This past Sunday, I officially stepped down as the pastor of Community Fellowship Church of West Chicago. It was in the context of an inspiring outdoor service where hundreds of us worshiped the Triune God led by an inspired worship team of musicians, singers, and techno-ministers. I brought a brief (by my standards) message, passed the baton of spiritual leadership and responsibility to our new pastor Will Pavone. We then celebrated the Lord’s Supper, sang “Christ Alone,” and then spent the rest of the afternoon partying.
Our Deacons had created a country-fair venue with separate kiosks for Muilli chicken, brats, roasted corn, snow cones, freshly made lemonade- to name just a few. Then there were games for the kids, pony rides, bingo for the prime-timers (just kidding), and even a watermelon-eating contest where the old pastor ate up the competition (the new pastor), and was immediately accused of cheating,
During the festivities, a ton of people gave Gloria and me lots of hugs and affirmations for our 9 years of ministry at CF, and wishing me the best in my new responsibility as the interim chaplain at Wheaton College. They also embraced and welcomed Will and Carrie Pavone, Liam, Olivia, and Quinn (8, 7, 5- I think). There were many new families present as well who were encouraged by the transition and excited about this new chapter (chapter 3) in the life and ministry of this wonderful congregation.
My farewell message was based upon Jonathan Edwards’ Farewell Sermon preached in 1750 to his Northampton congregation of 23 years after they had fired him. While the circumstances of my leaving are vastly different (thankfully), some of Edwards’ comments were pertinent. He acknowledged that ministers and the people under their care must often be parted in this world; sometimes by death, but more often by life. “We live in a world of change where nothing is certain or stable and where a little time, a few revolutions of the sun, brings to pass strange things…” Amen.
Edwards also told the congregation that he had labored fully for their eternal welfare. “You are my witnesses, that what strength I have had, I have not neglected in idleness, nor laid out in prosecuting worldly schemes for the advancement of my outward estate, and aggrandizing myself and my family; but have given myself to the work of the ministry laboring in it night and day, rising early, and applying myself to this great business to which Christ has appointed me.” You are also my witnesses.
After addressing the different segments of the congregation and challenging each one (believers, unbelievers, those “under some awakenings,” and the youth), he gave a general warning against two things: falling into doctrinal error, and having a contentious spirit. I think the latter is particularly important in most churches, even those with a solid preaching ministry. I mentioned the fact that “in any church there will be scabs to pick at and pimples to pop. We should do so with great care and gentleness lest they become infected and poison the system.”
Finally Edwards gave two characteristics of what to look for in a new minister: a man who knows God’s Word and can teach the sound principles of doctrine; a man who has an established character and a true “experimental” religion—an authentic, practical faith. Thus a church should find a man who not only preaches the Word, but lives it out. And I believe that Community Fellowship Church has found such a man in Will Pavone.
It was a wonderful day that will be woven into the fabric of our lives along with the memories of the other congregations we have served. Thanks be to God.
And now a final word to Community Fellowship, quoting what Billy Graham always used to say just before he signed off from his weekly radio program: “…and may the Lord bless you real good.”