On Sunday evening, May 26, 2018, I announced to our church that I had finished my fortieth year of ministry. All those years of ministry have been here at Cleveland Baptist Church. That night I also shared with the congregation something that I had spoken to our deacons about a couple of months prior. I wanted our church to know that my forty-first year will be my final year as the Senior Pastor of Cleveland Baptist Church. Unless the Lord comes or some other major thing takes place, I am planning that June 2, 2019, will be my final Sunday as Pastor.
Someone may ask why I would make this decision since I am in my early 60s. I definitely could pastor this church for several more years given the overall state of my health. I want to be clear that I am not being pressured by our deacons. These men have been nothing but supportive of me and helpful to me through my years of pastoring. My wife isn’t pushing for my resignation. She has been a wonderful helpmeet, and I think a tremendous pastor’s wife. I am not running away because I have something to hide nor is there some problem that is looming. Our church is healthy, and the staff is strong.
Let me give you a few thoughts on why this is a perfect time:
1. The direction of the Lord.
The most important Person we need to please is the Lord. From the day I gave my life to Him and surrendered to preach, He has faithfully led me. I sense that He has clearly spoken and directed me in regard to my timeline. I wouldn’t want to stay a day beyond His clear direction.
2. The church isn’t mine!
Pastors are often identified with churches and vice versa. For almost twenty-three years, I have been identified as the Pastor of Cleveland Baptist Church. For forty years this church has been the place I have conducted my ministry! However, Cleveland Baptist isn’t my church—it belongs to the Lord. Truthfully, the easiest thing I could do is to stay and keep pastoring this church. After all, I have a steady paycheck, and this church loves me. Yet, if it is wrong to take a church because of money, then it is wrong to stay at a church because of money. To be honest, there is a part of stepping out of the security of pastoring that is frightening. However, I have always believed—where God leads, God supplies!
3. I have trained and prepared my successor.
God was gracious in giving me a younger man to train so that when I step away, this church is placed into capable hands that have been prepared for the task. Pastor Pete Folger, my son, was called by God and this church to this ministry. Back in 2000, as Pete was finishing college, there were other ministries that offered him opportunities, but he knew God wanted him home in Cleveland. At that point, there were no openings on the staff. He and Sandra were going to come home and work secular jobs and give their lives to this ministry. God opened a position back in January 2001, and I brought him on staff. It seemed obvious to me that God’s hand was on his life. I have never pushed Pete into this position. I could see what God was doing, but it was the men of the church that have taken the lead. When I announced my timeline to the deacons, they were the ones who took the lead in dealing with Pete and speaking to me about what they thought was God’s plan. In November of 2016, Cleveland Baptist called him by 97% to be Co-Pastor and then Pastor upon my resignation or death. Pastor Pete is a very gifted preacher, and he has grown tremendously in all areas of administration. Next June, Pastor Pete turns 40 which is a great time in a man’s life. Some of his most productive years are between 40 and 60.
4. There are things that I can do for the Lord after my resignation from the pastorate that I can’t do now.
I believe with my forty years of experience and the fact that God has given me a great church to lead, I can be a help to a lot of young men and churches across this country. I want to spend the last quarter of my life being a blessing to preachers and churches. While I can travel, preach and be a help to other churches now as I pastor, I can’t do it too much without it becoming a problem for this church.
5. I have a heart to help in the realm of getting the gospel to the world.
I realize the local church is the vehicle God has chosen to fulfil the Great Commission. It has always been and always will be. Pastoring a church gives you the opportunity to encourage people to be involved in missions through giving and going. I sense that God wants me to be more involved in a global endeavor in this last segment of my life. This element of future ministry is still developing, so I am not exactly sure how it will work, but it is a part of God’s plan for me.
6. I don’t want the church to die with me.
I have seen churches die. When a Pastor stays too long, the younger generation sees no future. It doesn’t matter how loved a preacher may be; he can end up killing the church that loves him. I don’t want to do that.
7. I am following the pattern established by my mentor and Pastor, Roy Thompson.
What I am doing and the timeline that I see unfolding is one that Pastor Thompson followed when he resigned and I became the pastor. I was thirty-seven, and he had just turned sixty-two. Pete will be forty, and I will be pushing sixty-two.
I think it is only fitting that you know what God is doing in my heart. I want to be used of the Lord till the day the Lord calls me home. I sense that God has done some things in my heart to prepare me for this change of ministry. Denise and I still plan to live in Cleveland and make CBC our home base. We love this church and want to help it and be associated with it.
Since I have announced my intention, every time I walk into the pulpit to preach or to conduct a service, I am reminded that I won’t be the pastor that much longer. I am cherishing these moments and asking God to make them the best times in my life and for this church. I want my final quarter of life to be rich, and I want to finish my race well. Please pray with me to that end!