As I mentioned in my announcement to the church this past Sunday, I don't come across as a huge risk taker. I'm pretty conservative, averse to much risk, and afraid of much change. But here I am at a point in life where I'm either crazy, going through some personal crisis, or actually trusting God to do something amazing in this season of my life and ministry. There's actually some evidence that maybe I'm going crazy or experiencing some personal crisis ... I now own a Toy Poodle! If you would have bet me a million dollars a year ago that I'd have a Toy Poodle I would have taken that bet, and lost! And If a couple of years ago you would have bet me that I would really enjoy doing evangelism with the unchurched, even to the point of being a regular at a local bar (which, btw, I didn't even do in college) I would have taken that bet! And now here I am on the brink of stepping down from what is the best and most desirable job in the entire denomination (Sr. Pastor at Community Presbyterian in Moody) and pushing deeply into the messy, unpredictable, uncomfortable, and vulgar world of unbelievers. Yes, I'll still be here in Moody and involved at CPC, but my focus will be evangelism and mission ... yet another move I'd have lost money on had I been a betting man.
Let me say I am NOT making this change in ministry focus because I'm weary of ministry nor because I'm wanting to disconnect from CPC. In fact, I'm guessing this new emphasis will be more emotionally and physically exhausting than I can even imagine. And, as I hope is clear, I'll continue to be involved in the life and ministry of CPC for years to come. So why am I wanting to do this? A couple of weeks ago I shared a statistic from 2010 that 52% of people in St. Clair County identity their religious affiliation as "none." That means they don't go to church buildings, they're not really interested in going into church buildings, and if all we do is try to get people in our church buildings then we're effectively saying "the hell with you" to the growing majority of our population. I'm not okay with that and want to be in a position to help not only CPC but other churches and pastors to grasp the joy and excitement of exploring the world of unbelievers, building relationships with them, and seeing some come to know Christ.
My work with Evangelize Today has pushed me into places I'd have never expected yet has also allowed me to see the amazing beauty and power of the Gospel in ways I never expected. I've discovered that unbelievers are not nearly as scary and wicked as I thought. Here's where we have theology on our side ... as image bearers of God these unbelievers actually have great worth and are typically willing to engage in relationship with me, even as a pastor, as I show them respect and treat them with the dignity they deserve as an image bearer. Sure, they're often initially suspicious and curious why I, a pastor, would enter into their world. But when they realize they can trust me, that I genuinely want to hear what they have to say, that I am theirs and they are mine, the doors to ministry and conversations about the Gospel just seem to happen.
Know that I am scared about all this! I often come across as confident, sure, full of faith, and not worried about anything, but inwardly I'm nervous as a cat about pursuing this new venture. The prospect of leaving something so comfortable, dealing with the messy lives of unbelievers, training other pastors who are much sharper than me, and raising financial support is overwhelming and intimating to say the least! But by God's grace I press on. Please pray for me and my family, for CPC as our church enters a new season, for the number of unbelievers in this community who I'm already in relationship with, for the work of Evangelize Today, and for the glory of Christ to be primary in all of this. I will continue to keep you updated on things as they progress.