Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

June 18, 2017


Grown men crying – and not ashamed of it


       My oldest son, who will turn 60 in a few months, told me he had been crying a lot lately. I told him that I remember shedding a lot of tears myself, for the same reason, on several occasions.

       Like me, Matt is a pastor and most pastors move now and then to another church. Leaving people you have loved and served for several years can be deeply emotional. Early in my ministry, on my last Sunday in one church we sang the tender hymn, “Till We Meet Again.” I was so choked up I could not sing – and I have never wanted to sing that song again.

       Matt is ending a chapter in his life that included six and a half years in Enterprise where he served as pastor of Heritage United Methodist Church. While a pastor is employed and paid by a church, he or she is engaged in much more than a business relationship. God’s servants are bond by strong cords of love and it hurts when those bonds are broken. 

       The Bible tells the story of a man named Paul who wept on one occasion when departing from a church he had served. Paul was no Stoic. He did not hide his feelings. No one ever had to guess what Paul thought; he put everything on the table.

       When Paul realized he might never again see his friends, the elders of the Church at Ephesus, he did not leave quietly like the Lone Ranger. He asked his friends to gather with him on the beach for one last, sad farewell.

       When they gathered, they all wept openly. It is one of the most tender scenes in the New Testament. No wonder they wept; Paul had been their spiritual guide, having fathered them in the faith. And, in tears himself, Paul tells them they will never see him again.

       With no shame at all, they embraced Paul, kissing him repeatedly. Tears flowed from every eye as they watched Paul walk out of their lives. They knew that what awaited Paul was persecution and imprisonment – all because he had laid his life on the line for his Lord Jesus.

       On that beach Paul did what every pastor worth his salt will do. He admonished the elders to keep the faith, remain faithful to God and “shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.” Paul did not ask the elders to remember him but to remember their sacred mission – to care for the flock of God. He put the focus not on himself but on the mission God had given them – to make Jesus known and loved.

       Paul’s example for pastors departing a church is enhanced by what he said to his Corinthian friends. Wise pastors will find a way to say, with gratitude and humility, words similar to what Paul said: “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.”

       In July our son will wipe away his tears and begin a new chapter of his life in Wetumpka where he will be pastor of First United Methodist Church. There the ties that bind God’s people in Christian love will grow strong as Matt and his wife Tammy serve Christ alongside God’s people. The love of Christ will knit them together – and together they will love lonely, hurting people into the Kingdom. The church grows when the people love one another.

       Mom and I are shedding a few tears ourselves, for Matt’s new church is our home church, the church which nurtured me in the faith, the church which we dearly love. We are praying and believing that the best days of this historic church could well be the days just ahead.   + + +