Sorry for the long silence on this blog, I’ve been so busy with the day job and everything else in life I’ve barely had time to author emails, much less blog posts or any of my fiction work.
Today is an exception. We have a “No Guilt Sunday” for the first time in almost a year. How is this possible? Church planting is a “no rest of the weary” sort of thing. Well, we finally stopped trying to tell God what we thought we should be doing and started listening to what He wanted us to do.
A major part of that was to walk away from Uncommon Church.
It was arguably the toughest decision we’ve ever made in our spiritual lives.
In no small part due to our own egos. We wanted that church to light up the world and we wanted to be a huge part of the ignition. But, it wasn’t our church, nor the Pastor’s church, but God’s church. And, as such, He will do with it what He wills.
Late last year, the Pastor decided in order to be more directly effective on the City of Austin, he should move the church down to Hyde Park, a really neat neighborhood right near the main University of Texas (Hook ‘Em!) campus. While this was a fantastic idea for reaching college students, urbanites and others who are far from God, it was way outside our wheel house.
Anyone who knows Angie and me even a little bit knows how passionate we are about family ministries. From Love & Respect, to Wild at Heart, to Stormie Omartian and Focus on the Family, we’ve been immersed in shoring up marriages and families, helping kids and just about anything else we could find that helps people live out God’s vision for the family unit.
As you can imagine, a ministry striving to reach college students, single 20-somethings, urban hipsters and the like doesn’t really dovetail with our strengths, spiritual gifts, experiences and most importantly, our leadings from the Holy Spirit. It’s awesome that Pastor Michael and Uncommon are doing it, but that doesn’t mean it’s where the Holy Spirit has built us to serve. Every great ministry isn’t necessarily right for every missionary.
A big “Ah Ha!” moment for me came when I had the privilege of taking author and professional coach Pablo Giacopelli to the airport after a stay with the lead Pastor of Uncommon Church.
During our conversation, Pablo discussed why so many people who want to “do great things for Christ” fail. To paraphrase, if we view it as US doing something great for Christ, its ego led, ego driven and ultimately, ego ruined. Nothing rooted in our own ego can have real fruit in the Kingdom, simply because ego is the antithesis of what it’s all about.
And, if you know me at all, a guy who has been in the spotlight of sorts most of my adult life, signed more autographs than I can recall and received tons of accolades for my accomplishments, my ego is a major character flaw I struggle with daily.
As I carefully unpacked what Pablo had to say that day, I had a bit of an inner transformation, where I started to learn what it truly meant to live for Christ. With that came a need for a sabbatical of sorts. But this naturally led to me being less and less useful to Uncommon Church, which, in turn brought with it a window for the enemy to pour guilt all over me…
But, God has His Story that He’s going to tell with or without my consent. Thankfully, I stopped trying to tell my story and started listening for His.
Angie and I prayed over our decision, sought the wise council of our spiritual mentors and peers, meditated on it and finally started to see how we were not only becoming less and less effective as tools in Christ’s toolbox, but we were actually becoming a hindrance the longer we stayed with Uncommon.
With that realization, we stepped back and formally advised the Pastor we were no longer going to be part of Uncommon Church.
Tomorrow will be one month since we made that declaration and, quite honestly, while there are a lot of bittersweet emotions bubbling up (mainly the disconnect with so many friends we grew to love in the Uncommon community), we feel more spiritually healthy than we have in a very long time.
From what we can tell from the outside, Uncommon has taken an upswing since we left as well, proving once again that God blesses obedience.
Once we officially broke away from the plant, we felt God was giving us permission to just be. Just be part of a church, don’t exhaust ourselves trying to serve the church or build the church, but just be part of one.
So, we “church shopped” for a bit, checking out a few new ones, and considered one we’d already gone to several times before landing at Northpoint Church in Georgetown, TX.
During this whole journey, from striving to make Uncommon great, to the fateful discussion with Pablo, to severing ties with Uncommon, to landing at Northpoint, the concept of Spiritual Authority became increasingly present in my prayer life and reading.
During this time, I was promoted at work to store manager where I have authority over a large business, but at the same time I have to submit to corporate authority, whether I agree with it or not.
I also came to the realization I’ve never once truly submitted to spiritual authority at any Church I’ve attended.
This is a MAJOR problem.
And, one that ties back to ego.
But, no good storyteller would take the reader down a path without lots of signposts and foreshadowing and God is the best storyteller of all.
In the course of the fortnight where this concept became the heaviest thing on my heart, I received an email from the Resurgence about the latest Church leadership coaching, entitled “Be Under Authority Before You’re In It”. Ok, Lord, I’m listening.
A few days later, Angie and I discussed Church membership and how our submission applied to it and she did some research on it, coming up with very authoritative articles from Matt Chandler and John MacArthur (It’s essential you are a member of your church! But, I’ll let you read those articles separately to discover why). Both articles contained very convicting quotes for this train of thought:
Matt Chandler: I was preparing at the time to preach through the book of Hebrews and “happened” to be in chapter 13 when verse 17 leapt off the page: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
John MacArthur: Living out a commitment to a local church involves many responsibilities: exemplifying a godly lifestyle in the community, exercising one’s spiritual gifts in diligent service, contributing financially to the work of the ministry, giving and receiving admonishment with meekness and in love, and faithfully participating in corporate worship. Much is expected, but much is at stake. For only when every believer is faithful to this kind of commitment is the church able to live up to her calling as Christ’s representative here on earth.
So, if I don’t submit myself to Church authority, how can I ever truly grow as God plans me to? How can I ever expect the Church to grow? How can I effectively witness to those inside the church and, more importantly, those outside it? And, ultimately, how can I say I’m truly submitting to Christ?
It’s not just about obeying Christ, but obeying the authority of the local Church. And, for those to work, the church you belong to must obey Christ as well, in all aspects.
So, as we start the next chapter of our walk, one that begins at the doorstep of Northpoint Church, I ask that you continue to pray for us, pray that we grow exponentially over the next few months as we take a sabbatical from serving, and learn to just be.
It starts today, as Northpoint is actually taking the weekend off so the leadership team can experience the Drive Conference at another North Point Church, in Atlanta Georgia. The overwhelming desire to be part of that is great, but the call from the Spirit telling us to rest is greater.
Thank you, Father, for making that call when we needed it most.
Thank you for showing us our place in Your story.