joy. I still feel energized by the work and challenged by the opportunities. I’m still having fun and — at least in my personal subjective opinion — I can still perform my duties at an acceptable level. I’m in good health. Age really is just a number and I don’t think that alone should determine anything.

More importantly, however, I still feel that there is a great deal that we need to do together. I’m certainly not saying that another person couldn’t help you do some things better, but I would not want important issues to suffer because of a necessary period of transition. 

One of the more obvious objectives that we all want to reach is the completion of the sale of our excess land. The money realized from the liquidation of this asset that has been ours since the beginning of the church will help us to achieve some other goals related to facilities upgrades and repairs and the creation of a revenue stream that will help to sustain our programs and ministries. But determining the best stewardship of that resource will require the thoughtful prayer and deliberation of all of us and, having witnessed the work of the very committed people who have brought us this far, I would like to see it to fruition.

And that brings us to an exciting opportunity that we have never really had before. With the construction of new homes all around us, we will be situated in a neighborhood. Determining how to be a positive witness for our Lord with our new neighbors needs to be a primary concern for all of us. Beginning first with hospitality, we can move to ministry, and, in many cases, we can see our neighbors become part of the family. That is something that should be exciting for all of us as we seek to fulfill the second part of the Great Commandment by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

That does, however, lead me to a major concern that I know we need to address. As I have stressed a number of times in recent sermons, the perception within our community of Christians, and especially Baptists, is overwhelmingly negative. Simply because we are identified with a certain segment of the Christian faith, we are assumed to be narrow-minded, judgmental fundamentalists. Those words in no way describe who we are and it’s time we figured out a way to distance ourselves from that perception. There is no denying that it cripples any effort that we might make at outreach. I’m getting tired of telling people that I’m a Baptist, but then quickly adding, “But not that kind of Baptist.”

How we respond to this challenge can literally determine the future of this congregation. Finding a way to help our community understand that this is a loving, accepting, and non-judgmental church that in no way resembles the perception many people have of Baptists should be a high priority for all of us. We can do our part as individuals by being loving Christians, but we must also make decisions about how we identify ourselves, with whom we choose to share a connection, and how we can present ourselves more positively to the community. 

We will always be a Baptist congregation in theology, polity, and association, but we must consider such issues as whether having the word Baptist as part of our name and on our sign is a hindrance in reaching our community with the Gospel. And we may need to take specific steps that distance us from Baptist bodies that do not adhere to historic Baptist principles.

These questions should be addressed sooner rather than later. I don’t believe this is something I should leave for the next pastor to help you figure out. We’ve prayed together over a lot of issues; let’s join together on this one.

Perhaps of a more mundane nature, but certainly important, is the upgrading of our facilities. If we are serious about seeking to reach this community, we have to do so from buildings that communicate that we take our work seriously, we care about what we do, and we want to provide the best place possible for people to come to worship. For many years, in order to maintain our ministries, we have had to defer some work that has needed to be done to make our buildings as attractive and inviting as possible. It’s time we quit putting that off and the land liquidation will give us the chance to get to work on it. I am very pleased with what the Buildings and Grounds Committee and the Decorating Committee are proposing, but I hope to be here long enough to see it become a reality and an effective outreach tool.

As I read back through this list, I realize that these items are only peripheral to my real reason for wanting to continue as a pastor, as your pastor, for a while longer. I believe that, as the Lord leads, I still have some things to say. There has never been a more important time in the years that I have been a pastor for those of us who have the responsibility to stand in pulpits each week to speak the truth in love. I refuse to cede the field to those who use the language of theology and scripture to clothe their own biases in pious phrasing, confirming the worst prejudices of their congregants and justifying the vilest forms of hatred by pretending to defend the Christian faith. There are others who may fight this fight more effectively, but I don’t think there is anyone who thinks it is more necessary. I’d like the chance to take a few more cracks at helping you apply the eternal truths of Christian faith to a troubling and divided age.

I have been blessed far beyond anything I deserve by being allowed to serve alongside you for the past sixteen years. I really hope and pray we have some more time, but if it ended today, I would consider that I have been among the most blessed pastors who has ever lived. I just wanted you to know what I have been thinking and praying about, and I hope you will join me in asking our Lord to reveal the divine will to us all.