I know. This post is long overdue. Back in November, I wrote a post explaining our tough decision to close the doors to our six-year-old church plant. At the end of the post, I promised to write a follow-up post in a few days explaining what our plan was for my family and my future in ministry. Almost three months later…
The End of an Era
The last couple of months have been a whirlwind for us. We took a long-overdue and much-needed vacation to the mountains, and I spent a lot of time doing some pretty intense prayer and self-reflection. It was a really good time for me. I needed it.
But now here we are at the beginning of February and I still haven’t made public what my plans are for the future. As I look forward in my life, it’s pretty clear to me that I stand at the closing of a major chapter of my life, anxiously awaiting the next chapter to begin.
Maybe the ‘closing of a chapter’ analogy isn’t exactly accurate. If I wanted to be most accurate (which I do!), I should probably compare it more appropriately to a different book analogy. I feel like I just came to the end of a really good series of books, closing the final page of the final book and wondering where I’m supposed to go from here.
I remember what it was like when I closed the final page of the final book of the Harry Potter series. For me, this happened more recently than many book series I read as a kid, because I didn’t get on the Potter train until a few years ago. But having experienced this series for the first time as an adult, I am able to pretty accurately remember the emotions I went through with that first reading of the series.
Without question, I was emotionally invested in the series. I had spent a good deal of time and effort learning to know and love Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I survived the entire roller coaster of emotions directed at Snape. And I had just witnessed the beautiful power of sacrificial love overcoming the evil of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
I was fully-invested. I had just sprinted through more than 4,000 pages of twists and turns and had ingested over a million beautifully crafted words. I had experienced all the feels. Every. Single. One.
And then it was over. I closed the final page of the final book. And I was done with the series.
That’s the same feeling I experienced back in November when we said the final “Amen” at our closing worship gathering of the church that I had helped to start and pastored for almost six years. We turned the final page of the final book and tucked the book away on a shelf. It was over. And all that I was left with was the question, “What now?”
My life over the past year has been full of questions. But because our church was in no way blindsided by its impending closure, I actually had a lot of time to pray over and struggle through these questions. This was especially true of the question, “What now?”
Unfortunately, my extra time in prayer didn’t seem to afford me with any more clarity than if I had been blindsided. I prayed for months that God would show me what my next step would be. And for months, I never felt like I got a very clear answer.
Should I dust off my resumé and see what pastoral jobs are out there? Should I consider going back into student ministry? Should I make the most of the opportunity and finally pursue my lifelong dream of becoming a hand model? Despite the fact that I had prayed more over this decision than any other decision in my life, I was no closer to an answer than when I began. Nothing felt right.
After months of seemingly unanswered prayers, my worry began to kick in. And when my worry kicks in, my brain typically goes into a higher gear, attempting to figure out a way to manipulate the situation to suit my needs or fix my problems. And in this situation, after months and months of waiting, my brain decided that it was time to fix my problems.
As is typically the case with my problem-solving techniques, I started with the things that I knew for certain. I didn’t feel like I was supposed to stop ministering. That was never really an option in my mind. I also didn’t feel any inclination to leave Mobile, the city I have, through years of living here, grown to know and love. So I decided that my best bet was to approach a couple of my pastor friends in the area to see if there was any chance of an opening on the staff of one of their respective churches. But to be honest with you, this was just my feeble attempt to control my situation. Even this approach didn’t feel right.
Clarity through the Fog
So I was, again, back to square one with no more sense of direction than when I had started. And much to the chagrin of my emotional stability, I stayed at square one until the month before we had our final worship gathering.
During that time, I was again spending some intentional time in prayer asking the same question I had posed repeatedly over the past year: What now? This iteration of the prayer was actually a little more specific than usual. I was praying that God would give me the opportunity to serve on the staff of a church in our area that would allow me to one day plant another church in Mobile. That’s when it hit me. Or, more accurately, that’s when He hit me.
I was standing in the shower (I know it’s not the most spiritual sounding prayer closet in the world, but it works for me!). And as clearly as I felt the hot water washing down my back, I felt God’s answer to my prayers washing over me.
“Why wait? Why do you need to wait for a staff position on an established church to do what I have clearly put on your heart to do?”
After a year of foggy prayers, I knew with a clarity as bright as the noonday sun what I was supposed to do. God wanted me to plant another church.
Things Will Never Be the Same
I knew with certainty after finishing the Harry Potter series that I would one day read it again (and again!). I now know just as clearly that God has called me to go through the craziness of church planting again.
It has now been several years since I first experienced the emotions of finishing the Harry Potter series. And during those years, I have actually re-read the series several times. After re-reading it, I realized something: I can never go back and experience it again like I did the first time. I will never again be as angry as I originally was when (SPOILER ALERT!) Snape kills Dumbledore. Or I’ll never again go through the revelatory process of discovering that Harry is the final Horcrux. And I’ll never again experience the same flood of emotions when Harry gives his life to save the ones he loves. I can’t go back and experience it the same way ever again.
But I also realized that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Because I now get to experience the series on a totally different level. I get to notice the small allusions throughout the series foreshadowing things to come. I get to recognize the nuances in unseen story arcs that I never even knew were building the first time through. I get to experience the series in a whole new light.
That’s the beauty of re-reading. Because you are a different person, your experience will be different. And hopefully better.
I feel the same way about going through the church planting process again. I’m a very different person than I was six years ago. And the circumstances leading up to this church plant are very different now than they were then. I’ve learned a tremendous amount about God, about church, and about myself over the past several years. And I can’t help but think that this time around, things will be a lot different.
And that won’t necessarily be a bad thing.
At this point, you probably have some questions. I want to take a minute to address a few of them that I expect would pop up.
1. Didn’t you just fail at church planting?
The short answer here is: See my last post. I don’t really consider shutting the doors of The Vineyard to be a failure for the kingdom of God. But even if you did want to view it that way, consider this: What better teacher do we have than experience?
There is a story told of a meeting between Thomas Edison and a budding reporter just after Edison’s successful invention of the light bulb. Recognizing the difficulty Edison encountered along the road to this successful invention, the reporter asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison is said to have replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times! The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps!”
Edison saw his attempts as lessons learned. The same could be said about church planting. After all the impact The Vineyard had on the kingdom of God, I learned a lot along the way. I’ve learned what seems to work in this particular church context. And I’ve learned a lot of things that don’t seem to work. And that experience will be invaluable moving forward.
2. Ok, so what will be different this time around?
One of the biggest difference between this experience and my first time around will be the timeline. Because of certain circumstances beyond my control, I was catapulted into the world of church planting with the velocity of a man fired out of a human cannon. We had very little time to plan or to organize before getting our hands dirty in the work of the church. We started The Vineyard just a couple of months after we officially decided to plant a church. Then we flew by the seat of our pants for an incredible six years of amazing ministry.
This time around, I have the benefit of more time to get things started properly. Because I now have several marketable skills that I didn’t have at the outset of the previous church plant (more on that in a minute), I’m not forced to push forward prematurely just so I can start paying the bills. This time around, I plan to spend as much time as is necessary developing our core group, raising funds, and planning. I expect this experience to be far different than the first time.
3. What can I do to help?
If you’ve stuck around this long in this super-long post, then I would expect this question would probably come to your mind. If so, THANKS! It means a lot that people care for me and my family. I know that I can’t imagine doing this monumental task alone. So to answer your question, here are several concrete ways that you can be a part of the work of seeing this church plant become a reality:
I don’t put this first just because I’m supposed to. One of the things I’ve learned over the recent years is just how important prayer really is in church planting. Church planting is a spiritual endeavor. And anyone who approaches church planting in a vacuum devoid of desperately seeking God’s direction is on a fool’s errand. I truly believe that prayer is the single-most important thing you can do to help me along this path.
If you are the praying type, then please make it a habit to pray for me, our core group, and our efforts to make this church a reality. If you are really serious about praying for this new church on a regular basis, then I would ask you to consider being on my prayer team.
It sounds way more official than it actually is. This is not a group of people who will have regular meetings or anything like that. This is just a group of people who I can email on a regular basis with specific prayer requests. And these people will be expected to actually pray for these needs! Crazy right? If you are interested in being one of these people, please send me a message here.
- Hire me!
Without fail, the first question people ask me when I tell them we’re going to plant a new church in about a year is this: “What are you going to do to pay the bills between now and then?” Because I have not yet been able to accomplish the whole hand model dream, I’ve had to resort to less glamorous methods.
If I’ve learned anything over the last six years, it is the truth that where God guides, God provides. But I’ve learned that this doesn’t always (or even usually) mean that God is going to drop a donation in my lap from the heavens. My experience has taught me that, more often, God provides opportunity.
When we started The Vineyard, I had a grand total of zero marketable skills. In fact, I may have been in the negative on skills that people would actually pay something for. But God put in me an insatiable appetite to learn and coupled it with some pretty incredible resources at my disposal (I’ll give you a hint, it’s the Internet). so I started to learn. And over the last six years, I’ve actually become pretty good at several things that have helped to pay the bills over the years. And God has always provided me with opportunities to work and make money through these means.
So here is where you come in. Would you consider hiring me at some point in the near future? My primary income streams have been from painting (both run-of-the-mill house painting and artistic painting), but I’ve also been making money in several other ways. God has given me both skill and opportunity in the following areas:
- Painting: I’ve started a small painting business that does both interior and exterior, residential and commercial painting. If you have any painting needs, I would love to hear from you.
- Murals: I’ve had the privilege of painting about 30 murals over the years. I’ve done murals in kids’ rooms, nurseries, church murals, and business logos. If you have something you want painted on a wall, chances are that I can make it happen. Send me a message and we can try to make it happen!
- Reclaimed Wood Art: I have recently taken up the hobby of painting designs on reclaimed wood for wall art. I have several pieces that I sell on my Etsy shop, and I also take custom orders for more specific needs. I can usually sell things a little cheaper locally than I do on the shop (no middle man!), so contact me if you have any questions about a potential order!
- Guest Preacher: I have been preaching for the past fifteen years. During that time, I’ve had the privilege of being a guest speaker at many church events, including student camps, DiscipleNow weekends, college ministry events, and other church special events. If you are looking for a guest speaker for your event, would you consider contacting me about potentially filling that need?
- Design Work: I have an affinity for digital design work. I’ve always loved art and have, over the years, translated that into the digital world. If you are in need of design work, I would love to talk to you about it. Some of my specialties are business logos and wedding invitations and programs.
- Juggling Swords: Ok, I’m not really good at this one. But I did attempt it once (while dressed as a clown) for a silly student ministry video. Thankfully, the video has mysteriously disappeared.
These are just a few of the ways God has allowed me to make money during this adventure of church planting. I know He will provide for us. And I’m willing to work really hard this year to prove it. Any help you can give me along the way would be greatly appreciated!
- Be a Part of the Process:
There is a chance that, as you’ve read this post, you’ve felt something stirring inside you. It’s possible that you are just feeling the repercussions of eating Mexican for lunch. But it’s also possible that God may be prompting you to find out more about what this new church will be like. I know that this work will only succeed with the help of a great core group of people dedicated to making this new church a reality. If you are interested in finding out more about any part of what God is doing in and through this new work, I would love to talk to you about it. Send me a message on here and we can go to lunch one day and talk about it.
So that is what’s happening with us. I know you probably weren’t expecting a 3,000 word response to the simple question, “What now?” But let’s spin this as ‘exceeding expectations.’
Yes, we’ve closed the book on this part of our lives. But we look forward to the opportunity to dust that book off again soon and experience it in a totally new way this time around. I would love for you to join me in the experience.