A Letter to My Former Pastor, on the Occasion of His Retirement

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Bro. Ken,

When I opened the email that said you planned to step down as senior pastor this year, I cried. The tears flowed both from sadness at the passing of time and from gratitude for you and your ministry. For more than a decade of my life, you were the primary chef who served up and seasoned the meat of God’s Word for my spiritual sustenance. During my most formative years, you nourished me through your preaching more than one thousand times.

From you I saw that the Bible was to be taken seriously. The pulpit was not a platform for expressing your opinions. You wanted us to hear what God had to say.

Going through books of the Bible, you demonstrated a compelling combination of analysis and adoration. Analysis: explaining to us what the text says and what it means. Adoration: leading us to worship and praise the Author. I don’t remember your sermon outlines, but I do remember the moments when your analysis would tip over into adoration. Your voice would move up to a higher pitch, a quiver would catch in your throat, and earnestness would overpower your voice until no one in the room had any doubt: This man feels the truth of which he speaks.

It wasn’t only in your sermons that you pointed me to the Word. On our first trip to Romania, I remember a conversation up in the guest rooms of Emanuel Baptist Church (the church where just a few years later I would get married!). I was protesting a biblical doctrine that seemed farfetched because it ran afoul of my sensibilities. You didn’t try to convince me of your perspective on the matter. Instead, you pointed me to a couple of passages and said, “After you’ve studied these, let’s talk.” In other words, pipe down, young man, and get your nose in this Book before you tell me what you will or will not believe! Pointing to the Bible as the final authority, the one place I needed to find truth—that was more influential than if you’d tried to convince me of your own viewpoint. At the end of the day, you showed me that what you or I think is secondary; what matters most is what God says.

Your ministry showed me the connection between faithfulness to God’s Word and fervor for His mission. I cannot recall a Sunday sermon that did not end with an invitation, a call for decision in light of our encounter with God’s truth. You set before us stories of missionary heroes and examples of evangelistic fruitfulness. It’s no wonder that all three of your children are in ministry—Rachel as an overseas missionary, Joel a fellow laborer at LifeWay, and Jason a church planter.

Speaking of missions, thank you for bringing me along on your first trip to Romania back in 1997. A fifteen-year-old boy coming into a former Communist country—that event enabled me to see the world with new eyes. It sparked my desire for future trips and laid the foundation for September of 2000, when, after prayer and counsel, I bought a one-way ticket and moved there. Had you not listened to the Spirit’s prompting you to Romania, I would not have met Corina. We wouldn’t have three precious children. The people in this world who mean the most to me today are, in large part, due to your faithfulness in following God’s lead. We never know the way in which a single act of obedience can change the course of someone else’s life. Were we to fathom such mysteries, we’d be paralyzed by the fear of making a wrong decision. But the beauty of God’s providence is that He is accomplishing thousands of things in our lives all at once, even if we are only aware of one or two of them at a time.

It is uncommon for pastors to stay in the same location for more than twenty years. And yet you have labored at Northside nearly thirty now. You have persevered through trial and challenge. You’ve shown what it means to open the Word to the world, and under your leadership, the church has stayed unified. You’ve preached many a wedding, many a funeral—always with the right word at the right time to focus our ultimate hope on Jesus.

I pray that, like you, I will always devote my words to the glories of King Jesus. As long as I have breath, I hope to preach the way you have, with exposition that overflows into exultation and leads to exhortation. The older I get, the more grateful I am for your testimony and ministry.

“Don’t waste your life,” you once preached from 1 Corinthians 15, because the resurrection ensures that our labor is not in vain. “Always excelling in the Lord’s work” is a fitting phrase to describe your decades of ministry, and I trust that in the coming years, you will continue to strengthen God’s work in various ways, until the scarred and speared Lord of resurrection glory greets you to say “Well done.”

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