Way back in halcyon days of December 2009 (when "Fireflies" by Owl City was a number 1 song and Avatar came out) Emily and I had to decide on whether or not to move to Iowa.
Iowa! Can you imagine? We had heard Iowa called God's country. You know why? Because no one else wanted it.
Since graduating college 8 months prior in May 2009, I had had a grand total of 3 interviews for full-time ministry positions. One for a lead pastor position of a small, struggling church (thank goodness they said no). One for a worship leader position (which I never heard back from). And one at Good News Community Church in Oka... Okacho... Okoboji, Iowa. We had absolutely no intention of moving so far from home to serve in a place we had never heard of in a denomination I had some theological qualms with.
But on Christmas Eve 2009 (services had been canceled due to snow, of course), Pastor John Messer called to offer the job, and we had a decision to make. Stay in Indiana, and keep looking; or go to regions unknown, hoping that what we were experiencing was the call of God.
You, obviously know what happened. We made one of the best decisions of our lives and made the trek to northwest Iowa. We got to be a part of one of the healthiest and most unique churches I've ever seen. Emily and I have spent the first decade of our adult lives here, making strangers into friends and friends into family. I got to make all of my first-time ministry mistakes on Good News Church, which thank goodness, because there cannot be many churches as grace-filled and forgiveness-centered as GNCC.
So why leave?
When we first moved out here, we figured that we would be here three-ish years. Then I started my seminary degree, so I wanted to stay through that. Then Pastor John asked me to start working on building a discipleship culture, which would take a good 5-7 years. Almost ten years later, here we are.
But there are a few things that are true at the same time. First, Good News Church has been one of the best things that's ever happened in my life. I was so fortunate to have a close, mentoring relationship with Pastor John, who taught me how to be a pastor, to be a strong leader, and to stay healthy and centered on Jesus. We've made lifelong friendships that have been sources of joy. We've been part of a church that truly wants to join Jesus in His work of renewal. Not enough churches are like that. But Good News is.
And yet, we've known for a long time that northwest Iowa would not be our forever-home. There are some practical reasons. Small-town living has some perks, for sure. But Emily and I both want our family to grow up in a more diverse area. If we're going to live far from family, someplace with an airport would be nice!
And there is also the fact that ever since GNCC brought on Pastors Brandon and Brennon, God has given me a sense of release, knowing that Good News would be in good hands, under great leadership. My presence wasn't ever necessary for Good News to be the church Jesus is calling her to be. And so for the past year or so, we've known that it was time to go and practice ministry in the next place God was calling us to.
So where are you going?
I can tell you this: just like we never, ever thought we would end up in Iowa, we never thought we would end up in Washington, D.C.!
When I first started applying for jobs, we were looking for something that got us closer to our kids' grandparents; preferably midwest; maybe a mid-sized city like Indianapolis or Des Moines. It was also important that we found a church that lined up with six key values:
- Scripturally sound
- Missionally engaged
- Vibrant worship
- Intentional discipleship
- Reflected the diversity of its city
- Allowed women to lead in all capacities
I can now tell you that those six things are really hard to find in one church!!! Even Good News reflects the diversity of its city (being as Dickinson County is 98% white)!
It was also disheartening to see how many churches still don't allow women to serve in all capacities. Churches that were otherwise pumping on 4 or 5 cylinders but somehow dismissing half the population as teachers and leaders.
I am fortunate in that I could be as picky as I wanted in applying to churches. We weren't trying to leave a bad situation. So we took our time.
Eventually, I saw that The Table Church in Washington, D.C. was looking for a lead pastor. It was one of the few churches that was pumping on all 6-cylinders, plus a few more. I had heard of The Table before because a few church leaders I know of had guest-taught there in the past. I thought of The Table as an example par excellence of what a church could and should be. So I applied, somewhat on whim, thinking that I would never, ever get an interview.
And then I got an interview.
At this point Emily and I freaked out a bit. We really had not considered moving to D.C. as a possibility. It was a different culture (east coast vs. midwest); it was a BIG city; and, for our kiddos, it was still a 10-hour drive to grandma and grandpa.
But something about The Table just felt so right and unique and like a perfect fit.
But it was just one interview.
And then it was another.
And then they called references. And watched sermons. And invited us out to D.C. for a visit.
Pulling back the curtain a bit, I've been on a total of four "site visits," when a church asks you to come and interview in person and secretly attend a service. The first was at Good News. That clearly went well. The second was a year ago. It went...poorly. The third was earlier this year. It went pretty okay. A little awkwardness here and there. But some good moments too. But the job went to the other guy.
But the site visit to D.C.? It was wonderful! From the people we met, to the food we ate, to the interviews, to the church service . . . it all just went so well! Let's be honest, no church is perfect. But The Table Church was a church that seemed to get it. And we got them. And they got us.
But even while we were still there, we thought, "There's no way. We can't actually live here with kids and make this work? Right?!" Nothing to do with the church. Everything to do with the location.
And then they offered me the job.
And so, we found ourselves in the same position we were ten years before. But this time, it was even harder. We had two kids now. We had built a life in Iowa. We knew it was to time to leave. And yet, was D.C. what we were being called to?
I promise you, we tried to say no. We honestly did. Several nights, after spending hours praying and talking and discussing and debating and crying and pro-con-list creating, we end the day by saying, "Okay, we're gonna say no."
And then Emily and I would both wake up the next morning with the same thought: "We can't say no."
This is what I wrote in my acceptance letter to The Table:
Emily and I recently encountered the phrase "Going scared" from Jill Briscoe. It's this idea that God calls us to things that we didn't expect and are dramatically outside of our comfort zone. And that God doesn't miraculously take the fear away. God instead gives us courage to Go Scared.
So, after days of prayer, hours of conversation, many tears, and quite a few skipped meals, we've decided to Go Scared, trusting that God has us in good hands.
So that's where we're going. To a church that's more that we could have hoped for; to a city that scares the (fill in your favorite scatological term here) out of us; and onto the road that God has laid out for us, trusting that He is both with us and far ahead of us, preparing the way.