"And from His fullness, we have all received grace upon grace." John 1
My family's journey to this stage of life and ministry has been nothing short of crazy, yet it has been full of God's grace and provision at every step of the way. Whether it has been the birth of the twins, a couple moves to new houses, juggling ministry, work, and seminary, our lives have been nothing short of exciting. But isn't that typical when following Jesus?
While I was attending college, I knew that Jesus was calling me into pastoral ministry. I carried a burden during those years to see the Gospel go forth on our campus. And, over the course of two years while in college, Jesus allowed us to bear much fruit. Bible studies began to break out among the sports teams on campus, homosexuals came to profess Christ for the first time, and lots of other fruit was bore as we sought the good of the campus through evangelistic ministry.
When I graduated, Jessy and I got married not long after I took a youth pastor position at a local church. I thought of youth ministry as the minor leagues: the best way for a young guy to get exposure in the ministry without having to carry the burden of a 40 hour work week in the secular world (I do not believe this now, nor was my view correct then. Youth ministry is much needed, but those who get into youth ministry should be called specifically to it and not feel that a general call into preaching ministry means youth ministry for a few years). I was part-time and full-time at a couple of churches and felt an empty void and dissatisfaction where nothing would suffice. Ministry began to quickly become a burden as I was constantly let down by others, frustrated with institutionalized "church" life, along with a host of other factors. Spiritually, my cynicism was a major problem that revealed something deeply rooted in my heart: I was making ministry an idol.
Around the same time, I began to better understand where and what Jesus was calling me into long term. In a way that I had never experienced, I began to sense a particular burden for the lost, similar to what I had in college. I saw the increasing need for true, biblical, evangelical churches in our region. Because of this, I slowly began to see that, for my family, we would not be on the typical road that most men go down when feeling a call to ministry. Our call would be described well in Jeremiah 29:
"Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare."
So we picked up and moved to Gainesville. I stepped out in faith, quit my job in the church, and prayed that God would open up an opportunity for me to get a job in the city. Little did we know that this decision would be the catalyst that increased our ministry and allowed us to step deeper into our calling to plant churches (I wonder how many young guys miss a major move of God because they don't see bi-vocational ministry as an option). We also joined an Acts 29 church in the area and just became church members. For the first time in our ministry, we allowed ourselves to be loved on by the church; we learned how to be vulnerable with others; we began to understand our identity not through what we did in pastoral ministry, but through what Christ had victoriously done on the Cross. And this shift in perspective was freeing for us.
Without any agenda for ministry, we joined the church. We were not looking for the ministry. We were looking for the LORD to lead us. I remember the day when the Lord spoke these words to me in 1 Peter:
"Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you."
"Okay, Lord," I said. "We are just going to wait on you. You lead the way. We are burnt out on trying to do ministry in our own way (After all, God's work done in our way is actually not God's work. It's ours.)."
I am reminded when I think about this time in our lives by a word I heard from Ray Ortlund a couple of years ago. Referring to Isaiah 66:1-2, he says this (my paraphrase):
God is found in two places in this passage: (1) in the highest place, Heaven, and (2) in the lowest place, our contriteness of heart.
I know that, historically, all of my attempts were to build my own tower, my own empire, to try and climb a ladder to Heaven, to God. That is probably the default for most of our hearts. And these attempts were futile and pointless. The giving of the Law in the OT was God's word against this type of self-righteousness. That is why Paul says in Galations 3, "[The Law] was added because of transgression." This was God's way of saying to pastors (namely, me), "You cant build your way to Heaven. Your little kingdoms can never reach my heavenly kingdom."
But the good news is that God is found somewhere else as well. He is found in our lowliness, our humility. He is found in our self-forgetfulness, not self-righteousness. Our journey this far has proved one thing: when I finally come to a place to where all I can boast in is Jesus, that is where I am freed from myself and finally freed to live unto God and for God's work. This is what began to happen in mine and Jessy's heart over the last few years.
I interpreted my step out of vocational ministry as a first step of repentance. It was me saying,"Lord I do not have to have ministry if it is not Your will." So, we joined a church plant as I stated earlier. And over the past few years, we have seen the Lord do some pretty incredible things. I have slowly stepped in to different ministry opportunities. The most fruitful of these was when we began leading a community group. Here, we have experienced how the church is a family that carries each others' burdens. We have wept together, rejoiced together, sent missionaries to the nations, and enjoyed the riches in the Gospel with one another on a weekly basis.
In the midst of our leading a community group, we got practical experience in a young church plant, something that has proven to be invaluable for where we are now. Through our faithful and spirit-filled church, we were reminded of the Gospel week in and week out. We experienced the power of the Word of God and learned to trust in power of the Gospel to do the work of ministry. We were led by gracious and servantlike leadership that set an example in our own discipleship of how to lead a church. We were pointed to Jesus over and over again.
Our group began praying fervently 3 years ago about how God would use us as a community group in the city to carry His Gospel to people. He has led us to the darkest places and the most hopeless of hearts, allowing us to take the Gospel torch to the far reaches of Gainesville.
As time has been the test, the last few months we have begun to see fruit of a church planting core team being developed. With young couples, singles, and young families making up the group, the Lord seems to have brought us together for such a time as this to plant a church. Again, though, we are waiting on the Lord to move and lead us.
[Insert one (actually 3) major detail: The Lord blessed Jessy and I with children. 19 months ago, we were without any children coming out of a miscarriage where we were left with question after question. Today, we have three children. Our lives have been forever changed in a such a good way by these sweet little additions to our family. We always looked forward to the day when we would have children, but had no idea we would be this overwhelmed with love like we are. Furthermore, we had no clue how radically parenting changes one's understanding of the Gospel.]
On the 500th anniversary of the reformation, the year that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, the Lord has opened an opportunity for us to plant a church in Gainesville with a small core group of 20 adults + children. We have sought counsel and wisdom from other seasoned men and women who have gone before us in church planting, we have been assessed through North American Mission Board and Cor 3:6 Church Planting network, and the Lord seems to have opened the door for us to start this work in Gainesville. We could not be more excited for the days ahead.
There will be posts to follow that provide more information for how you can be a part of this work. Let's see what Jesus might do.
Also, you can visit our website at solacitychurch.com.
For His Glory,