So, today I preached my last sermon at TCC. After 26 years of preaching ministry and 30 total years of “professional” ministry experience (sorry John Piper), I preached my last sermon at TCC today. I have preached a final sermon three times before…when I left as Associate Minister of a church in upper east Tennessee (1983), when I left as the solo pastor of a church in Benton, KS (1987) and when I left as senior pastor of our church in Garden City, KS (1999). But today I preached my last sermon at Tigard Christian Church in Portland, OR. I don’t know why, but I kind of have the sense it may be the last sermon I ever preach as the minister of a church. I don’t mean that to sound dramatic, but neither my wife nor I really feel that God is leading us to another church, and even if he does, a break from the politics of located ministry sounds welcome.
So what do you say on your last Sunday? I very vaguely remember the first two. (No electronic copy of the notes in my computer from those “dark ages”!)
At the church where I was associate minister, I wasn’t all that excited about leaving the church in the hands of the new senior minister who had been there a year or so when I left. I brashly thought I could do as good a job as he could. I was probably a little brazen in encouraging the church to keep their eye focused on goals that I knew were not really the forte or desire of the new guy. I remember later reflecting and thinking I was pretty brash and not totally appropriate.
The next church was a smallish country church, basically run by two families. I was not totally disappointed to be leaving, but I remember preaching on what I had tried to accomplish there. It didn’t seem to make much difference, because the church is almost dead today.
My last church before this one was a church where we were dearly loved. I knew that the next guys biggest problem was going to be “But Cal didn’t do it that way!” (And I was right!) I had gotten advice (I think it was from John Maxwell…I was big into John Maxwell in those days) that it was important for people to see my clay feet so that the people knew I was human and the new guy would be human, too. And so I spent most of the time simply telling stories.(There really was a text—it was Phil. 2:1-8, 11-13. And there even was a fairly good outline (I say that in retrospect):
My challenge as the church goes forward:
- Take God’s Word Seriously (v. 1)
- Be a People Who Trust One Another (v. 2)
- Be Open to the Work of the Holy Spirit (3-4a)
- Be Oriented to the Future Rather than to the Past (4b-6)
- Have Clearly Understood Goals
- Be a Place Where Each Believer is a Minister (7-8, 11-13)
(I think the list really came from Lyle Schaller)
But today was different.
The elders desire to take the congregation in a different direction (it appears) and they have let me go. It seemed presumptuous for me to try to challenge the church to go in any direction, when I have no idea what the continuing leadership wants to do.
Telling funny stories seemed crass. I wasn’t really in a mood for laughter & joviality.
And so, in explaining to the congregation about this, (without the elder part) I simply said that I hoped my ministry would be remembered as one where people were drawn to a love for God’s Word and wanted to delve more into the Word as a result of my preaching. I just simply preached a Bible sermon. Very few references to our departure or the future of the church.
I have been in a series on our Identity in Christ, and months ago had scheduled to preach today on 2 Cor. 5.17: “I am a new creation in Christ.”
My theme was: “You are a new creation in Christ” means we are free from the bondage of sin; that we are perfect in Christ; & that God is able to bring newness out of our hurts.”
I felt like I was faithful to the call of God to preach the Word. Whether or not I ever again preach regularly in a church or not, I know that I was faithful to preaching the Word. That is the most anyone can ask of a preacher.