Greetings from Libertyville!
As many of you know, an upcoming change in my life is that, in a desire to follow the Lord, I plan to step down from pastoral ministry at Trinity Community Church and transition to serve in French-speaking Europe in 2015.
My desire is to support the French church through strengthening a sense of vision and training for gospel-centered ministry– specifically, expository preaching that centers on Jesus, theological education, and an expectation of the Holy Spirit’s work in local congregations.
The purpose of this email is to stay connected with you, ask for your prayers, and when the time comes (which may be soon), invite you to consider being part of the sending team. If I am too far out of your orbit for this to be of interest, it is easy to unsubscribe, just see the bottom of this email.
Below I have the « long version » for those with time to read. I believe that in the next few weeks, I will know more about a specific opportunity in an established French-speaking ministry. I look forward to sharing this and asking others to join in helping see a gospel movement go forward in a place of great need.
The cliché says that if you want to amuse God, tell him your plans. Perhaps a better (and more reverent) way to put it is: if you want to know who really is in control of your life, tell God your plans… and then watch Him carry out His.
The good news is that His plans are better than ours; His goals are much more ambitious. In all the rough and tumble, He has told us He is up to nothing less than restoring us completely as His people– conforming us to the “image of his Son” (Romans 8:29).
My career plans began to form when I was in college and sensed God calling me to ministry. I envisioned serving in one of the hardest places possible (North Africa? Middle East?) fueled by the conviction that God is on an unstoppable mission to every tribe and nation with his grace. I had been on a few short-term trips, including a summer in Africa and I could see myself living in the bush and the life the came with it: tinkering with an old Land Cruiser on the side, maybe preaching in an African language, managing lots of international travel.
So I went to Bible School (finished at Moody Bible Institute after community college in CA and a one-year program in French-speaking Switzerland) and anticipated going overseas when finished. After graduation, while I was on a short-term trip, I became aware I was better wired and more passionate for teaching and preaching the Bible than the pioneer work of building relationships among unreached peoples. Rather reluctantly I applied to seminary and received a scholarship to come to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago. A few months into the program, I found out I had misunderstood the terms of the scholarship. It was only for pastors committed to serving churches in the US. A few weeks before this discovery, I had told the Lord, “I will serve you wherever you call me.” And there it was: “What about ordinary pastoral ministry here in the States?”
That redirected my trajectory (no Land Cruisers or African languages) and now I thank God for it. As I was finishing my last semester at seminary, an unusual job opportunity opened up at Trinity Community Church in Libertyville, not far from the school. On paper, it looked like an awkward fit: the Libertyville community is mostly established families, many upper-middle class. I was in my twenties, single, and had nearly nothing in my bank account. But as the leadership and I prayed together, we felt like it was a fit and so I stayed.
Now looking back, I am so glad for the chance to serve as a pastor here. Since taking on the Lead Pastor role in 2010, I’ve learned (or maybe: am beginning to learn) more than I’ve taught. How to do weddings and funerals, how to work with a staff, what to do when your parking lot needs replacing (still working on that), how to handle differences on the elder board, how joy and sorrow so often mingle together, how God’s Word does the heavy lifting in seeing real life change. This has been a rich season. Just last Sunday I had the privilege of baptizing a man that came to understand God as his Father, through the ministry of our church, in a way he never had before.
Nevertheless, throughout this time, I felt the tug of the spiritual needs overseas. Our family has a focus on France dating back to a five-year assignment my dad had with IBM in the 1980s. Because of this, I was born in Paris. Years later, my older brother moved to France after college to serve a local church there. This has confronted me in many ways with the needs and opportunities in the Francophone world. The statistics on the spiritual condition in France are startling. Bible believing Christians make up around 1% of the population. There are 300 cities of more than 10,000 that have no established evangelical church. Where my brother is in Toulouse, there are 100,000 university students and only handful of strong churches. Add to that, currently there is a shortage of pastors–in the past few years more pastors have retired than young pastors have entered the ministry and all the while more churches are being planted.
In the midst of this need, there are exciting opportunities. In the 1970’s, there were 770 evangelical churches in France. Today there are around 2300. There are many church-planting efforts going on and the growth is expected to increase. Moreover, the French churches are working together more than in the past; renewed vision for planting more churches is bubbling up all over the country. Veteran church leaders are saying, “This is an exciting time.”
After I finished seminary, I was told that the terms of the scholarship were limited to five years. If after five years, I wanted to serve overseas, I could go with their blessing. In light of that, and several other factors, over the last year I’ve stepped back, looked at my life, and asked again, “God, how should I be investing my life?” I’m single, I sense I’m probably not the fit for a pastoral career here in Libertyville, and I am aware of the needs in French-speaking places. I’ve wrestled with others- many of you -as well as the elders at the church with the sense that God was leading me to transition to a different work. Overall support for serving on the mission field was strong, so I told the church this summer I was stepping down at the end of December with a desire to serve overseas, probably France or somewhere French-speaking.
Now I am in midst of seeking the right fit for where to go– right now it seems France or somewhere French-speaking in Europe. I have several potential opportunities and I expect to hear back about one specific option in the middle of October. Once I have a specific ministry plan and vision, I will be inviting others to join me, specifically in prayer and financial support.
This is not going to be easy. (Usually that is the case with following Jesus, right?) I can get anxious about leaving a fruitful ministry position with a good salary and a close-knit faith family around me, one where I can preach in English, work with a staff I consider friends, and have many relationships outside the church in the community.
But I am also excited to join what God is doing overseas. A more aggressive secular culture has purified the church in France, drawn the line in the sand deeper, and many believers live with a clear sense of mission and sacrifice God calls his people to. Though most churches are small, and lack the resources we have, there is a joy, a communion fraternelle that we often miss. And laboring there is such a worthwhile endeavor. It’s something I sense God has shaped my life for, and given me gifts that fit the calling. Ultimately, it is the glory of God that is at stake, and my greatest hope is that he would be glorified as secular Europeans come to know the power of the risen Christ and enjoy fellowship with Him.
The Lord is good. “He always leads us in triumphal procession.” And He leads us in triumphal procession together– doing « full time ministry » in secular jobs or in traditional Christian vocations, sending and going, supporting and praying, being the body even across continents.
Thank you for reading all of this. As I jotted names down for this list, many, many good memories came rushing back. Friends are a great gift– and I thank God for the way each of you has made a difference in my life. I look forward to staying in contact.