Evangelical minister Leith Anderson announced on Wednesday that he will retire from the pulpit of Wooddale Church, which GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty attends.
After nearly 35 years, Anderson – who also heads the National Association of Evangelicals – feels it is the right time to step aside and pass the baton to a younger generation.
"My decision to retire at this time is the culmination of lots of prayers, thinking and planning," the 66-year-old said in his note to the church. "Wooddale Church is thriving. God is blessing. These are good days. I prefer to conclude my pastorate when all is well and turn leadership over to a new generation."
While he will no longer play the active role of senior pastor at the Eden Prairie, Minn., church which draws some 5,000 people, Anderson will continue to serve as president of the NAE and in President Obama's faith advisory council.
Anderson, who tends to stay out of the limelight, has recently drawn media attention since Pawlenty announced his run for president of the United States in May.
Though raised a Catholic, Pawlenty began attending Wooddale to "reconcile" his faith life with his wife's, as he told CBN News. His wife, Mary, was a member of Wooddale. Today, the former Minnesota governor credits his wife for leading him to the Lord and transforming his faith life.
While Anderson is already being dubbed as "Pawlenty's pastor," the evangelical pastor has made it clear that he does not plan to get involved in any campaign.
"I don't want to be a hindrance to him (Pawlenty) or anybody else," Anderson told the local Star Tribune. "I certainly have friendly and pastoral relations with the Pawlentys, but I'm also an adviser to President Obama."
"I don't have any role in the Pawlenty campaign, and I don't foresee having any role in the campaign," he added.
Though Anderson may not play a role in the campaign, his organization – the NAE – has already shown strong support for Pawlenty. A recent NAE poll, released this month, found that 45 percent of evangelical leaders prefer Pawlenty as their top choice for the 2012 GOP nomination.
Their second choice trailed far behind – Mitt Romney received 14 percent of the leaders' votes.
Anderson's last day at Wooddale will be on December 31. The church will appoint a senior pastor search team next year. Anderson will still play a pastoral role at the megachurch as Pastor Emeritus and Minister-at-Large.
"So many emotions. So much to say. For now, let it be the two words that have so often been in my head and on my lips when thinking, praying and speaking to all Wooddalers over three and a half decades: Thank you!" he said in his note to the congregation.
Wooddale Church is an evangelical interdenominational church with a constituency from a broad range of denominational and local church backgrounds. It is associated with several ministry organizations, including the Baptist General Conference, Bethel University, the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, the National Association of Evangelicals and the Greater Minnesota Association of Evangelicals.