In retrospect, it’s all crystal clear.
Oh, I’d been reading a lot of stuff about the “missional movement” since about 2005. It all started with the heady & scholastic The Shaping of Things to Come, by Frost & Hirsch. It continued with over 20 volumes along the same lines. I won’t recommend them all, but if you’re interested, dig up The Tangible Kingdom, by Halter & Smay, The Forgotten Ways, by Hirsch and This Present Future, by McNeal.
But then the words came to life on Soccer Sunday in June of 2011. I’m not sure why, but that moment caused a lot of light-bulbs to go off in my head. And it wasn’t long after that I was in Ireland on a mission trip that served to reinforce so much of what I was reading/thinking/experiencing.
Despite a thriving youth ministry in a church family that I loved (and still do) and they loved (and still love) me back, God was working behind the scenes…and it all came to a head last November: I resigned my position as Pastor of Student Ministries at Crossroads Bible Church. I’d been there 15 years. That church family loved me a lot. I loved them a lot. The only thing I knew is that it was time to go. No job waiting on me. No resumes out. Just a gnawing sense that it was time to go. The specifics don’t really matter all that much as the end result was that it was the most loving thing to do. Left the student ministry in some of the best hands I could’ve, though.
Last December there were a lot of goodbyes and parties. Like I said, they love me a lot. I loved them a lot. The holidays kept me busy…and a lot of Christmas gifts were all sorts of books telling me how to figure out what the next phase of my life would look like. I’d gotten some good advice and took it: Don’t make any decisions until after the Super Bowl. I slept a lot. I puttered around the house a lot, too. It was a season of honey-do’s and naps and reading and going to movies by myself. I needed the rest…more than I like to admit.
At this point, feel free to hit the archives on the left to get the specifics of where my mind was during the year.
This “missional” mindset (which, for our purposes here, will involve 3 major components: Christians focusing on serving rather than “being fed,” focusing on knowing and being known by people instead of on programs, and focusing on the Kingdom agenda rather than a church agenda–read the books earlier for the details of all that) captured my imagination big-time. The initial idea was to be a missional entrepreneur. I’d open a hang-out for teenagers at a vacant local restaurant. That business plan wouldn’t work for a myriad of reasons.
So, me & my cronies brainstormed about a hang-out for grown-ups. Think “Cheers,” but better. That business plan wouldn’t come together by-and-large because the suburbs don’t want a “Cheers” but better. Lots of rules & regulations that all point to the idea they don’t want a bar in their community. Oh, and at every turn I was confronted with the reality of how much I don’t know about opening and running a bar. So there’s that.
The missional entrepreneur thing died about late March…
…and I realized that I was still a pastor at-heart.
My trophy-wife started the chorus of many, many people: I just don’t see you as a youth pastor anymore. You could do it. And do it well. But I don’t think that’s what God is doing in you right now.
Resumes went out.
There were times when things looked promising.
There were times when hopes were dashed.
Let’s see…things looked promising in Sacramento. In Baltimore. In Nashville. In Albuquerque. In Morrisstown, N.J. In Chicago. In Phoenix. Various types of ministry from small groups pastor to students to associate pastor to teaching pastor. I was just trying to figure out what God wanted from me next and was open to anything wherever.
Then hopes were dashed in Sacramento, Baltimore, Nashville, Albuquerque. Morrisstown. Chicago. Phoenix. All sorts of reasons it didn’t work out, from not being exactly qualified to differing ministry philosophy to not being a cultural fit. So, we were still trying to figure it all out and waiting on God. I’m not gonna lie, kids. It got frustrating and one of these days I’ll write a few blog entries on some of these experiences. My favorite: After taking two-hours to get a cover letter/resume together & sending it, I get a response SIX MINUTES LATER telling me that “after much prayerful consideration…”
Along the way, I’d been having some discussions with friends over this idea of missional ministry and how it plays out in ways big and small. They either attend or work for Irving Bible Church. Lot of cool folks. Lot of great discussions. Over lots of months.
And one church in Washington didn’t disappoint. They invited me out twice. Very healthy church. Very enjoyable people. Very challenging student ministry job. Very beautiful part of the country. It looked like they were going to offer me the job. It looked like I might just take it, too.
It’s at this point I need to take a step back and tell you about a seemingly innocent moment at the Inhabit Conference in Seattle last February. I went because I was feeling out-of-sorts with my Tribe. I mean, I’ve been in Christian circles nearly my entire life and I was feeling like I didn’t fit anywhere, with any group. We’d even started attending a church in Deep Ellum thinking that we’d find more folks who felt like we did but that was shorter-lived than we’d hoped (frankly, the distance made it hard to get in community, but it was weird being the oldest people in the room with the fewest tattoos during services). A friend recommended that I’d find comfort in people like me at this conference. So…off I went.
The host started the conference with a short speech about misfits and square pegs/round holes and what it’s like to feel alienated from the Tribe. He finished with the words, Welcome home. He said it 3 times. After the third time I was choking back tears and trying to keep some semblance of composure. A lady stranger next to me took my hand, made me look her in the eye, and said, “Welcome home. We’re really glad you’re here. Looks like you need it.” The rest of the conference, people would ask me if I was okay from all the years of Bible-belt Christianity in suburban megachurches. There was also a pub-crawl where we discussed missional ideas with the authors of those books I mentioned above.
On the flight home I journaled, and kind of re-lived the “welcome home” moment as I wrote it down. When the plane touched down in Dallas and we were taxiing to the gate, the flight attendant made the connecting gate announcements and then said, “If DFW is your final destination, the DFW-based flight crew would like to say, ‘Welcome home.'” Again…choking back tears.
The reason I recounted that is because I couldn’t shake them. Still can’t. See, they told me that it was okay to be on the “fringe” of your own Tribe. Even okay to think that maybe, just maybe, the Christian life & faith actually flourishes when it’s on the fringe of society rather than the mainstream.
And the flight crew reminded me that maybe, just maybe, Dallas was home.
Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago: The wonderful church family in Washington state got very serious…
…while my missional friends and I had started hanging out more frequently with more professional seriousness to the point where I’d moved past being a consultant for them on some things but had somehow evolved into talks where they might want me on their staff. In fact, I’d started interviewing with them, and it seemed evident to me (and apparently, them) that God might be doing something along the lines of a pastoral position.
After much prayer, we told the wonderful church family in Washington state we’d remove our name from consideration. We simply didn’t have a peace about it. It kind of hurt to tell them that, too. I’ve made true friends there, and if you’re looking for a good church in the Everett/Snohomish area, I can point you in the right direction.
A week later, we were offered a position as one of the Pastors at Irving Bible Church. The working title is Missions Pastor, but we’re going to see if that sticks.
A day later, we accepted.
See, all the reading I’d been doing (as my wife noted, “Brent, you don’t have a stack of 20 youth ministry books you’re reading.”) was indicative that I was in a place where I wanted to help believers focus on using their gifts & passions to serve others…to live missionally…to focus on living in relationships with people to live out their faith in context…and to further the Kingdom. That might be across the world with water wells in Sudan, or it might be using resources to get back-to-school backpacks full of supplies to kids in Irving, or it might be along the lines of an angel tree. Or it might be helping people design ministries where they already are, using their imagination and creativity to go where nobody sees Kingdom movement just yet.
All in all, patrons, it’s my dream job. I’m humbled and honored to serve a church family with the entrepreneurial spirit that Irving Bible has already, to serve alongside talented staff that I’ve known professionally and admired from afar for years, and to serve a place where I could see this being the last ministry move I’ll ever make.
I’m not sure I could’ve or would’ve drawn it up this way a year ago. But now I can’t imagine a ministry being more perfect for where I am at this station in life, or for my family to be a part of, or being more excited to get started. I’m thrilled beyond what words can express. It’s all happening. Again, in retrospect, it all seems so clear.
I start Nov. 15.
God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.
I am home.
P.S. And thanks to all of you patrons who seemed to encourage me with kind words via these comments or Facebook messages or texts or whatever. They meant more than I can say while I was trying to figure it all out.