I 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.