First-Day Thoughts on Not Being a Pastor Anymore

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Founder & Teacher,

I’ve been thinking about how much I love finishing things. I get great pleasure in finishing — a poem, a sermon, a book, or cutting the grass, or fixing the dripping faucet, or selling our car. It’s hard for me to walk away from something half done.

But, of course, anything that takes longer than a day, you have to walk away from unfinished. You have to sleep. So it helps me to chop things up into finishable pieces — a stanza, a section, a chapter, the mower prepared, the parts purchased, the ad placed. But still there is no pleasure quite like the pleasure of finishing.

But the pleasure of finishing some things is mingled with pain. It certainly was for Jesus. “It is finished” was probably the most costly statement he ever made. But the prospect of finishing was also his joy. “For the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). The joy of what he was finishing — both the beauty of it, and the fruit of it — was deeply satisfying. “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:11).

Finishing the ministry at Bethlehem has been deeply and painfully satisfying. Painfully, because of long, tearful embraces with people who don’t want to let go. But here I want to show you how finishing can be so satisfying.

How can one speak of finishing a ministry — a pastorate? Can one really finish? Death snatches some men away in the midst of their ministry, and they feel, “I wasn’t finished.” Others are removed against their will, and they don’t feel like it was finished. Others run away from a hard situation, and no one feels it was finished.

But in many cases — I believe in our case — there arises an Antioch Moment, and it becomes clear to everyone, the hour has come. I gave it that name — Antioch Moment — in a message on April 9, 2011. But I did not create the moment. God did. The name came from the moment in Antioch when the leaders were praying and fasting and the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:3).

At that moment — the moment I was preaching — God had already prepared and chosen the new leader for Bethlehem. In that service, the call was again confirmed. Jason Meyer testifies to this. The time had come for a corporate discernment of my succession. The Holy Spirit made this plain through extraordinary prayer as the elders gathered weekly simply to pray for this discernment.

God answered. And within months so many providences pointed to Jason Meyer that all knew beyond serious doubt, this was a season of finishing. And beginning. In other words, the reason we can speak of “finishing” this ministry is because God stepped in unmistakably and showed us that my sense of completion was his, and Jason’s sense of calling was his, and the elders’ unanimous discernment was his, and the people’s stunning confirmation was his.

The time for succession had come. It had come as clearly as if I had died. I could say over this chapter of my life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). Paul said that because he knew death was close. I can say it because it is that clear.

Therefore, as I woke up on this Monday morning for the first time in 33 years without the official mantle of pastor, the only tears that came were tears of thankfulness. And under them was a great joy. It is finished. It has a completeness to it. God started it. God sustained it. God ended it. And I have loved it. And I love looking back on it, complete. Imperfect in a hundred ways, but not because it was too long or too short. Being Bethlehem’s pastor has been my life. But now it is finished. And I am thrilled at what lies ahead — for her and for me. Especially in a thousand years.