This coming Sunday represents my last day as pastor at Woodstock Road Baptist Church. For those who have missed the news, from August I’ll be taking over the leadership of the South Central Ministry Training Course alongside my work with Living Out. I’ve been asked a few times how I am feeling. My honest answer is that life has been so hectic that I’ve struggled to find the time to process the change. But, as I am in my final week, my mind is turning to the theme of gratitude. And I thought I would write this up, being aware that I may struggle to get the words out on Sunday!
It is not that I am thinking about gratitude because I am pleased to be leaving! Actually, the reverse is true. I’m relieved that I’ll be staying within the church for the next year, serving in a slightly different way and enjoying church family whilst hopefully being a bit more relaxed on a Sunday! I’m very glad that I’m not in a mad round of farewells at the moment.
I am very thankful for the church. Both sermons that I preached last Sunday began to have an end of era feel to them. But I particularly appreciated the chance to look at Psalm 133 in our afternoon service. “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” Now I made the point that the church is far from perfect- there is stuff we get wrong. And yet to use the Psalm to speak of the church didn’t feel like too much of a stretch. We enjoy being together, even as we are talking about the most serious issues in the universe. We can laugh together. It is good and pleasant. Tragically, some periods of pastoral ministry end sadly with relationships having broken down. I’m very grateful that isn’t the case here.
I am grateful for what the Lord has done over the last 19 years. There have been major projects such as new buildings and church plants. Wonderfully there have been new Christians, baptisms, those who grew as Christians during their time at the church and those who have been encouraged to persevere through tough times. As well as the faces in front of me on Sunday there will be in my mind a vast number who have been through Woody Road and are now serving the Lord elsewhere. All of that really is the Lord’s doing. As I look back over the years I can see a huge number of sermons that felt decidedly cobbled together at the last minute, pastoral meetings where I had no idea what I was doing or should be saying, attempts to do children’s work that were entertaining for all the wrong reasons and points that I made at elders’ meetings only to end up disagreeing with myself several months later. I recall a period of about a week when I felt on top of the job, only to be brought down with a significant bump soon after! Now I mention that partly to express gratitude for the church’s patience but also because there are reasons why 2 Corinthians 4:7 remains one of my favourite verses. The Lord does put treasure in jars of clay to show that the power is from him and not from us. Good things have happened amongst us- and that is all the Lord’s power in weakness for which I am really thankful.
And I am grateful that the Lord makes us a body- all with different gifts. Serving alongside David as co-pastor has been a real example of that. We are very different in terms of abilities and yet I am convinced that has been good for the church. Sharon and Jenny are an enormous blessing to us- both for what they do in the community and keeping us organised but also for the kind and godly way in which they do it. And I could go on to mention those quietly supporting others, those ensuring we have lunch together on a Sunday, those ministering to children and young people, those who know what happens at the tech desk (I’ve never worked it out), those serving as deacons or homegroup leaders and on it goes. There is a huge amount of sacrificial service around. I have always been aware that the preaching (the bit I could contribute on a good day!) was vital, but only one part of what makes the church a family. I am grateful to have been- and continue to be- part of a body.
And so to the future. I am deeply grateful for Ben’s presence with us- and look back with huge thanksgiving on God’s sovereignty over the process of Zoom interviews that led us to invite him to join the pastoral team last year. And I am thankful for the promises of God who has said that He will always be with us even as we seek to add to the pastoral team in the year ahead.
Don’t get me wrong- I am sad to be standing down as pastor even as I believe it is the Lord’s path both for the chruch and me. I suspect I will feel (and probably express!) some of that on Sunday. But I’m reminded of something Ismay (now with the Lord) said to me every time I visited her: “I’ve much to be thankful for.” Indeed. I’m grateful- both to the church and to the Lord.