Joy in the journey (regarding my next transition)
A day of wrestling and weeping.
That’s how I describe the afternoon I spent In June of 2011 before the Lord at Descanso Gardens, where I was struggling with what the rest of my life would look like. I had been approached by the Foursquare Denomination to find out if I would be open to being on the list of leaders being considered to oversee 145 churches in the Los Angeles area. A District Supervisor was a position that I had grown up respecting, but not one that I had ever aspired to have.
But nearly a year before that moment, the Holy Spirit had whispered to my heart after a conversation with one of my fellow pastors. And I came home and shared it with my wife.
“Deborah, one day they’re going to ask me to be a Supervisor and I’m not going to want to do it but I’m supposed to say yes.”
This statement didn’t come because I knew of some political mechanism through which I could prepare myself. In fact, the idea seemed a bit far-fetched to me. I figured that denominational leadership was something that was offered to those who were older and who had a larger platform. In fact, though I knew it was the voice of the Spirit, I assumed that the manifestation of that word would be years in the making. The “one-day” that I told Deborah about was, in my mind, many years away, after a long life of pastoral ministry.
So, like I’ve done with other strong words from the Lord that didn’t make sense at the time, I tucked it away deep inside and mostly forgot about it.
(By the way, that’s what you do when you sense the Lord is speaking something to you that you receive, but you don’t know what to do with it just yet. Treasure it in your heart and watch what the Lord does. We never have to manipulate the outcome of a Word from the Lord.)
And a year after I uttered those words, I found myself in a park, wrestling with those words coming true much sooner than I ever expected.
The reason I was wrestling was that my life had been shaped by a call to be a pastor. I loved the local church. But I was being led towards a conclusion that would take me out of local church leadership. It was brutal—I literally wept over the thought, my journal ink-smear-stained to this day from the tears of a man who didn’t want to give up his passion. And what made it even harder was that I figured once you left the local church to be a denominational leader, you wouldn’t go back. This was going to be a lifelong assignment, if God led me to it, and I had to submit to the idea that supervising and administrating could be the last job I’d ever had.
It was an Abraham and Isaac moment. From my early days as youth pastor to my church planting and pastoring days, I had found that I was called and gifted to shepherd the local church. My 4-year stint as the Dean of Students at our denominations Bible College both confirmed in me the passion for the church (and not for educational administration) and provided me an opportunity to bi-vocationally “plant” a church on campus in my spare time.
Now I was being considered to embrace a job that was a bit like being the Dean of Students, except this time there would be no space or freedom to plant or pastor a local church.
But, like I always have done when I’ve felt the Lord’s voice of direction, no matter how difficult, I obediently accepted his call. If I were asked, I decided, I’d give up being a pastor and become a Supervisor.
Two months later, I was asked. And of course I said yes.
The last 27 months has been wonderful. I’ve had a chance to partner with an amazing group of pastors to help change the district’s culture, to bring unity to pastors and churches, and to get us aligned towards mission. I’ve made some great partners and friends. And I’ve worked under high quality Godly leaders in our denomination.
I wouldn’t change this last season for the world.
All along, Deborah and I were still local church people. We joyfully engaged our assignment to create space for pastors to do well what they are called to do. We figured that since we were called to be supervisors, we could leverage that calling to fulfill our passion and help support the local church as best as we could.
Then this summer, 2 years after I had laid down pastoring, Deborah and I woke up one Saturday and both felt it distinctly: We would go back to pastoring one day. This wasn’t a burning bush moment as much as it was a joint discovery of direction and release. And like a spring thaw, this understanding was small at first, but it started to grow more powerful as the days progressed. Eventually we couldn’t deny the strong sense that remained in our hearts—pastoring a local church was something that God would surely release us back to someday.
That was a great realization, but we had a five-year agreement to steward the assignment we had accepted, so we assumed we wouldn’t even start to look for another church to pastor for the next three years.
As we approached autumn, while we were processing through our discernment, the church where I had served in my first ministry assignment started to go through transition. The Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California has always been dear to me. It’s where I discovered that church was more than a gathering place for believers or an evangelistic catalyst for unbelievers, but that it could be an outpost of the Kingdom, equipping people to transform the world in the power of the Holy Spirit. My ministry work ethic was shaped there. Frankly at that church the Lord permanently marked me with a DNA that has been a part of my personal and pastoral life for the last 25 years.
So now there were stirrings of potential change at The Church on the Way, and at the same time there were accompanying stirrings of a potential charge in my own soul concerning that church.
Expecting that they would tell me I couldn’t consider it because of the commitment I had not yet completed, I approached my own leaders about this. They confirmed that I should explore the possibility, knowing—with agreement from me—that at any time in the process if they felt it wouldn’t be right for me to resign my post, they could shut down my exploration.
The way I saw it, there were about 10 major doors which seemed closed that would need to open for us to be appointed to that church. We started praying, “Lord, we want to pursue You and be obedient to Your word to us. Miraculously open this next door (and we would pray very specifically) as a confirmation of your voice to our hearts.” And every time the doors “should” have been shut, they would supernaturally be opened, without any human influence or interference on our part.
And after walking though every door that the Lord opened, February 2, 2014 we will be installed as the pastors at The Church on the Way.
I’m honestly overwhelmed by the goodness of the Lord. He knew my heart for the local church (He gave me that heart in the first place). He knew—and planned—my history and connection with The Church on the Way. When I laid down my passion to engage the church as a pastor, I was convinced it was a sacrifice that I would never get back. But the Lord knew that my obedience would lead me on a path that led me into the full embrace of His plan for me.
Here’s the lesson I keep learning and that I will continue to learn until my dying day: When I attempt to take control of my own journey, avoid pain at all costs, or demand to hang onto something that is comfortable, I will often miss God’s direction in my life. If I stay obedient to His voice, I will find myself on His path. And when I have a choice between my preferred outcome for my life or God’s preferred outcome for my life, I know which one to take every time.
In Psalm 30:5 we find that weeping might endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning. Though sometimes a “night” can last more than 12 hours, we can trust that God loves us and as we follow Him closely, He’ll get us where He wants us to be.