Saying a reluctant goodbyePublished 12:12am Sunday, November 3, 2013
By Dennis Edwards
How does a pastor say goodbye after 26 years — after countless worship services, marriages, funerals, births and sermons? How does he or she answer a call to another field of ministry?
The Rev. Dr. Mark Croston Sr. is doing just that at East End Baptist Church. Last Sunday was his farewell sermon. He’s leaving one of Suffolk’s most historic and highly regarded pulpits to become the national director of black church partnerships with Lifeway Christian Resources, the Southern Baptist publishing arm in Nashville.
It is a major opportunity. Yet in the precincts of the most high God, even promotions require a soul-deep struggle. As I read his written resignation, I saw him wrestling with a private decision while being publicly obedient to the Lord’s work, and the answers to my questions took shape.
Life is at its best in struggle — the struggle to be born, to live and to die in right relationship with the crucified and risen Lord. We come to know God best in those struggles.
So what do you say when the Lord calls you away when you’re on the brink of a $5-million building program? What do you say when, as Mark readily admits, “I really don’t want to leave.”
You say “yes” and you get to that point “by any means necessary” — through prayer, argument, refusal, resignation and ultimately acceptance. As long as the wrestling takes place in the presence of the Lord, things are as they should be.
Will everyone understand? No. Is everyone supposed to understand? No. Since “obedience is better than sacrifice,” the most we can do is to celebrate what the Lord has allowed pastor and people to do together.
Caught up in the struggle, East End finds a way to rejoice in worship, to be thankful for what the Lord has done through his departing servant.
On Sunday they stood together in the presence of the Savior who is challenging them in an ongoing process of change. Accepting sprits rocked in gratitude. From pillar to post, smiling faces showed joy in sometimes-strained smiles, while embracing a determination to lean on the Lord.
Maybe this is the best way “to say goodbye to yesterday.” Or maybe, as Dr. Croston indicated, it’s a blueprint for saying “hasta luego,” until we meet again.
East End’s 11th pastor did what good church leaders do. He urged his congregation not to forget who they are and to whom they belong, to aim high in pursuit of holiness and deeper relationships and to step up their game in claiming lost souls for Christ.
He also had a gentle and playful admonishment for them: “Now don’t act a fool in my absence”.
It was hard for him to say goodbye. But I must admit I’ve never heard Mark sing that well before. I’ve also never seen or felt a congregation so thoroughly demonstrate the kind of love that won’t end with “goodbye.”
Dennis Edwards is an Emmy Award-winning television news reporter and anchor, He is a 1974 graduate of Suffolk High School. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.