“Pay to all what is owed to them…respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” (Romans 13:7)
This coming Sunday marks Ray Ortlund’s last Sunday as senior pastor of Immanuel Nashville, a church he planted in 2008, at the age of 58, after a particularly difficult period in his life.
I’ve only visited that church once, and was struck by its unique culture. Ray talks about building a church with both gospel doctrine and gospel culture, and I got a whiff of that at Immanuel.
But I’ve also watched Ray’s ministry from a distance, following his posts, listening to his sermons, and even reading his tweets. (His Twitter account is one of the most encouraging ones that I follow).
Here’s some of what I’ve learned from Ray and his ministry.
Love the Church
“Jani and I are really looking forward to Friday night,” Ray said last Sunday, referring to a celebration of their ministry hosted by Immanuel. “We’re looking forward to it because it’s going to give us a chance to thank you. Maybe you think we have been a blessing to you. Well, we hope we have. The truth is: you have been an immeasurably greater blessing to us.”
Listen to many of his sermons and you get the idea that Ray considers pastoring that church, that particular group of people, as one of the greatest blessings of his life. He preaches as one who loves the people he gets to serve. I sometimes get the sense that he’s thinking, “I can’t believe I get to pastor these people!” He loves his people, and it shows.
Dig Deep Into the Word
Ray has three graduate degrees including a Ph.D. He served as professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He served as a scholar for the English Standard Version and New Living Translation. He’s written commentaries on the Bible. He’s disciplined himself as a student of God’s Word, and it shows.
I appreciate how Ray handles the Word in his sermons, not just as a Bible scholar, but as one who is handling the Word of life. A friend of mine says that he learns a lot just from hearing Ray read the text before he preaches it.
“I’ve never seen a pastor who knows the Bible too well,” he writes. “We pastors can know it wrongly, twisting it into arguments for our brand of rightness. But we cannot know it too well. And the better we really do know it, the more humble we become.”
Another time he said, “I have never met anyone who knew the Bible too well. It deserves a lifetime of daily attention. Few things deserve that.” Ray is an example of a pastor who loves God’s Word.
Pass the Baton
In the early days of Immanuel, Ray made it clear that by the time he reached 70 years of age he would help Immanuel transition to a younger pastor.
Ray turns 70 on September 7, and concludes his ministry at Immanuel a day later. “ I am breaking my promise by one day, I suppose,” he says. Immanuel has already installed its new lead pastor from within: TJ Tims.
I’ve seen evidence that Ray builds into the lives of younger men. “You are entering generation two of the ten generations of blessing for this city that we’ve been praying for all these years,” he said last week. He’s passed the baton to the next generation, and is already praying for many more.
Scott Sauls, pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, tweets, “Reflecting a lot on the fact that I am on the ‘front end’ of ‘back half’ of my ministry years. My prayer this morning: “Father, let me finish the race like @rayortlund is finishing the race.’ Even though Ray will probably outlast me, he models what it means to finish well.”
I’m starting to realize how few of us finish well. If you listen to Ray’s sermon last week, you realize he’s not coasting to the end. He’s faithful and passionate and serious about what God wants to do through his Word.
Thank you, Ray. You’ve served well, and many of us are grateful. May God continue to bless you and use you, and may he give us all grace to serve and finish well.