After I announced that I would be stepping down from my role as Senior Pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church, the question people asked me the most often was, “When did you decide to retire?”
My honest answer? About 45 years ago.
I’ve talked to a lot of pastors who have told me that they could never see themselves retiring. I get it. I love what I do, but nothing lasts forever — including being the pastor of a great church. For one thing, churches change. Churches are living and breathing organisms. They grow up. They mature. They change, and sometimes what the church becomes doesn’t match who the pastor is. During my time at Brentwood Baptist, I’ve led four or five congregations at the same address. Today, I’m looking ahead at what will become the sixth manifestation of this congregation and it’s going to be much different than the congregation that is there now. For one thing, the church will be younger. The church will be leaner. We’ll offer less programming, but what we do offer will be deeper. For instance, instead of a typical Sunday School class, the church will offer group experiences with seminary-level theology and philosophy instruction. Our members will demand it in order to be better able to defend their faith in their communities.
A transformation like this usually takes three to five years to complete. Knowing this, I didn’t feel like I could make that kind of commitment to my church as I prepare to turn 67.
Second, at my age, I have different priorities. I have four grandchildren and Rowen, my special needs granddaughter, needs lots of attention from her grandfather. I love being the pastor of a church, but I no longer want to spend the kind of hours that are required to do the job well. I’m not complaining. Not at all. I just want to do different things with my time. That makes it a good time to step back.
Third, my ministry is changing. Being the pastor of a church means that I have to wear a lot of different hats. One of the reasons I love the local church is that I get to do a lot of different things. On any given day, I will meet with the financial team, plan worship services, and visit the hospital. On other days, I will meet with a local pastor about something they’re dealing with in their church and then coach our own pastoral team. I love this last part. Working with pastors is the best part of what I do. I want to do more of it. In fact, it’s all I want to do. So, this year, I started the Engage Church Network. The purpose of the network is to work with local pastors, plant churches, and work with churches in transition. This will allow me a little more control over my time and still give me something to do that will make a difference in the greater Middle Tennessee area.
Some of my friends say I need to think bigger. They say I should be thinking about a national reach for the network. Nope. I want to keep it in Middle Tennessee. For one thing, I don’t want to spend any more time than I have to in airports and on airplanes. Second, when my family needs me, I want to be able to get in the car and get to them. This is what I believe is important for me right now. You don’t have to agree. No one does. It’s my life. It’s my future and I’m good with it.
So, was the church ready for this transition? Yes, they were. We had recently started our ninth campus this past year and it is thriving. Retiring gives the new pastor time to get his spurs on before whatever comes next. We had no debt and a very positive giving pattern. The new pastor will be under no pressure to make any draconian moves. The church knows who it is and is steadily moving toward a common vision. The church is in a good place.
Do I grieve this change? Every day. Every day, it seems, I do something for the last time. I’ve done my last Easter service as pastor. I’ve done my last Christmas Eve service. I will miss these moments and so many more.
But I’ve done my job. It’s time to move on. A new pastor makes way for new dreams.
And it’s time for me to get busy doing what God has called me to do now. Nothing lasts forever. Not churches. Not pastors. Only Christ and His kingdom survive and I’m grateful for my little part of it.