Hello friends. Eric is writing today. We hadn’t realized the kinds of questions we’d raise with our cryptic “we’re going to be out of town for a few days” post of last week. We (or at least I) didn’t realize that Jennifer’s blog was followed by so many wonderful people!
Well, here’s the deal. Last week, Jennifer, Noelle and I flew to Chattanooga to interview for a ministry position in one of the Nazarene churches. We left a couple days early so we could spend time with Jen’s parents and to give Noelle a chance to get comfortable with them. Thank you for your prayers. Aside from too little sleep, Noelle did wonderfully. She didn’t seem anxious, she connected well with Grammy and Grandad, and she’s quickly getting back into her routine.
The interview process started on Saturday with a tour of the church facility and parsonage. About half of the church board/leadership team was there to welcome us and show us around. Jennifer and I felt very comfortable with them and found our excitement growing as we listened to the people talk about their church and what they hoped to do in the future. They value many of the same things we value including strong family ministry and intentional outreach to their community. I was particularly impressed with their men’s group and the fact that so many of their retirees are actively involved in ministry. Jennifer and I definitely felt like this was the kind of place where we could fit in.
I spoke Sunday morning and had great freedom in the Spirit. This is important to me/us because we’ve been diligently praying for God to direct us as we consider other ministry assignments. Clearly sensing the presence of God as I preached was a huge affirmation. That afternoon we met with the church board for a formal interview and then there was a question/answer time during the evening service. To make a long story short, the church board voted unanimously to recommend us to the congregation and the church members will vote on “calling us” to be their pastor next Sunday (June 29th).
During the course of the interview, one person asked a question that I think many of you will be interested in. He wanted to know, “What makes you think God is leading you away from your current ministry assignment and giving you freedom to interview with us?” I think that’s a great question – the kind of question we should all be asking when considering big moves. My answer is this:
Jennifer and I moved to Richmond ten years ago and over the course of these years, we’ve fallen in love with the people of our church and our community. Serving here has been an incredible experience. We’ve seen the church grow as we’ve ministered to children and teens and started the Christian school. I was counting recently and saw that we’ve baptized over thirty people in the time we’ve been in Richmond and I know that many more have taken their first steps into God’s kingdom through us. It’s also been a privilege to be involved with community crusades like the “Glory and Fire” and mission conferences like “Carry the Light”. The result of all of this is that hundreds of people have been strengthened in their faith and thousands of foreign language Bibles have been sent to missions around the world!
As good as it’s been, it’s also been difficult – especially these last few years. Closing the Christian school was a devastating blow to our church. Many of our families left the church and community. Those who remained were worn out and hurting. The church assumed quite a bit of debt from the academy and I voluntarily took a salary cut to help pay off that debt. Becoming “bi-vocational” (working a number of part-time jobs to make up what we lost in salary) has been quite a challenge. I don’t begrudge the long hours because I felt at the time that it was part of my “reasonable service”– part of what God wanted me to do to help our church get through our hurting time. I have been frustrated, however, because the time spent working at other things has hindered my work within the church. This sense of frustration (of being torn in too many directions) has only increased since our adoption of Noelle. The short of it all is that I’m no longer willing to work seventy hour weeks and miss out on raising our daughter.
All of these pressures have forced us to ask hard questions of ourselves and what it means to serve God in a particular place. I went to my church board/leadership team back in January, laid out my concerns and asked them to start praying with me for solutions. Unfortunately, the church is not currently in position to restore my salary. Jennifer and I considered my taking a full-time job to support the family and simply preaching on Sundays. There’s nothing wrong with this except that there’s a lot more to ‘pastoring’ than preaching, and I strongly believe that God has called me to be a pastor. We finally decided to test the waters and see if God might possibly want to move us somewhere else. We sent out resumes to the Tennessee and Illinois church districts (districts close to our parents) and waited to see if another church needed the kinds of gifts and skills we bring to ministry. And Chattanooga called us to interview.
Before I close, I want to make one thing very clear. I have the greatest respect for our friends in the Richmond Church of the Nazarene. Those who’ve stayed with us during these last few difficult years have done so because they believe in what we’re doing in Richmond. Your prayers and words of affirmation mean a great deal to Jennifer and me. Your willingness to look past the disappointments and to find new ways to serve our God has inspired us more than you will ever know. Jennifer and I think of you as family and will forever treasure our years among you.
Practically speaking, if the Chattanooga church calls us to be their pastor, the Richmond church will enter a time of “interim”. The church will be asked to evaluate their ministry needs and prayerfully seek a new leader. Jennifer and I will have to sell our house and we’re already working on handing the karate school off to some friends of ours. As you can imagine, it will be a very hectic time for all. If Chattanooga doesn’t call us, then we start the interview/discernment process all over again with other interested churches.
As you pray for us, I simply ask that you help us to sense what would be most pleasing to God. We really like the ministry potential in Chattanooga and felt very comfortable with the people (Jennifer used the phrase “kindred spirits”). However, we’re not anxious to go anywhere unless/until we sense God leading us. Following Him is priority #1.
Thanks for reading all the way through. Hopefully your questions have been answered, any rumors squashed, and direction given for those who wish to pray with us. Thanks again for your love and friendship!
Note from Jennifer:
When we unpack the camera and get a bit more settled, I will post some photos from our trip.