Leavings, endings, and letting go

Posted Dec 02, 2013 | Academy of Preaching and Celebration

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By Frank A. Thomas


Frank A. ThomasI write this on the Saturday evening before I will deliver “Leavings, Endings, and Letting Go,” my final sermon at the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church. After tomorrow, for the first time in thirty-one years, I will no longer have a dedicated Sunday morning post to preach as pastor and leader of a congregation. It feels strange to visualize that I will move into the realm of the guest preacher after facing the wonderful challenge of constructing the weekly sermon for so many years. Not that there is anything wrong with the guest preacher role, but I feel a strong sense of loss at the closure of the weekly preaching responsibility of the pastoral role. What will happen to my weekly discipline of sermon preparation? What will happen to my homiletical mind that is always looking for preaching material because of the imperative to always have a fresh word for Sunday? What if I do not have sufficient engagements to preach regularly and often? What if I lose my ability to continuously improve as a preacher for lack of opportunities?

These are all thoughts that race across my mind as I realize what a privilege I have been allowed these past thirty-one years to have a pulpit to preach from every Sunday. It dawns on me that I am grieving the loss of preaching in the pastoral role.

I know that there will be tears tomorrow. I know that the separation will be painful and the church and I will together cry a river of tears. But I decide to focus on the fact that there is excitement in having the opportunity to fully release my passion inside out. When passion meets opportunity from the inside out, it fosters a contagion of positive energy and joy in one’s life. While I will not have a congregation every Sunday to preach to, I will have a tremendous opportunity to fulfill my passion, generate positive energy from the inside out, and continue to improve my preaching.

For example, I am going to read and re-read all of the best preaching books in the field of homiletics. I have been so busy practicing preaching that I have fallen behind on some of the best reading about preaching. Then, I am going to construct an audio and video library of preaching that will be a resource in my further research, writing, and practice of preaching. Next, I am going to get some rest. I have done a tremendous amount of preaching in these last thirty-one years. In some respects, I have not taken the time to renew, refresh, and restore my energy. One of the chief difficulties of being a pastor/preacher is that one is so busy feeding other people the Word of God that one often neglects the word of God for oneself. Far too many preachers only read the Bible to find sermons. I will have the opportunity to find a deeper devotional and prayer life for my own soul without the needs of a congregation uppermost in my mind. I wonder if preachers ought to sometimes take a sabbatical from preaching for the benefit of their own souls. After getting some rest, I have at least three or four more books to write. Lastly, I will get the preaching opportunities that God sends my way, and it will be enough. God will provide the opportunities. I will have the opportunity to live my passion from the inside out. I would also like to coach pastors and churches to help them meet their ministry needs.

I am excited about my life’s work now. I am excited about my new future. I will teach preaching and share the insights and learning from more than thirty-one years of preaching every Sunday, and I will coach. I will miss preaching to a local congregation each Sunday. I will miss the regular and ongoing relationship in people’s lives and seeing the Word of God transform and work wonders of growth. But I know that I have made the choice, and I have made the choice from the inside out. Tomorrow, when I preach my final sermon and say goodbye, I anticipate that I will be calmer than I could have ever expected. And I know that this is the time where passion meets opportunity in my life. I am so very grateful and thankful. Thank you, Christian Theological Seminary. Thank you to the New Faith Baptist Church International of Matteson, Illinois, and thank you to the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church of Memphis, Tennessee.

This post is an excerpt from Frank’s new book, The Choice: Living Your Passion Inside Out (Indianapolis: Hope For Life International Press, 2013), pp. 163-166.

Frank A. Thomas is the director of the Academy of Preaching and Celebration and the Nettie Sweeney and Hugh Th. Miller Professor of Homiletics at Christian Theological Seminary.

The Academy of Preaching and Celebration at CTS seeks to generate excellence in preaching and worship. To request permission to repost this content, please contact awalker@cts.edu.

6 Comments

  1. 1 Troy Underwood 03 Dec
    As a minister at Covenant who has heard you preach, read some of your works, and hopes to move into a role of pastor, I was struck by your statement: "Far too many preachers only read the Bible to find sermons." I feel this tug in my own devotional life. I want to read for the sake of reading but feel the tug to find sermons, enhance teaching Bible study, guide ministries I serve, and assist with telling a story through music ministry. Thank you for being transparent. It is good to hear words that distract the voices that have us asking "are we good enough, smart enough, will they like me?" And, I might add: Am I doing the right thing? Blessings to you as you serve in new ways.
  2. 2 Ben Allen 03 Dec
    Because we live in time everything that we start has an respiration date -- it's just that simple! However, having said that Pastor Thomas is a very competent leader and I have enjoyed his leadership and development in my life. I can truly say that I am a much better person for having met Dr. Frank Thomas. God bless you Pastor Frank Thomas!
  3. 3 Yvonne Simmons 04 Dec
    These parting thoughts are reminiscent of the letter you wrote to the congregation at New Faith. An awesome farewell. I wasn't at the church when you left, but I had an opportunity to see and read that farewell. This might sound a little simplistic, but aren't pastors to be growing spiritually? You tell your congregation, every week, through the message, about the steps that will grow them spiritually. Well, the way I see it, He doesn't stop growing you either. I love the journey I'm on, all of it, the good, the bad and the ugly. If I had never felt loved and protected, well I can truly say, in my wildest dreams, I could never imagined love like this. So, I'm saying to you, what I say to those I see how God is working in their lives, "Keep on keeping on!" As my pastor says, "Obey God and leave all the conseqences to Him." If you are staying prayerful, and I know you are, He is going to keep you, keeping on. Sometimes we grieve even when we are leaving "our comfort zone ", for the moment, to the ordering of His steps for His plan for our lives. I am so proud of you, Dr. Frank Thomas, Pastor. You and New Faith were the catalyst of my journey and I am so appreciating and thanking God for that welcoming. Much love and continued blessings! Yvonne Simmons
  4. 4 Joanne E. Thomas 04 Dec
    There is nothing in me that believes that God will leave you wonting.  The challenge is embracing this new journey.  There are ssooo many things that hold your interests...including the ones mentioned in this piece.  You taught us that where God sends us, He doesn't send us empty handed but equipped to do the job. Your job seems to have played in your words however, those were partly your words.  God isn't holding on to the plan for this rung and season in your life...and we both know this.  I will pray with you and continual to love you as the Spiritual earthly father that brought me to Christ, showed me that the vertical relationship shapes my horizontal ones and most importantly to know God for myself.  I still stand on that.  From the cottage groups from NFBC..see where God is working and meet Him there.
  5. 5 Gordon Marshall 23 Dec
    Pastor Frank;
    Thank you for showing us that God always has a next for his faithful preachers.
    I enjoyed your class  during the 2013 Hampton Ministers conference.It was just what I needed to begin thinking about God's next for my ministry.

  6. 6 Rachel 30 Dec
    The manner in which you decided to move forward has blessed me in so many ways... Very soon after you left, my sister moved to Miami and I was able to deal with such a drastic choice because of the process that I lived through as you continued to support your own choices. Recently, I left a school where I have been teaching for the past 6 years. I  myself saying some of the same kinds of things to my students to help them cope with decision. In fact, I quoted you in saying "I'm taking another job... I'm moving on, not dying!".... Though we all laughed when you said that, it was a perfect statement of truth that encouraged us to bless you in your movement forward and to be encouraged to Do the same. Life requires work ( as you often say) and some of that work requires closing doors. Bless you and I love you and the example that you are! 

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