Director, Commonwealth Policy Center

It’s hard to say goodbye to somebody you love. Such was the case with the Apostle Paul in the last chapter of Romans as he says farewell to beloved brothers and sisters in the faith. Pastor Hershael York preached from Romans 16 last Sunday, and it corresponded with his farewell to the Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, where he’s pastored for 20 years. I’m a member of Buck Run and sat under York’s teaching for the last three years.

His last three messages to the adult discipleship class were on the Three Great Loves: Love for God, Love for Neighbor, and Love for Holiness. Such love begins with revering God’s Word and being faithful to it. We’ve learned that theology always must be lived out in community, and that, as we grow in sanctification, Christ’s love becomes evident in our lives. York wants Buck Run Baptist Church to be known as a congregation where God’s love is evident. One of his greatest joys is when he hears stories of Buck Run members who’ve demonstrated God’s love in the community. What a great reward for a pastor who’s dedicated his life to shepherding God’s people for most of his life.

When York announced his plan to retire in 2021 and the transition team presented the plan to the congregation, Chris Parrish was voted to be York’s successor. I thought the meeting might go terribly wrong—not because Chris wasn’t a great candidate and natural successor but because the floor was open for comments from everyone. But there wasn’t a single objection from the close to 500 members who were in attendance that Sunday. Parrish was confirmed as the next pastor with a near unanimous vote. This smooth transition without dissension is only possible when a congregation has been pastored well.

On Sunday, Pastor York reminded us to stay grounded in sound doctrine, watch out for dividers, stay on mission, and to resist the temptation to seek cultural approval. York observed that a popular church motto today is “The Church for Everybody”. The implied message of this phrase elevates cultural acceptance and personal comfort at the expense of sound doctrine and spiritual formation. York explained that Buck Run isn’t the place for everybody. It’s not for “unrepentant people, dividers,… and the self-righteous. Buck Run is for people who are desperately seeking to repent of those things, but not for people who persist in them”.

It’s fitting that the Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary would gird up his congregation against doctrinal compromise. York’s goal is that Buck Run would endure as a Christ-honoring congregation long after he leaves. And he’s made it abundantly clear that Buck Run Baptist Church is not his church. It isn’t his personal platform and it doesn’t revolve around his personal whims. York’s ministry is not about himself, but it rather about Jesus Christ. He said that after he leaves if nobody mentions his name “ever again as long as the name of Jesus is exalted, he will be happy.”

York’s admonition was “Don’t make your life about anything other than pleasing the one who won’t forget you.” This was a challenge to all of us. Our lives are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:20). Therefore, only Jesus deserves ultimate honor and glory.

I’ve known Hershael York for several years and have had the privilege of working with him on occasion. I appreciate his sharp mind, his boldness, and handling of Scripture—all tempered by humility. I appreciate his transparency and love it when he tells on himself from the pulpit, especially when he shares some of his mistakes as a husband. His care and love for his wife Tanya is evident and his example challenges me to treat my wife and those around me better.

York served his last communion on Sunday. It was a solemn time as he distributed the bread and wine to the 20 plus deacons standing in front of the church. He had a word with each of them as the congregation patiently looked on. There were moist eyes and sniffles. It was an emotional time as he looked in the deacons’ eyes and shared a brief word with each.

There was deep-felt kinship. Communion is a reminder of Who brings us together into this new family and the terrible sacrifice it took to do so. It is a reminder that it’s Christ’s great love that binds us together. And this is a threat, first to our own selfishness. When we humble ourselves before Jesus, we are transformed. Second, when the gospel of his grace grips us, we grow in sanctification and become both instruments of God’s glory and real threats to the realm of darkness.

This is especially powerful to me in the public policy arena, where I’ve worked for Christian values for nearly 30 years. Sometimes I get frustrated by cultural trends and downright immoral absurdity. But I was reminded in a powerful way that the biggest threat to Satan and his kingdom of darkness isn’t an election or a political maneuver. It’s Christ’s love that circulates within a church body. Love for God, love for neighbor, and love for holiness are lived out in community.

Hershael, thank you for serving so well over the years and for modeling God’s truth and love to us. Thank you for being faithful to teach the Word and its practical application in our lives. We trust that, while your tenure at Buck Run is ending this Sunday, it’s not the end of God using you to speak and teach across the globe. We will miss you. God bless you my friend.