Earlier today the elders of Butler Church of Christ announced to our congregation that I will be preaching a "trial" sermon at South Lansing Christian Church next Sunday, June 10. For some, this came as quite a shock. Others began hearing whispers in the last few weeks, and our elders wanted to end any speculation that might distract from our church's mission. While we'll have to wait a week to learn if, in fact, I am called to South, the events of today compelled me to share some thoughts about this anticipated transition.
The decision to leave Butler might seem sudden, but it has been anything but.
Tracy and I began talking about 2007 late last year. For us, it promised to be a noteworthy year. In February we celebrated our tenth anniversary at Butler Church of Christ. Just last week both Tracy and I turned forty. In August we will commemorate twenty years of marriage. With all our "anums in alignment," Tracy and I began to pray about God's direction for our ministry. Was it his desire for us to remain at BCC? Or was it time for us to move on and begin a new chapter of our service to God's Kingdom?
In addition to praying we sought counsel from people we trust and admire. We asked them to pray. We listened.
Then, in late February, South's Associate Minister, Wally Lowman, called to ask if I was interested in discussing the Senior Ministry position at their church. Frankly, I was stunned. When I was an associate minister, I would average a phone call from another church about once every other month. But it had been ten years since another church seriously "courted" me.
Tracy and I prayed and talked, and decided to put Wally off until we completed our long anticipated mission trip to Haiti. While in Haiti, we continued to pray, and when we returned I phoned Wally. He asked how our trip went. After giving "Lowman the lowdown," he said something I later relayed to Tracy: "We have a group go to Northwest Haiti Christian Mission every year." For me, that was confirmation number one that maybe God was doing something. When I mentioned Wally's comment to Tracy she said, "Oh, don't tell me that!" She can recognize God's hand at work too, and she wasn't quite ready to call U-Haul.
Another confirmation came when Wally asked me if I was familiar with a discipleship process their leadership was working to implement. It is taken from a Thom Rainer book titled Simple Church. I nearly dropped the receiver. For the past several weeks I had been leading our church staff through a discussion of that book. At that point, we were already working to redefine our ministries in "Simple Church" concepts. Confirmation number two.
I agreed to meet with the search committee. Actually, finding a date when we could all connect was tough, but when we did, I was really blessed by our time together. They asked some tough questions. I asked some tough questions, too. We discussed South's mission, and I discovered that it is nearly identical to the mission I've been promoting at BCC for the last four years. By the end of the meeting I found myself making a subtle mental shift from, "God, are you doing something?" to "God, I hope you're doing something!"
The search committee told me that they wanted to make a unanimous recommendation to the elders at South. I expected to wait a couple of weeks before hearing anything. It took only two days.
We set up a meeting with the elders at South. Again, tough questions. One elder in particular, a 30 year Human Resources veteran at GM posed some difficult administration related questions. Another asked me to talk about my position on the role of women in the church. The time flew by, and before we knew it we had met for over two-and-a-half hours. Again, I anticipated hearing something in about a week.
Dick Novello, the chairman of the elders called me the next day to ask when I might be available to preach a trial sermon if, at their meeting later that night, the elders decided to recommend me to the congregation. Again, I saw God's hand at work.
There have been other confirmations, too. Larry Carter, the President of my alma mater, told me, "I believe you're the man for this job." His affirmation means a lot to me, and humbles me even as I write this. My GLCC English professor, George Brown, called to encourage me. George's opinion carries a lot of weight - not just for me - but for all who know him. Jeff Strickler, a guy I knew in college who now attends South, was an encouragement as was Ruth Doty, one of the kindest ladies I've known. Of course my buddy Fred and his wife, Mariah, have been an incredible support to us as has my long-time friend, Mike.
Let me give you one more signpost from God. We've been looking at houses and, on the recommendation from a friend, we contacted a particular realtor. Now, this friend doesn't attend South; he has just used Missy in the past with great results. We've traveled all over Holt and Grand Ledge with Missy, and she is a delightful person. It turns out she listed the last SLCC preacher's home. She even attended South at one time and told Tracy that she really needs to start going back to church. Tracy was happy to recommend she return to South and see us.
God, we're told, works in mysterious ways. Yet, I'm certain he also works in convincing ways. We're convinced this is God's plan for us.
It hasn't been easy, today. We've shed some tears, and watched our friends hurting. We wish we could wrap folks up and take them with us. But just as surely as God's plan for us is to move to Lansing, God's plan for Butler is to continue to connect with God, connect with people and serve the world. Somewhere right now, there is a pastor who is praying that God will reveal "what is next" for him. That pastor is about to be blown away by the providence of God and the goodness of the people at Butler Church of Christ.
I hope he enjoys the journey as much as I have.