An open letter to Rev. James A. Cohn
On March 27, I made a conscious decision to not speak personally at your retirement reception. I knew that we were limited on time as folks floated in and out, and I knew that I might tend to ramble. Instead, I want to speak personally, and on behalf of First Baptist Church, as I thank you now.
First and foremost, thank you for your faithfulness to the bible. You believe that it is the Word of God, and you treat it as such. You preach and teach God's people what the truths of scripture are, and how to discover them. You have helped us to mine the depths of God's Word, understand it, and apply it to life. You treat the book less like a diving board on Sunday mornings and more like the swimming pool. We as a church hold scripture highly because of your leadership. We strive to apply biblical principles [individually and corporately] because you have led from the front in walking the talk.
Second, thank you for your personal holiness. Yes, you are an unholy sinner in need of God's grace, but you actively strive toward biblical holiness personally. You are a man of honest integrity. Your character is as Paul instructs Timothy to be: above reproach. You lead with transparency. Even in difficult decision making, you pass over convenience, opting for what is right. You are quick to forgive, seek forgiveness from God and other people, take responsibility, and give praise and credit to others.
Third, thank you for loving lost sinners. Your personal burden over the eternal condition of lost people, and for the needs of the "least of these" in Stokes County has spurred our church toward love and good works. You have kept our eyes on the physical and spiritual needs of our neighbors. In doing so, you have maintained appropriate focus upon the Great Commission, preventing our church from being too inward focused, ensuring that we keep the main thing (mission/evangelism/discipleship) , the main thing! You have challenged the status quo, questioned our motives, and refused to allow traditions to stifle fidelity to God's commands!
Fourth, thank you for shepherding the flock with great care. I have had the privilege of seeing behind the curtain as you sit at the bed side of a hospice patient, visit the hospital before dawn, love a grieving family, patiently serve those that are angry, counsel those who are hurting, officiate weddings, and dedicate children. You have comforted those who mourn, and celebrated with those who rejoice. You have done these things personally, but you have also wisely leveraged your leadership so that the entire flock isn't dependent upon one man. You have equipped me and many others to do these things, so that long after you are gone, our flock is better capable of ministering to one another. If this soul care rises and falls upon the ability of one man, then a pastor would not have been very effective.
Fifth, thank you for being loving, and joyful, and an agent of peace, and patient, and kind, and good, and faithful, and gentle, and self-controlled. You have treated all of us, particularly me, in this way. You have allowed the Holy Spirit to produce great fruit in your life. We have seen it, and have a slightly clearer picture of how Jesus Himself treated others.
Sixth, on a more personal note, thank you for leading by example. Thank you for sharing paramedic and soldier stories. Thank you for opening your heart as a widower, bachelor, someone trying to put two families together, someone that has lost parents and a child. Thank you for letting me pick your brain and understand how you maintain perspective. Thank you for sharing profound wisdom, letting me be over your shoulder as you make complex decisions, and challenging me to pan out and see the lay of the land from 50,000 feet. You have been a pastor, a colleague, a brother, a partner, a boss, a mentor, and a friend to me. I have tried to keep my pencil sharpened, because I have learned as much from watching you work as I have from listening to you give instruction.
Seventh, thank you for maintaining balance in your life. Thank you for knowing that a relationship with the Christ and His Bride are not one and the same. In a world where pastors' children have been sacrificed on the altar of church work, thank you for walking with God first. Thank you for being a godly husband and father second, and for being a faithful pastor third. Thank you for helping our church set a realistic expectation of what a pastor should be, guarding your home and calendar, avoiding burn-out, therefore cultivating longevity! I have seen many a pastor stumble, even falling out of the race. I have seen others coast across the finish line lazily, just maintaining until they can retire. Few and far between are those that have worked hard to fulfill their calling through the last week. Fewer and farther between are those that view retirement as simply an employment status, knowing that no saint can ever retire from their work as a disciple! Though you cannot say it yet, I know that one day, you will be able to say as Paul said to Timothy "I have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith!"
I know that I speak for the whole of First Baptist Church when I reflect upon Matthew 25:21, and know that our Master will invite you to share in His joy when He declares accurately "well done, good and faithful servant!"
Thank you again Pastor Jim, and love in Christ,
Rev. Andrew J. Reynolds