Pastor Joe Stephens was known for preaching Jesus, telling corny jokes and a big, beaming smile. He was one of my predecessors at SCPC and by far the pastor who made this church what it is today. Today, it is my honor to lead the congregation and our community in celebrating Joe’s life and ministry.
Joe never used Powerpoint. He wouldn’t know if something was “emergent” or “post-modern” or “soul-full”. He wouldn’t understand the difference between being a “Christian” and a “Christ-follower”. But this is what he understood: Pastors are “ministers of Jesus Christ”. Ministers are “servants”. And that is what Joe did. He served Christ, he served his congregation and later in life, he certainly served me. In a day and age when pastors often struggle with a calling that demands that we be "cross cultural communicators", "missional leaders" and "cultural architects", Joe is a reminder that first and foremost, we serve.
On his last day, Joe was surrounded by his wife, three sons and daughters-in-law and seven grandchildren. His wife squeezed his hand and said, “He lived with no regrets.” I prayed for him and he lifted his arms, and said "Amen." We all agreed that he, of all people we knew, would certainly hear his Master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Later that night he passed while listening to the final verse of How Great Thou Art. His death was the one that we all pray for.
Joe will remain, for me, a flawless model of how a retired pastor can be a blessing to the current ministry. He was supportive, caring, honest, and enthusiastic. He prayed for the staff, took on duties and offered wisdom and perspective when asked and never, ever, ever, uttered a critical word that I ever heard. He was simply a faithful, humble servant.
Joe once said that the moment in his ministry for which he was most proud was the day he preached for the President of the United States. Mine, is the day that we named the “Stephens Chapel” for him and his wife, Doris. Long after I am forgotten as just another in a long line of pastors at San Clemente Presbyterian Church, people will still be gathering in "Stephens Chapel". May the pastor who presides have a big beaming smile, tell a few corny jokes, offer a message about Jesus...and always have a servant's heart.