It was a cold and dreary Saturday in January. Rebecca and I had made arrangements for childcare and we were preparing to go to a local restaurant. We had scheduled a meeting with some individuals who wanted to spend a couple of hours getting to know us. I was both excited and unsure. Our conversation around the table could have a significant impact on our future. The year was 2012. The restaurant was in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
For the better part of a year, I had been discreetly pursuing a call to serve as a pastor of a church. A ten-year veteran of associate ministry—primarily to college students and young people—I had begun to sense a shift in my vocational identity. I was proud of the work that we had accomplished in my 6 years of developing a ministry to 20-Somethings in Chattanooga, and I was curious to see if what I had learned in young adult ministry could be replicated at the broader congregational level.
Rebecca and I loved our time in Chattanooga. We loved our church. The church that I served at had been encouraging and supportive throughout my ministry and it was hard to imagine leaving it. And yet, I felt called to preach more regularly and to serve in a capacity where a church could cast a new vision together, taking risks and seeing what was possible in Christ’s Name.
As the associate pastor in Chattanooga, I preached every other month or so. When it became apparent that I was slated to preach one Sunday in January of 2012, I shared this news with a church that had expressed some interest in my candidacy as their pastor. Actually, I shared this news with two churches. At that time, Rebecca and I were considering two church possibilities—both of which could not have been in more different contexts. One church was located in a large southern city in a suburban setting. The other church was nestled in a beautiful valley, on Main Street in a Western North Carolina mountain town. Both churches had sent representatives to meet with Rebecca and me that Saturday, albeit a couple of hours apart but at the same restaurant. That next day, I would preach to three distinct congregations at the same time—our home church, and members of the search committees from these other two churches would be present. Simply put, all of this felt disorienting. The weekend felt like a game show.
And yet, I will never forget what our conversation with the members of the search committee from the First Baptist Church in Sylva felt like. It was our first real contact with the church, but our time together had a unique quality to it. It seemed like we were old acquaintances. The timing of our laughter worked. The conversation had a natural ebb and flow to it. Our informal interview felt unforced and natural. The result of our visit was unmistakable to both Rebecca and me. The Holy Spirit was present in our time together, and it was the moment that I began to fall in love with you. Although I had not met anyone else from the First Baptist Church of Sylva, I sensed an inimitable pull toward you. Even though our conversation lasted little more than a couple of hours, you were already becoming home to me.
A call is a mysterious experience. I have little doubt that you have experienced it yourselves. Whether it was a job, or a relationship, or even the purchasing of a new home, I suspect that you had a moment where, inexplicably, you were being led to a particular calling.
The genesis of my calling to serve as your pastor began that weekend some five years ago. My prayers changed as a result of it. I began to pray that if this was God’s will that God would finish what He had started. Throughout the interview process, the follow-up phone calls, my visits to Sylva, and my initial conversations with you, I felt this call grow within me.
Calls, of course, are not one-sided. A call to a particular place or form of ministry must be a shared decision. Like any relationship, mutuality is necessary for a healthy union to develop. I was honored and deeply humbled to learn from you that this calling was confirmed in your decision to extend an invitation for me to serve as your pastor.
And that sense of call has not changed these past five years. In truth, I suspected that it would. I had enough experience in church life to enough to know that congregational ministry can be uniquely hard. While there is no doubt that my calling to serve as your pastor is challenging, I can tell you in full honesty that it is absolutely where I long to be. My love for you is stronger than at any time of my tenure as your pastor. I am privileged to preach from our pulpit. I am touched by your trust when you are hurting. I am awed by your good heart, and your servant-filled motives. I am thrilled to represent you locally and beyond. I am proud of our heritage and the legacy of our church’s work. I love serving as your pastor and count it as a gift from God.
Thank you, First Baptist Church, for recognizing and celebrating my five years of service with you. I am deeply moved by your gift for me and my family. Thank you for your support and well-wishes. Thank you for walking alongside me as we listen for God’s direction for the living of these days. Thank you for your patience with me when I make mistakes, and for your encouragement to me when I am not at my best. Thank you for loving my family and for choosing to be church with us. Thank you for inspiring me with your stories of a steadfast faith that is stronger than you know. Thank you for being my church home and my family of faith.
“Now to our God who by the power and work within us is able to accomplish abundantly more than we could ever ask or imagine, to God be the glory in the church and to Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” –Ephesians 3:20-21