A few weeks ago, as I was driving alone down Highway 13 from Bolivar to Springfield, a persistent and nagging (and inexplicable) urge came over me. I don’t proclaim to have moments of plain and undeniable divine prompting all the time, but when they come, they tend to come loudly and clearly. This morning in particular was one such instance.
With as much certainty as I knew that humans breathe oxygen, I knew that I needed to call my friend Joshua, our lead pastor at Freshwater Church Bolivar; but what to say? Because we’re friends and I’m aware of the demands that are on his schedule, I know when I call Josh, there’s a good chance I’m going to get the voicemail, so I was quite sure that I’d have at least five rings to figure out what I needed to say.
Ring 2…still nothing.
Ring 3…shocker, nothing.
Ring 4…God, little help here?
Ring 5…okay, got it.
After the greeting finished and the beep prompted me to speak, I said this:
“Bro, I just felt like I needed to call you and tell you to have confidence in the call that God has given you and to trust that whatever he has called you to, he WILL equip you to do it. Love you, bro.”
Yeah, I say “bro” a lot.
Once I finished, I simply went on about my day, clueless as to why I’d felt this strong compulsion to offer these words to my pastor. To be quite honest, I wondered if he wouldn’t later tell me that he’d had a really mundane day, but that my word of encouragement had really helped him tackle his usual Monday load of office work with extra vigor and enthusiasm.
I, ladies and gentlemen, was in for a surprise to say the least.
The next morning, we had a scheduled meeting at McDonald’s where God made it clear why he’d led me to make that random phone call a day before. The conversation is a bit of a blur now, but I’m quite sure it wasn’t more than five minutes into our conversation when Josh shot me straight: “I’ve been offered a position at Midwestern [Baptist Theological Seminary] to head up their church planting center…and I’ve accepted.”
So there it was; our young church was losing the man who’d been the brave soul to accept the challenge of its planting. Many of our members were losing the only man they’d ever truly called their “pastor.” I was losing my pastor. I was losing a mentor. I was losing…a friend.
I put on the brave face, though, because it’s culturally ingrained into my male mind that men do that kind of thing, holding it together out of obligation to keep things from being overtly awkward. I affirmed his decision, told him how much I appreciated him, did my best to seem excited. Still, though I probably seemed reasonably calm on the surface, inside I was a turbulent mess. The next few days consisted of emotional pendulum swings that afforded me a few moments of assurance and confidence, but more often than not left me running nightmare scenarios and pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t in the middle of an awful dream.
And after a few torturous days spent primarily wandering between sadness, anxiety, and even anger, something happened; the proverbial “lightbulb” came on and things started to make sense.
I hadn’t prompted myself to make that phone call. I had not had any good reason to call him that morning. There was no need to chat with him. I wasn’t lonely and needing someone to talk to. That phone call was one of the many ways God was reminding me who is actually controlling things.
Once this settled, I was at last able to step back from the situation and see how God had been working in the details to bring this change to fruition, not only for the good of my friend and brother, but also for our church. One of our core beliefs at Freshwater Church is that we exist to raise up and train disciples of Jesus for the purpose of sending them out, not hoarding them for our own benefit. We constantly remind ourselves that we are committed to sending out our best people for the sake of the gospel.
I could be way off, but I’m not sure there’s really a better way to put our money where our mouths are than to send out our lead pastor/planter.
Over the last few weeks leading up to the official announcement (which was made today during our morning services), I’ve come to realize that we are not losing a man; we, by God’s prompting and orchestration, are sending one out. We are not losing the man that planted our church; we are empowering him to be a part of God’s work in planting many more churches that will labor to glorify God and advance the gospel of Jesus Christ.
There is still sadness; I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit to that. The last three years have been a revival for me. My love for God, his scripture, and his people has deepened. My ability and desire to lead through humility and service has grown. I’ve learned to apologize. I’ve become a better husband, father, and friend. In short, I’m a better man today than before I came to Freshwater, and the friendship I’ve enjoyed with Josh has been a steady presence throughout most all of that growth in some form or fashion.
But ultimately, the reality is this: God’s church is, indeed, his church. This church was never about Josh. Freshwater has always been, and must always remain, God’s church about the business of doing his work, in his way and under his leadership. It would be easy for Josh to have stayed, just as it was easy for Jonah to jump on a ship and avoid Nineveh. But (as Josh wisely pointed out), it would be unwise to balk at God’s call, choose to keep to familiar territory, and risk dragging Freshwater into a whale’s belly all in the name of our collective comfort and convenience.
Thus, today our church officially sets forth without our lead pastor. Today, we move forward in faith with assurance that God, who started this good work among our church family, has always been and will continue to be the one who is actually captaining this ship. Today, we head out into the next chapter of Freshwater Church Bolivar’s existence.
And for me personally, I can rest easy knowing that God’s already in the business of preparing and calling the man he has to take us there. He’s made his active role in this process abundantly clear, even through something as simple as a seemingly random phone call to my friend.
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