This weekend at Stroudsburg Wesleyan Church (SWC), I announced that I would be leaving them to tackle a new mission for which they and God have prepared me. Telling a church family I love that God was calling me to another place of ministry was one of the most difficult things I have had to do in my entire life. I would rather box a Mike Tyson in his prime or walk on hot coals than do what I had to do this weekend at our services. The full text of my announcement to SWC is below. Or, if you would like to listen to the announcement (about 10 minutes), please click on the following link:
My New Mission:
We have been exploring the lordship of Jesus Christ today and I need to share with you where the lordship of Christ is leading me and my family. About a decade ago I said to Amy, “I would love to invest my life in encouraging and equipping pastors sometime down the road, when I’m old and grey and have something significant to offer.” Over the past few years God has given me multiple opportunities to teach or preach to pastors and I have thoroughly enjoyed those experiences.
Back in August, Wesley Seminary on the campus of Indiana Wesleyan University was established. This is the first seminary of the Wesleyan denomination. The seminary administration began the process of building their faculty for this exciting new endeavor. Because I wanted in on what God was going to do through this new mission of equipping pastors, I filled out an online application, hoping only that I might get an opportunity to be an adjunct professor and teach maybe a course or two each year. The dean emailed me a day later and asked if I would be willing to serve full-time. I was not ready for that question but, after some prayer, decided to explore this full-time possibility. I flew to Indiana for an interview in January and after they conducted a few other interviews, the seminary officially offered me the Christian Ministries faculty position in March. After much prayer, discussion, and the processing of many different emotions, Amy and I have accepted this opportunity to invest our lives in those who are investing their lives in local churches.
Let me explain why we accepted this new vocation. We have a million reasons to stay at Stroudsburg Wesleyan Church (SWC). Amy and I love you; we really do. I cannot imagine any pastor feeling a greater bond with his/her church than I feel with you. You are more than just a church or a job- you are family to us! I have so much fun serving God with you. I shouldn’t even get paid for this. After last weekend’s Easter services, I kept telling people I would do this for free (though I secretly hoped the board wouldn’t find out and cut my pay in half).
I love the team of lay leaders and pastors with whom I get to serve the purposes of Christ. They are some of the best people I have ever known. On days when I may have been tempted to believe that the God-sized dream for SWC was too big even for God, these lay leaders and pastors found ways to lift me up and remind me that with God all things are possible. I cannot imagine there being another church out there like SWC, a church where all kinds of people are treated as equally loved creations of God, a church that exists not to be a country club for saints but a hospital for sinners like me in need of some grace and hope, a church where our common human predicament and our common quest for Christ binds us together despite our diversity of skin tones, socio-economic levels, and ages. While I could list a million reasons to stay at this church that fits me so well, the most compelling reason for me to go, and it’s really the only reason I need, is because I believe that God is calling me to take the lessons you have taught me about the potential and purpose of the local church to the seminary in order to train, encourage, and inspire pastors.
One of the things that excites most me about my future vocation is that I get to look pastors in the eyes, pastors who are perhaps discouraged and leading struggling churches, and tell them that the local church really is the main instrument through which God builds his kingdom by transforming lives. I can tell them that with God all things are possible, that God can take the infighting in your church and turn it into energy to impact the community, that God can take an insular holy huddle and turn it into a force of love that cares as much for the people outside the church as it does for the people inside the church. I can tell pastors that when God shows up among a group of people yielded to him in love that absolutely anything is possible. I would have said this to pastors 7 years ago because I believed it, but as a result of my journey with you I can now say it with absolute conviction because I have experienced the wonderful, beautiful adventure called the local church.
Frankly, it’s your fault that I even have this opportunity to invest my ministry in pastors. Because of your daring faith in God and your willingness to courageously follow him, we are the fastest growing Wesleyan church out of the 75 in our district. We are also part of the 1% of churches in America whose growth is primarily among people who were not going to church anywhere else. We are becoming increasingly multi-ethnic, which is something that so few churches are able to navigate. But I love how diverse we are and how our oneness in Christ shines through our different strokes; and I’m convinced God loves it too! Of course, the radical hospitality, worship vibrancy, and missional vitality that constitutes our DNA will continue to guide us long after my departure.
The dream for SWC may have been birthed initially in my heart, but you and I know full well that the realization of the dream is much more attributable to God’s presence here than my presence here. And God is not going anywhere! I’m confident that God will be in attendance even after I’m gone. He won’t be sleeping in or shopping around for a new church. The stuff we’re experiencing at SWC is not because of who the pastor is, but because of who God is. If the culture of SWC continues to be one marked by deep dependence on God coupled with a courageous commitment to follow God wherever he leads us, it won’t make a difference what pastor comes or goes because the presence and power of God will be upon you and He is all you need. The good news for you is, after you release me to the new mission that you and God have prepared me for, God will still be at SWC and so will you. Therefore the dream continues, the momentum continues, the vision “to become a prayerful, diverse, community-involved church family whose passionate purpose is to help seekers become servants of God” goes on! The sad news for me is that I won’t be here to be a part of the great work God is still looking to do, but you and God will be here. And this is good!
There is no getting around it. We love you and will miss you immensely. You have been aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents to our kids. They think they have the biggest family in the world. You have prayed for us and loved us. You have given me one of the greatest privileges one person can give to another- you have let me be your pastor. And this has honored me more than you could possibly know. Not many pastors are able to say to their congregations what I am about to say to you; I have more faith in God because I have journeyed with you; I have more optimism about the potential of the local church to transform the community in which she resides because I have journeyed with you; and while no one really “gets” the Trinity, I think I’m beginning to understand how the church is called to reflect the intimacy and intentionality of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit because I have journeyed with you. Thank you so, so much for all the lessons you have taught me, lessons that have equipped me to go and equip pastors.
There are several informational items I want to communicate concerning the transition. First, you are stuck with me until July. Second, our District Superintendent, Dr. Wood, will be meeting with our board this week to begin the search for a new Lead Pastor. He is a man of great wisdom, who is as excited about what God is doing in our church as we are. He will provide significant guidance. Third, there is solid leadership in place at SWC. We have a pastoral team and board who will continue to provide excellent leadership and care to the church. You will not be leaderless during the search for a new Lead Pastor.
Please pray for the Pastoral Search Committee. Pray that they will be able to discern the pastor God is raising up “for such a time as this” and that they will not settle for anyone less than God’s best for this great church. Pray for me, Amy, Zach, Lia, and Sam, that God will mend the broken heart we will surely experience when we leave a familiar church family we love for a new adventure. Pray that the mission of SWC and the mission of Wesley Seminary would build the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
Jesus Christ is Lord. Thanks be to God.