This last Sunday I was able to worship at Irvine Presbyterian Church. As most of you know, I was the Senior Pastor there for sixteen years, from June 1991 through September 2007. This was only the third time I worshiped at Irvine Pres since I left there over a year ago.
It was great to be back with the Irvine congregation, even though it felt strange in many ways. The worship service was wonderful: Christmas-themed, with beautiful Christmas music and a solid, biblically-based message by one of the the church’s associate pastors, Tim Avazian. I love worshiping in the Irvine sanctuary, a building that inspires reverence and exudes warmth.
As I watched the worship service flowing smoothly, with God’s glory at the center of congregational attention, and as I listened to the Word of God being preached truthfully, I was struck by how well Irvine Presbyterian Church is doing without me. Honestly, this thought brought joy to my heart. There’s nothing I want more for my former congregation than for them to be more and more the church God has designed them to be. This is happening right now, even as I sit on the sidelines and cheer. Though the church hasn’t found a new Senior Pastor yet, it is being ably shepherded by the staff, including the Interim Pastor Rick Hull. They’re in the middle of a two-year process of calling a new pastor, which has included the writing of an incisive mission study (PDF of mission study).
As I reflected on the fact that Irvine Presbyterian Church is doing so well without me, and has a promising future ahead, I wondered what I did there that will stand the test of time? I served as the church’s pastor for about 6,000 days. What did I accomplish during that time? One day, when nobody at Irvine Presbyterian Church even remembers me, will my impact be more than a dusty portrait hanging on the wall of the administration building? What did I do that really mattered?
A small part of the answer to this question was before my eyes in the Irvine Pres sanctuary. I served on the building committee that oversaw the design and building of the sanctuary. This was a team effort, through and through. But there are a few features of the sanctuary that reflect my direct and impassioned advocacy. Some of those I could see last Sunday. Others were not quite as obvious. For example, I insisted that it wasn’t enough to put a baby changing station only in the women’s restroom. It took some effort, but finally the committee agreed, though some members were doubtful that this was a reasonable expense.
My contributions to the buildings at Irvine Pres did matter, and still do, though they’re certainly not what mattered most. This is not something that can be easily measured. It has to do with changed lives, both inside and outside of the church. It’s about shaping and encouraging the growth of the congregation. It’s about leading the church to care for the world across the street as well as on the other side of the world.
I’m not going to spend much time blogging on the question “What Did I Do That Really Mattered?” I am going to think about it some more, however. As we come to the end of 2008, this is a good time for all of us to consider what we have done in the last year that really mattered. Such reflections may lead us to gratitude, when we realize that God has been at work in and through us. But our examination of our life and its significance should also help us to reconsider and refocus. Most of us, myself included, spend a whole lot of time and energy on that which, in the end, really doesn’t matter. Now is a good time to redirect our efforts.
I close with a classic statement by the famed 19th century cricket player and missionary, C. T. Studd: “Only one life,’ twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.” Now there’s something to think about.