“He is not a tame lion…” – Lucy Pevensie, in CS Lewis’ classic The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
God is on the move. Several weeks ago, I attended an Acts 29 Roundtable discussion led by John Bryson (or as most people call him: JB). The roundtable featured about 50 pastors, church planters, future church planters, elders, and members from Memphis, Arkansas and Mississippi. There were several things that stood out to me from this roundtable, but one in particular made me think of my personal journey: God is on the move. God is moving whether we know it or not. I had no idea all that God was doing in and around Memphis. God is calling his church back to him and sending her out for his mission – even more than I could imagine. I thought since I haven’t updated in a while I would give a brief recount of how God has moved and is moving in our life.
As you may have heard, we are no longer in Texas. We are back in Arkansas – not just Arkansas, my home town of Jonesboro – where I never thought we would be. When I graduated from high school, I moved away never to return. I made the statement, “I’m never moving back here!” But, God had other plans…
God is on the move.
One Saturday evening this past summer I was mowing the yard and God changed my life.
When I mow, I listen to music. Sometimes, I merely listen to music, and at times I like to pray and meditate on life. This night in particular I wasn’t necessarily trying to go deeper and be overly introspective, but God had other plans.
At the time, I was a youth pastor at a local church south of San Antonio. I loved being a youth pastor and loved my students. God was doing great things with the student ministry, mostly in spite of me. God called me to student ministry several years earlier and gave me a heart for students. At that time, I made the statement, “I’m called to youth ministry, not to be a head pastor!” Many times, student pastors use youth ministry as a stepping-stone to the pastorate, kind of like moving up the corporate ladder. This isn’t healthy, nor it is biblical. Therefore, I was one of those guys who was going to be a student pastor well into my 50s and 60s, but God had different plans.
Back to mowing the yard…God hit me. “I want you to be a head pastor.” And what was my reply? – “No, God, no. You called me to work with students, not adults, I’m a youth pastor.”
Of course, God continued to pursue me. Have you ever noticed God doesn’t take no for an answer?
God is on the move.
So, I started praying. And then I prayed some more. And I continued praying. A lot. Finally, I knew God wasn’t leaving nor letting up. I surrendered.
Amidst the sleepless nights where God was pricking my heart, He placed something else on my heart – church planting. The overwhelming lostness of North America and the decline of the church was one thing that I couldn’t get out of my mind. God continued to show me how he was moving through church planting. This time, I didn’t run. Instead, I started praying, “Where?”
God is on the move.
Towards the end of July, my wife and I attended the 2013 North American Mission Board Conference called Send North America – the Southern Baptist Convention conference on church planting. The fact that we were there was a nugget of God’s sovereignty. I chose (or rather God chose for me) this conference for several reasons, none of which was that I was interested in planting a church. It was close, Kim could go, my sister lives near Plano, TX (free babysitter!) and I could take my summer intern, Justin, with me. In hindsight, God had me there for another reason.
While at the conference, we met some godly people from St. Louis and Chicago. Prayerfully, we decided to plan a trip to St. Louis and Chicago to meet with the existing church planters and see each city from the inside-out. We were advised that to go and “get on the ground” and God will break your heart for the people of that city.
Full of anticipation and excitement like a kid going to his first baseball game, Kim and I flew out of San Antonio into St. Louis. Joe Costephens of Passage Church (passagechurch.org) in Florissant met us at the airport and carted us around while we were in St. Louis. He is an awesome guy God is using mightily to reach his hometown of Florissant in North County St. Louis for Christ. He and I talked about coming up and doing an apprenticeship under his leadership and then planting out of his church. However, God threw a curve and I was expecting a fastball.
During our time, we scheduled a lunch to meet with Darren Casper, the St. Louis Metro director of church planting (which later I found out he’s called “the Bishop of St. Louis”). Darren is a really wise man who gave me some valuable insight that I didn’t want to hear but needed.
After conversing for a bit and hearing my story he said, “Church planting is hard.”
In my smart-alack head I thought, “I’m so sick of hearing this, I know it is.”
“Church planting is real hard,” he continued, “I’m not here to tell you that you’re not called to plant, but if you come up here and try to plant by yourself, it’s not gonna happen.”
And then he asked a most-intriguing question that I never expected, “Where are you from?”
“Northeast Arkansas – Jonesboro.”
He thought for a bit and then looked down at his phone and asked me, “Do you know about Acts 29?”
I had. I really liked everything they were doing about planting churches, but I never really considered planting with Acts 29. Come to find out, Darren was also a regional director for Acts 29 as well as NAMB. In other words, he is on the front lines and knows everything there is to know about planting churches.
At this point I could see the spin on the curve that God had thrown, I just didn’t want to miss it.
Darren then said, “Would you ever consider moving back home – to Jonesboro?”
Just in case you don’t remember what I wrote about when I graduated high school, “I will never move back to Jonesboro.” But, sensing God’s prompting, I told Darren I would consider moving back.
Darren looked back at his phone on an Acts 29 app that had several contacts and asked me, “Do you know Chuck Gshwend of Fellowship Bible – Jonesboro? It’s an Acts 29 church.”
I had heard of it, but didn’t know much about it nor did I know Chuck. Darren knew Chuck and made a suggestion, “How about you go to Jonesboro and meet with Chuck?” Darren not only knew Chuck but also did me a favor and called Chuck. On the other end of the line, Chuck suggested that I come to Jonesboro and attend one of their weekly residency meetings and then go to lunch with them.
At that moment, everything changed.
God is on the move.
We cancelled our trip to Chicago and arranged a trip to Jonesboro. I’m still mad about that, we were supposed to go to Chicago where we had a free place to stay. I’ve never been there and was super-excited about eating some real, authentic deep-dish pizza. So, we headed down I-55 to Jonesboro.
The next morning, I got up early to meet Chuck and attend the residency meeting at the Fellowship building. It was amazing. I knew almost instantly that’s where God wanted me – back in Jonesboro, the place I was never coming back to. We had lunch, spoke with Chuck, and met with the residents over coffee. God was moving and I needed to be a part of it.
We flew back to San Antonio refreshed but anxious at the same time. How would we move? Tell the church? Sell our house?
It’s amazing how God works. We put our house on the market and it sold within 1 week, further confirming my call. We resigned from our church in mid-October and decided to take a mini-sabbatical with Kim’s parents in Big Spring, TX before officially moving back to Arkansas over Thanksgiving. Currently, I am a Teller/Customer Service Representative at First Security Bank. The residency with Fellowship will start in August.
I would love to tell you that it was the smoothest move you could ever experience, but it wasn’t. We had some issues closing on our house, went without a job for over a month and endured a cold, biting winter. I know all the positives and negatives we experienced happened for a reason. God is faithful and has provided for us at every junction. I am learning what it means to be gospel-centered and on mission in every aspect of my life.
God is moving. Yes indeed, he is moving. We just better be ready to move along with him.