As I have conversations with people about our move, one (often quick) response typically follows. “I’m so happy for you guys. I just knew you’d be moving on to bigger and better things before long.” What the secular/corporate world envisions as “bigger and better” as people leave for new opportunities is likely more money, more responsibilities, and more power.
Perhaps you can imagine the looks I receive from people when I tell them the details of our move. Instead of accepting a position as the Associate Pastor at “________ Baptist Church” I’ll be pursuing a Residency at a small church in the middle of Oklahoma, which will require us to raise all of our support. And we couldn’t be more excited!
Rather than telling you what we won’t be a part of, let me share with you what we will be a part of with Providence Road. In our conversations with them and in meeting their people, we fell in love with who they are and what they represent. Here are a few of those things.
Just after washing his disciples’ feet and mentioning Judas’ upcoming betrayal, Jesus looked to them and said this: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
While visiting, Brooke and I attended a Missional Community as well as another meeting that some of their leaders attended. At these gatherings, we met Christians who are meteorologists, optometrists, college students, and web designers. These are average, ordinary people.
But the conversations we had with them were far from average. It was clear to us that these people have a deep love for Jesus, for each other, and for their neighbors. It’s evident that these people are disciples of Jesus. We thought to ourselves that if these are the type of people that make up Prov Road, we want in.
Some young churches fail early on because of a lack of funding. There are church plants that never officially plant because they don’t have enough money. I had a conversation recently with a couple that is supporting another couple in their efforts to plant a church. They are now considering pulling out their support because there is no launch date in sight.
Because of this reality, it would be easy for young churches to do whatever it takes to become internally funded and self-sustaining. One thing that blew us away about Prov Road is their commitment to invest in the things that are important to them now, not in some distant future when they have more money. I didn’t expect them to already be supporting multiple church plants, funding adoptions within their church, and taking overseas mission trips. They may not even view these things as sacrifices early on in the life of their church. That’s just what they do and who they are.
During my time in ministry, I have seen churches roll out the red carpet for pastoral candidates, hoping that they will commit to join their staff. One thing that I especially appreciated about Prov Road is that they sought to show us what “normal” looks like in the life of their church.
After Missional Community, Brooke told me about a Fight Club that a few of their young women are a part of. Somewhat confused, I envisioned an underground boxing ring and a really nasty upcoming church lawsuit. Not to mention, they weren’t even supposed to be talking about Fight Club. Thankfully, this isn’t that type of Fight Club. Within a Missional Community, gender specific groups of three or so people meet weekly to intentionally meet together and fight against their sin.
More than anything, we believe we saw day in and day out, week in and week out faithfulness to King Jesus and a commitment to live obediently to him.
More than what we saw the people of Prov Road to be, we saw who they could become. We caught their vision of having Missional Communities all over the city of Norman and the greater OKC area. We got a taste of the role we could play in all of this. And at the end of the day, it just felt like we belonged with them.
We could totally be wrong. It’s absolutely possible that this marriage between Prov Road and us is a train wreck. Maybe there is something much larger and greater that God wants to teach us and it begins with failure. I don’t know exactly how our future will unfold. But I know this, I would rather follow Jesus off of the side of a cliff, trusting that he’ll catch our fall, than to wait at the top of the ledge and wonder why he isn’t using us to impact the Kingdom of Christ.
When we started this journey, we resolved to find a body of believers that, even if I were not on staff, we would still call them our family. If I didn’t have to be there to collect a paycheck, we would still want to be there because of who they are and what they represent. We believe that we have found that body of believers in Providence Road. There are questions unanswered and an unknown future out in front of us, but we are thrilled to partner with Prov Road over the next 12 months and see what God might do in and through us.
They were willing to do whatever it took to get their brother, Edmund, back from the hands of the White Witch. Peter, Susan, and Lucy needed a rescuer greater than Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, though the Beavers were certainly willing to play their part. Thankfully (and providentially) Aslan was on the move, as described in C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Who was this Aslan? What was he like? Could he actually help? Finally, it was Lucy who asked the question they were all thinking. "Is--is he a man?" Oh, how this caught Mr. Beaver by surprise.
"Aslan a man! Certainly not. Aslan is a lion--the Lion, the great Lion."
"Ooh!" said Susan, "I'd thought he was a man. Is he--quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."
"That you will, dearie, and make no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver; "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."
"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.
"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver; "Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."
"I'm longing to see him," said Peter, "even if I do feel frightened when it comes to the point."
Late last fall, Brooke and I began this journey not knowing where it might lead us. Early in the summer of 2015, my step-mom was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. Later in the year, my grandparents battled multiple health issues that had our family concerned. All the while, Henry's closest set of grandparents live nearly 700 miles away. More than ever, I have a growing desire (and, I believe, a responsibility) to minister to my family. The combination of these things caused us to consider a move closer to family.
As we consider this next stage of life, we're flooded with emotions. Sadness that we're uprooting our life and moving away from friends, excitement for new relationships to be built and opportunities ahead, and fear for the unknown that is in front of us. All the while, I want to keep asking the question, "Is it safe?" Lucy and I are asking the wrong question.
An Idol-Crushing Move
This move, at its core, is an idol crusher for me. I love and crave comfort. I enjoy the "knowns" of life. More than almost anyone I know, I am a creature of habit. I function best within a solid structure, a routine schedule, and the absence of surprises. I drive Brooke crazy nearly every vacation we take because I try to plan our every meal, excursion, and Red Box movie. I get it. I'm the weird one.
For our entire married life, Elizabethtown, KY and Severns Valley have been our home. This will forever be the place where we purchased our first home, gave birth to our first child, and first served in the local church together. It's a place we've grown to love. We have become extremely comfortable here, forming deep friendships that previously made moving unthinkable.
So God has orchestrated a move to a young church (which I'll discuss in greater detail in our next blog post) that will require us to raise our own support and fully trust him with our future plans.
What will life look like at the end of my yearlong residency?
Will we connect well with the team?
Will we raise all the support required to live in Norman?
How will all of the minor details get taken care of?
I can't help but think of Moses in Exodus 33. He's speaking with God who just told him, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exod 33:14) And how does Moses respond? “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (Exod 33:15-16)
Am I missing something? God just told him he'd go with him. He just gave him his marching orders. Is Moses hard of hearing? Rather than rebuking him, God is patient toward Moses. The LORD gives Moses a sweet reminder, "This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name." (Exodus 33:17)
In those moments when I question whether or not God's presence is with us, whether or not I'm leading my family into a crazy season of life, whether or not, ultimately, this is a "safe" move, God is gently and sweetly whispering: I know you by name. I hear him saying to us, "Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." (Colossians 3:2-4)
Like Peter Pevensie, I'm longing to see the King, even if I do feel frightened when it comes to the point. Why? Well, I'm not so sure it's because he's safe. "Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."
And for this next season of life, the goodness of the King is all we need.