Friday, August 28, 2009
Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow -
I have experienced my share of painful moments in ministry, and this past Sunday ranks extremely high on the list. How does one share the news with the congregation you planted and have served for 7 years that you are absolutely convinced that the Lord has brought your time of direct service with that beloved family of faith to a close and has directed you to move on to another place of service? Well, of course, you just have to say it, but the declaration itself is often not adequate for addressing the many questions that arise as the faithful flock ponders the news that can present a great deal of uncertainty as to what comes next. I have a few thoughts that I hope will offer reassurance to those with any concerns and confidence to all that God is in this decision and this decision will result in blessings and growth for all who are engaged in His Kingdom work as it pertains to Eastside Community Church of Harper Woods. It is truly a moment that is sweet and sorrowful at the same time.
My first thought is this: Eastside is not MY church. I mean this in the most absolute sense. Jesus said The Church - all believers from all ages individually and all local bodies and collections of believers who have come together in His name past, present and future are HIS. That means Eastside is His possession, not mine and I must make decisions related to Eastside's well-being not necessarily according to what makes me comfortable or what makes life easier for me. Jesus has a Kingdom agenda for Eastside. I have come to an understanding that my primary role in God's Kingdom agenda for Eastside Community Church was to get it up and running. I believe the Lord has put the gifts that Luz and I possess to good use in this catalytic, get-things-going role and that Eastside is now primed to grow and expand under the leadership of another pastor with gifts and skills that lend themselves to growing and expanding a small church administratively and ministerially. The potential for the future of Eastside is exciting and it is sweet!
My second thought is focused on the members of Eastside themselves. My Eastside family is wonderful, beautiful, magnificent and glorious. These amazing people consistently make an impact on the immediate community and the world at large that is proportionately much greater than their numerical size. My love for these people is boundless and their love for me and my family has been and is immense. It is because of this great love and my family's interconnectedness with the members of Eastside that our departure is painful. If there were no love, no affection and no concern for the people that have been my extended family for the last 7 years, we could simply pull up our stakes and leave without a second thought. But the love overflows, the affection abounds and the concern is eternal. For us, though the situation full of sweetness as we look toward the future, because of our monumental past, it is also accompanied with a profound sense of sorrow.
Nevertheless, the call persists. In the convergence of events, circumstances, and people that the Lord uses to help us discern His will at any given moment, Luz, the girls and I believe without doubt, that the Lord has called us to transfer our direct ministry gifts and daily ministry operations away from Eastside Community Church of Harper Woods, MI and towards Grace Church of Racine, WI. There are no differences in theology, mission or purpose. The doctrinal statements of the two congregations are virtually the same and both local bodies are inextricably dedicated to the Great Commission - taking the good news of Jesus Christ to all the world - and to the Great Commandment - demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ to all people in real life and real time.
These commonalities are strong and bind both bodies together in the economy of God. Nevertheless, their histories and ministry foci are somewhat different. Eastside is a smaller, newer, more diverse congregation with a heart for ministry and poised for growth in infrastructure and the coordination of its ministry structures. Grace Church Racine is a larger, older and less diverse congregation with a strong infrastructure seeking to implement new ministries to reach the community and new opportunities to reflect the beauty of diversity within the context of the local church. The Lord has used my family and I to establish Eastside as a significant presence on the east side of Detroit and as a useful help to other ministries around the world. Eastside is now ready to grow in number and in strength under the direction and leadership of the person of God's choosing in God's time. Grace Racine, though much older and extremely well-established, is at a time in its history that it is prepared to initiate new ministries and strategies to reach the Racine area, the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor and the world as it never before. Joining the Grace Racine family once again places my family and I in a position to initiate, create and implement new strategies to reach those who need to know the love of Jesus Christ on a very broad scale and to assist, encourage and partner with smaller congregations who are committed to do the same.
Our decision is truly a Kingdom focused decision, rooted in our desire to pursue the Lord's will and maximize the use of our gifts for His Kingdom. It is a hard decision emotionally, yet it is an easy decision when our focus is turned towards the Lord and His agenda. We love Eastside. We love Grace Racine. Above all we love the Lord and we are committed to follow Him even when it hurts. I ask you my family and friends to pray for us and to join us in praying for the congregation we are leaving and the congregation we are joining. Also, feel free to ask any questions you might have regarding this move and our perspective on God's plan as it pertains to us. Parting is indeed such sweet sorrow, but following Christ's direction brings us joy and the joy of the Lord remains our strength. Until next time...