There’s something ominous about the idea of change. Even though the change taking place might be good, very good even, the uncertainty of the future is always a little daunting. Any transition or life-change has a way of upsetting your comfortableness with the way things are to prepare you for something new. And this newness is the source of both fear and hope. Fear of the unknown and hope in the One who’s already there. I’m not sure how unbelievers navigate big changes in their lives. The sheer ambiguity of what such-and-such a decision might hold is enough to make anyone a little squeamish, let alone making that decision without faith in a sovereign Lord. Therefore, I’m extremely thankful that the changes I undergo aren’t done alone. God is there, and all along He’s sustaining me by His righteous right hand. (Isa. 41:10)
It is with that in mind that I happily announce my new role as part-time Youth Pastor for the First Baptist Church of Stuart, Florida. Starting immediately, my wife and I will be positioned there to engage the youth of the church and the surrounding community with the gospel of Christ. I can’t tell you how elated I am at the opportunity of serving God to an even greater capacity. It’s amazing because I almost didn’t think this day would come. Let me explain.
I graduated from college in the winter of 2012 with a degree in Youth Ministries. I felt assured, afterwards, that one day I’d be called upon to minister at some church to their youth. And after Natalie and I moved to West Palm Beach in 2013, it seemed as though God had decided to fast-track that plan. Upon moving here, we quickly found a church and promptly got involved, preaching and teaching to the youth every Sunday and Wednesday. But through some unforeseen and uncontrolled circumstances, Natalie and I were called away from this church. We’d both been burned and now we were slightly isolated, forced into looking for another church family to call home.
That was something that was completely foreign to me. Growing up a pastor’s kid, it wasn’t really a question of where I was going to church. I was there supporting my dad and, eventually, serving alongside him in various roles. But now, with a new bride and in a new state, I was on the hunt for a new church. After visiting around and getting frustrated with the lack of a sound church body that was both welcoming and doctrinally centered, we gave one church our sort of last ditch effort. We had heard of this church a little north of us, called Beacon Baptist Church, and it was the only church remaining on our list that we hadn’t visited. So one Sunday, we decided to go, with no expectations on what we might be in for.
Pulling up to the church, we were immediately impressed with the facilities. They seemed new and well-cared for. Stepping into the auditorium, we were greeted with smiles and handshakes that seemed warm and genuine. We found our seats and, needless to say, were blown away by the next hour or so. The music was euphoric and the preaching was so rich and engaging that I remember getting in our car after the service and saying, “This is the one.” We both knew right away that God was calling Beacon to be our new church home. It was strange how immediate it was, but we were both certain of what we had experienced. I wasn’t expecting it to be a “love at first sight” sort of scenario, but that’s how it was.
We joined in the spring of 2015 and have grown so attached that it really has become like an extension of our family. That’s how it’s always been for me, though. Again, as a pastor’s kid, the church family were extensions of my nuclear family. I grew up with those folks and they watched me grow from kid to adult. Naturally, then, I was at home and at peace with how organic our fellowship and friendships were. We didn’t really have to force any relationships to happen, we just sort of fit in. Like it was meant to be, or something. And when something’s that natural, that fitting, that’s a good sign you’re in God’s will.
Nevertheless, there was still a nagging sense that the ministry God had for me was still out there.
Let me make a confession to you right now . . . I battle discouragement all the time. I wouldn’t call it despair or clinical depression or anything that serious. But there are definitely seasons in my life where severe discouragement shakes me to my core. And in the past few years, I’ve endured my fair share of those seasons. Most often, they dealt with something ministry-related. Again, ever since college, I’ve felt assured that God has wanted me to preach. And even though I’ve had to work full-time jobs while waiting for that ministry to come along, I’ve always had that calling on my life. Another thing you should know about me is that I’m terribly impatient. Naturally, then, feeling this call and not having it come to pass was both frustrating and discouraging. Why had God given me this sense of calling if He wasn’t going to make it happen? Why God? Why have You gifted me with teaching acumen if You weren’t going to let me use it? Why do I feel such a passion for preaching if You weren’t going to provide the outlet for that passion?
These questions and more similar to them ravaged me. It’s not as though I wasn’t teaching either. Beacon’s pastor, Dr. Blalock, was supremely gracious and considerate in giving me ample opportunities to substitute teach and fill in when needed. But impatience and discouragement aren’t ingredients that mix well together. Over the last 3 years, I’ve talked to numerous churches about preaching opportunities and ministry positions, and none of them worked out. For one reason or another, God wanted me to wait. (I guess I should’ve never prayed for more patience.)
My wife can attest to the ebbs and flows of my faith over the last couple years. At times I was content waiting on God, happily serving in my role as volunteer at Beacon and working 40 hours per week (and blogging on the side). Then at other times, I was completely dissatisfied that God hadn’t led me into vocational ministry like all my friends seemed to be. This, to be sure, is definitely a downside of social media: the gradual and insatiable dissatisfaction with your present circumstanced based on the perceived circumstances of those you follow online. Nothing could be more ridiculous than to base your happiness and contentment on the edited lives of your social media “friends.” Still, the ups and downs of faith and discouragement seemed to take a toll on me. I wasn’t sure what God was doing or where He was leading me. I even remember basically resigning my sense of urgency for ministry and began pursuing an alternate career path at my current job. This new path required you to pass a rigorous 4 hour exam which necessitated months of reading and studying. I embarked on this new career, almost abandoning any sense of calling I had before. But again, I was met with even more confusion. The test I had spent countless hours studying for and lots of dollars preparing for resulted in a failing grade. I hadn’t passed.
Now I was more confused than ever. If God wasn’t going to let me pursue this career, what’s the point? If God wasn’t going to let me preach, what’s the point? What are you doing God? I knew that His timing was perfect and that His ways weren’t mine. (Isa. 55:8-9), but that notion wasn’t good enough. “God’s timing may be perfect for some people but it’s not perfect me,” I thought. This was a serious down moment in my life. I wasn’t sure what God was doing or where He was leading me.
But all the while, God was preparing me. It’s easier to see now but God surely knew what He was doing. All the hurt of churches turning me down and the distress of failing that exam was leading to a specific point, a juncture which nearly everyone must face in their own way. God wasn’t leading me to resign His call, rather, to resign my plans. What I didn’t know then, but I see now, is that whatever plan I perceived God to be working out was merely my selfish dream of how I wanted things to turn out. And, to be sure, God doesn’t call us to relinquish our dreams, just those that get in the way of us seeing His will.
And so it is that over the last several months, I’ve felt a reassurance and reaffirmation of God’s call, along with a renewed sense of patience for His timing. A new teaching opportunity opened up at Beacon, which I quickly took, giving me a renewed sense of purpose and passion for expositing the Word and explaining the good news of grace.
One day, last December, I felt (again) the urgency of ministry, this time determined to be resolute with whatever God would bring my way. Through some mutual acquaintances and the grace of a local professor, I was put in contact with Pastor Orman of FBC Stuart. And soon thereafter it was apparent that this was the ministry I had waited for — this was the ministry God had both prepared for me and prepared me for. After weeks of meetings and prayer, I have officially been voted in by unanimous ballot as the youth pastor of this wonderful congregation. Natalie and I are thrilled to begin working and serving the youth of this church and the surrounding community and we pray God would use us only to that end.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t close with some words for my Beacon Baptist family. I want to thank you for welcoming Natalie and I, and making us feel right at home when we desperately needed one. You’ve been caring and gracious in all your actions towards us, and it’s with bittersweet emotions that we find ourselves moving on in the confidence of God’s call. I began by saying that change is daunting, and this is nonetheless so. We step out into this next chapter of life and service not assured of the end but assured of the One who is already there.
I hope you’ll be in prayer for us as we transition to FBC Stuart and that God would bless our ministry efforts. Our prayer is only to impact the lives around us with the grace, mercy, and peace of God’s gospel. Thank you so much for your continued support.
Photo via Annie Spratt / Unsplash