“Sometimes God calls you into new things, sometimes God pushes you into new things..”
This was my dad’s response to me as I shared with him some of the questions I was asking related to my vocational and occupational life. It became clear that this was one of those instances where God was pushing, and he was pushing pretty hard.
Since 2001 I have been on pastoral staff at The Well, our church community in Feasterville, a suburb of the wonderful city of Philadelphia. In 2006 I became the Lead Pastor and have been serving in that role ever since. Over the course of these last 12 years, I have been privileged to be a leader in a pretty amazing little church community. By God’s grace, we have accomplished some amazing things. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished and sincerely humbled that I’ve been able to be part of it. Of course, successes are always accompanied by failures. It seems that our strengths are always accompanied by weaknesses. There is just no way getting around that. It is just part of life and I’ve come to accept that as such. But even if the midst of these weaknesses and failures, God has done some amazing things.
Last summer my leadership team sent me on sabbatical. Actually, if i remember correctly, I asked for it. We had just been through one hard season after another and I was just plain old worn out and needed a break. Through a series of conversations with some close friends, God had started to break down my idols and this sabbatical served as a significant season of naming them and beginning to squash them. Stepping back from day-to-day leadership gave me a chance to do some amazing work on my own soul and identity that I simply ignored for way too long. God broke me, allowed me to see that my identity does not rest on how successful our church is, how “missional” people identify us as, if I get asked to speak at conferences or how many twitter followers I have and how many people like my jokes on Facebook.
I went back to The Well in the Fall of 2012 ready to lead in ways that I had never allowed myself to do before. I was ready to take risks and finally lead in some of the ways that I always have wanted to but fear of failure had always kept me from doing. I was living into a whole new self – one that wasn’t dependent on people’s opinion of me but instead was trusting that even if people rejected my leadership I would still be okay.
I had just spent a whole summer visiting other churches and I learned a lot from all of them. There are some excellent and faithful churches in the Philadelphia area. But, the thing that I realized the most was this: The Well is more unique than I ever really realized. There was just no one else around us who was approaching church and mission quite like we were. This is not a critique on these other churches – that they are somehow unfaithful and bad – it’s just that we have a unique expression of being the church in our context. This means that there is a need for us to be open and intentional about connecting with people who would not find a home any other church.
As we began looking at our church’s culture, leadership culture, our strengths, our weaknesses I started having more and more dissonance between who I was as a leader – even in my best self – and the things The Well needed to work on, grow into and become. For a while I ignored this and just pushed it into the back of my mind. I was the Lead Pastor of The Well, I felt like I always had been and I just couldn’t imagine being anything else.
All this time of being at The Well, I’ve been bi-vocational. I kind of just stumbled into this way of life. I don’t know that I really meant to and while it has been hard, it has always worked. As a web developer running my own business God has always provided enough, sometimes just enough, for us to feed our family and get by. It seemed like time and time again God would show up, quite often at the very last minute.
But something odd began to happen in June of this year. The flow work (and therefore income) just stopped. Dry as a bone. Nothing. But, trusting that God was going to come through as he always had I just pressed forward. This time though everything I had done in the past to find work just wasn’t working. I didn’t really say much to anyone because this kind of thing happens. All freelancers go through dry spells. But when July was the same story and August continued to provide the same narrative I started wondering what in the world was going on. We had to start borrowing money, putting our bills on credit cards and getting ourselves into a hole that just wasn’t healthy. And I didn’t know what to do.
So I called my dad.
I explained to him my design income situation and some of the thoughts I was having about my role at The Well. It was then that I started to realize that, while I never dreamed of ever leaving my role there, maybe that’s what God was pushing me into. Over the course of the next few days, this became more and more clear.
The last few weeks have been a total blur for me really. The short story is that I have dramatically shifted my role at The Well. I am no longer the Lead Pastor. About a week or so ago the congregation voted to make our Teaching Pastor, Scott Jones, the Lead Pastor and give me a new title as Mission Pastor. This means that Scott has taken on the day-to-day pastoral responsibilities that I had and I’m serving the church in a very limited role of keeping us focused externally and connecting us with the wider body of Christ and His work in the world.
I’ll be on staff with the church for about 6-8 hours a week and I am currently looking for full-time web development work to support my family. I have had some good leads and it looks like I’ll be able to find some meaningful web development work that I’ll really be able to sink my teeth into and really fulfilled in my occupation. I’m pretty lucky. Most pastors I know wouldn’t have a clue what to do next. I’m thankful to have a really marketable skill that can make a livable wage to support a family of six.
At the same time I still get to be part of the exciting future of The Well in a role that really, to be honest, is a much better fit for me. Over the last few weeks as I have stepped back from my Lead Pastor responsibilities I have become more and more painfully aware of how my weaknesses as a leader created some unhelpful and unhealthy and sometimes hurtful systems, habits and practices. I find myself saying to Scott and others, “yeah, sorry about that.” The grace in all of this is that God has worked so deeply in my life and identity that I don’t have to walk around feeling sorry for myself as if I’m a failure. Like I said before, I am proud of my time as Lead Pastor at The Well. It wasn’t perfect, but when is it ever?
All this to say, this is a season of huge transition for us. A ton will change, but a lot will stay the same. My wife and I are “all in” at The Well, just in a completely different way than we could have really imagined or planned ourselves. I’m looking for developer jobs that allow me to work from home and allow me to live in a very similar lifestyle than I have been accustomed to.
This is a transition that I would have never planned, but I am so at peace with where we are at. So, my dad is right. Sometimes God calls you into things and sometimes he pushes us into things. I think I’m beginning to realize that he pushes the hardest when we are unable to see beyond our present circumstances.