“There’s Something Strange Going On Tonight. There’s Something Going On That’s Not Quite Right.” –R.E.M. (covering the song “Strange,” by Wire)
The best way I know to describe it is “antsy.” Professionally, things were going well. Personally, same. Marriage, same. I had no visible reason for my feelings of discontent but they were there nonetheless.
Enter 2016’s resolutions. I resolved to, against Mother Theresa’s famous advice against it, pray for clarity on my profession. Clarity on some stuff I was dealing with. Clarity on how to make the most of the empty nest. In retrospect, it was a much more dangerous prayer than the cursory nod I gave it.
I keep having dreams…Of people wrapped up tight in the things that will kill them. Of being trapped in a lift plunging straight to the bottom. Of open seas and ways of life we’ve forgotten. I keep having dreams…” –Frank Turner, I Am Disappeared
Most patrons here at The Diner are well aware of my seemingly quixotic push for (using the simplest terms with the most convenient definition here) missional discipleship. It’s been about a decade that I’ve become convinced that discipleship is the new evangelism and while I’ve rarely encountered dissent on that, it’s certainly a Sisyphean task to get specific movement in the Western Evangelical church’s methods on how to get that done.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the challenge. I believe that the outcomes are worth the struggle. I believe it to be the most loving thing for people in my Tribe even if (when) it makes them uncomfortable. It’s incremental. It’s slow-going. My Irish dander and punk-rock pragmatism relish the passionate discussion this conversation brings about. Questioning the status quo is my bailiwick…especially when it comes to the people I pastor and their ability to fully follow Jesus.
In fact, I was asked by some people whose opinions I value deeply what I wanted to be doing in five years. Without hesitation I answered, “I want to be an influence in evangelical circles for missional discipleship.” They followed up: What about in 10 years? Again, without hesitation, “It isn’t any different than what I want to be doing in five years.”
Their follow-up went something like this: “Is your current role pointing you towards that? Are you using your primary gifts? In a best-case scenario, if everyone at your church bought in fully to your vision, does it accomplish what you want to be doing with the last third of your professional ministry life?”
The follow-up to the follow-up went something like this: “If you really want to infect evangelical circles with your missional discipleship virus, have you considered teaching at a seminary or Bible college where you get church leaders 20 or so at a time every semester who will go out and lead churches all over the world?”
No. I haven’t.
But now I am. Now that’s keeping me awake at night.
“It’s time to move on, time to get going. What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing. But under my feet, baby, grass is growing. It’s time to move on, it’s time to get going.” –Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Time to Move On.
These questions excited me and terrified me. See, my church family loves me. That feeling is reciprocated. They give me the chance to do some meaningful work all around the globe. They let me serve gifted and talented people to unleash them to do meaningful work “across the street and around the world.” On top of all that it’s really fun working with the staff there.
Interestingly, not long after that conversation with people whose opinions I value deeply, the leaders at IBC started to ask me those same questions. My guess is that they saw outward signs of what I was internally wrestling with. We both know that particular church family deserves someone in the role of Mission Pastor who is passionately focused on the role they need them to do…not someone who is winking at a future doing something else. They deserve more than a glorified table-waiter prepping for the next thing. We decided it was best for me to move on. For them and for me.
My last day was Sunday and there was appropriate celebration in my leaving. Amicable is way to soft a word to describe our parting. Loving is more like it. Like I said, it’s a fun and gracious staff and I’m glad I was a part of it for three and a half years. I’m positive that feeling is true for the leadership regarding me, too. They said so. They aren’t ones to pump sunshine about stuff like that.
So, God again does what he seems to do for me in the last 7 or 8 years: He refuses to show me clearly what is next. He just shows me what step to take next. So, I did. I trust him in the abyss of not knowing. I’ve gotten pretty good at that over the years.
“I’m doing all right, getting good grades. My future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.” –Timbuk3, The Future’s So Bright (I Gotta Wear Shades).
Here’s what I do know:
Tracy and I are moving to Deep Ellum. Our 28 years of life are being downsized to 1,000 square feet of loft with a skyline view and an inpsirational neighborhood that appeals to our bohemian sensibilities. Tracy’s concurrent journey is even more transformative than mine on this deal…you should ask her about it over a cup of coffee. Or glass of red wine. One of those people whose opinions we admire said something like, “You guys need to consider moving downtown. Brent, the suburbs annoy you. Tracy, they’re killing you. The ‘burbs funnel everything toward conformity. Neither of you conform well.”
Since Tracy and I are committed to incarnational living, we’ll become a part of Life in Deep Ellum‘s local tribe. We’re excited about it, too. It would be cool to still be a part of IBC, but they aren’t in our new neighborhood. Doesn’t make sense to drive past a great church to get to another great church in our way of thinking.
People keep asking me if I’m going to be a pastor again. Funny, but they keep playfully insinuating I shouldn’t. Maybe they’re right, but I always saw myself as a pretty effective servant. We’ll see. If the right congregation needs/wants me and everything that entails, I’ll certainly listen. It’s what I do.
I’ve also got my foot in the door at Dallas Seminary as a graduate teaching assistant, likely in August. I’ve got four more years of doctoral work there (20% done so far!), and you have to start at the bottom. I’m excited about that reality. Still got some paperwork to fill out but that’s an afternoon.
Maybe I’ll teach high school English. My Master’s is in Education (and my doctorate will be, too) and I have a minor in English. Apparently charter schools will let you teach while working toward certification. I could maybe teach Bible or other stuff at some private schools, too. Dunno how they’d feel about me and all I entail, but I think I’d enjoy that, too.
So, here I am again…at the fuzzy front end of clarity waiting for my mood parachute to change colors.
Just wanted to let you know, patrons. If you’re so inclined you can pray for me. And let me know if you’re up for coffee or some such. I have some time to do that while I’m figuring it all out.
P.S.: A word to the wise: Be careful what you ask God for. Mother Theresa and I agree that God’s gonna answer either way…