Seven years ago today, April 12, 2009, our family launched a church plant. I say family because it was most definitely a family affair. That season wrecked and ruined us in the best possible way. Had we not said, “Yes” to God, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Recently, I was asked to share at my church’s women’s retreat about how God has worked in my life. That question caused me to thoughtfully reflect upon the specific moments in my life over the last several decades when it was undeniably God leading, directing, working, and moving in my life.
Wrecked, Ruined & Working
How had she seen God working in her life?
Perhaps, it was on that random day in the Spring of 2008 when she was an adjunct professor at a university. In the dim lights as she listened to one of her voice students rehearse for their final voice recital, tears slowly began to stream down her face.
“Why am I crying?” she thought.
Although the song that was being sun was beautiful, it wasn’t one that would result in this type of emotion, especially since she’d heard it hundreds of times before. Yet, the tears continued to flow. At this point, they were uncontrollable. Thankfully, the room was dim, so others didn’t notice her tear-stained face and bright red nose.
As she turned her attention back to the stage, it wasn’t the singer’s voice she heard. Instead, it was a still, small voice, which she knew to be God’s. Oh, it wasn’t audible to the human ear, but it clearly spoke these words, “About that meeting you are heading into, don’t hold it closely to your heart. You won’t be a professor here next year. You’re going back into ministry and you will be pastoring again.”
She remembers thinking, “What? We have no plans to move. Dreams? Oh, we’ve got lots of dreams, but no plans.” She turned her attention back to the singer on the stage, and didn’t give much thought to the voice in her head. Well, until about an hour later.
Sitting in the office, she listened to Dean of the School of Music share with the group his hopes and dreams for the future. Plans were discussed. Dreams were dreamed. And possibilities presented. She walked out of that meeting realizing she would have a place here for a long time, if that’s how God led. But now, she couldn’t stop thinking about what the still, small voice had said.
After the meeting, she walked back to her office to teach a voice lesson. As she arrived at the door, her phone rang; it was her husband. Before she even had time to say hello, he said, “You’re not going to believe this! The superintendent just called me, and they want us to plant a church in Washington. Not just me, but both of us.”
Stunned even more, she fumbled for her keys, unlocked her office door, and made her way to the chair by her desk. She collapsed into it as her head spun with all of this new information coming at her from every single direction. Quietly, she thought to herself, “Now, I know what that still, small voice was trying to tell me about not holding that meeting closely to my heart. I am not going to be here next year.” She tried to explain all of this to her husband who was equally excited and overwhelmed himself.
Being told that God was going to once again open doors for her to pastor shouldn’t have been surprising, but it was. In fact, it was shocking. Even more amazing because God was moving her family back to a place that they considered home. Yet, a place they never ever expected to return.
But maybe she had experienced God working in her life just two years prior in November 2006. Her family was sitting at a stoplight in Johannesburg, South Africa. After wrapping up the first worship and arts conference in that country, they were headed back to their host home. Next week, they’d be headed to a church near Durbin. But first, thanks to their gracious hosts, they would celebrate Thanksgiving. Her kids couldn’t believe they were going to swim outside in November on Thanksgiving Day. Not to mention, celebrate an American-style Thanksgiving in another country–complete with a tur-duck-ken and Martha Stewart’s Sweet Potato Casserole!
As they waited for the red light to turn green, her husband looked over at her and said, “Either we are moving to South Africa, or we are are going to plant a church where we can both pastor and fulfill our pastoral callings.” She looked at him in stunned silence. No one saying another word. She knew they weren’t moving to South Africa, so this must mean he was serious about church planting. She had talked about it for years, but he’d never said a word. Well, that is until now as they were sitting at a stoplight in another country! What the heck?
For the next two weeks in South Africa, neither of them uttered a word about that brief, but significant conversation. However, once they got back home to Denver, it was all they talked about, dreamed about, thought about and planned for. Yet, there really was no plan, because God hadn’t opened a door. And she wondered if it would ever really happen.
She went about the usual rhythms and routines of her daily life. Parenting two kids under the age of three and working in fulfilling work environments. She really loved her job as at the university. Yet, with each passing semester, it truly felt as if her calling to pastoral ministry was getting stronger and stronger. However, in many ways, she was pastoring these students–meeting with them outside of class time and encouraging them in their personal walks with Christ. Still, she couldn’t shake how God was leading and working in her life.
Possibly, she had most experienced God working in her life in 2005, shortly after her daughter was born. One evening after the kids were tucked into bed, her husband turned to her and said, “We need to talk.” With cups of coffee in hand, they made their way to the couch and sat down. He shared how he knew she was called to be a pastor, and that he would be responsible to God in how he helped her steward her pastoral calling, her talents and and her gifts.
He recalled when they had first met. She was the one who had been called to vocational ministry. At that time, he was studying to be a medical doctor, and he desired to support her in ministry. Yet, here they were, many years later, trying to figure out what it would look like for both of them to walk faithfully in their pastoral callings. Surely, it was non-traditional, but nothing about this couple was typical. They sort of live life outside-of-the-box of tradition.
Or could it be that she’d really experienced God working in her life during college? She thought back to that Sunday at the end of her freshman year of college when she walked the aisle of the Baptist church. Stepping out into the aisle, she took the first step. Then, another step until finally making her way to the front of that sanctuary where the pastor was standing. Years before, when she was just a little girl, she walked the aisle to make public her decision to accept Jesus as her Savior and Lord of her life. But this time, well, it was different. This time, she was walking the aisle to surrender her life to full-time vocational ministry. She knew whether she married, or not, she was called to ministry. Maybe even to be a pastor. And if she didn’t make it public, she wouldn’t be walking in obedience to God.
In the moments and months and years after making that decision public, she recalled all the doors that God had opened for her to minister, to lead, to serve and to learn. She sincerely wanted nothing more than to do God’s will, so she accepted most every opportunity she was given: working with college students, youth and children, and, of course, singing and leading worship. After all, music was her college major (and minor).
Then again, maybe God had most strongly and specifically worked in her life when that young woman, now a wife and mother, was standing on a stage. But not just any stage. Once again, she found herself standing on the stage at Wenatchee Free Methodist. However, this time, instead of performing a concert, she was taking her ordination vows. As the Bishop spoke, she recalled the first time she walked through the doors of this church as a tour member preparing to perform a concert. Like any other night in any other city in any other state or any other country, this church was just one of the many stops on that tour.
As she got off the tour bus, this small-town Louisiana girl thought about how she’d never even heard of the Free Methodist denomination. And she was quite certain after that concert was over she would never step foot into another Free Methodist church in her lifetime. After all, she was a Southern Baptist pastor’s kid! My, oh my, doesn’t God have a sense of humor?!
Yet, here it was seventeen years later–17 years–and where did she find herself? Standing on that very same stage of that very same church in Wenatchee, WA. Only this time, she was flanked on either side by her pastor-husband and her pastor-dad, because she was being ordained an elder in the Free Methodist denomination. As she knelt down and placed her hands on the Bible, it was a holy and sacred moment. It was almost too much for her to take in. Overwhelming was an understatement. God was surely at work.
Or possibly she most experienced God working in her life at that first official church service of their church plant back in 2009. Selah, it was called. She thought back to how they’d even come to that name for the church. On a bright and beautiful spring day–ones she’s only seen or experienced in Colorado–her family was driving home from a friend’s birthday party. When all of a sudden, she said, “Selah, that’s it! That’s the name of the church we are going to plant. It’s from the Old Testament in the book of Psalm. Do you know what it means?”
With a big grin on his face, her husband said, “Yes, it means, ‘to pause, to rest‘. And I agree, Selah is the name for the church.”
Although hard work and long hours, their season of church planting was very much a pause and rest for her and her entire family. After navigating the hamster wheel of busyness and chaos of what they had personally discovered to be Americanized-Evangelical church ministry, they realized it was not the life they desired. Nor was it the ministry to which they felt called to serve. Now, here they were setting up church each and every Sunday: chairs and tables and church signs and kids’ classrooms–the whole shebang.
And that season was life-giving and fulfilling and transformative. Not only for them, but for many others. People who’d never stepped foot inside of a church before and others who’d been deeply wounded by the traditional church experiences were attending. They were coming to the services, and their lives were being transformed by Jesus. During that time of her life, God was surely working.
Even still, as the case often is with church plants, their’s became a statistic. The doors were shut and the church was closed. There was doubt and confusion and, if I am honest, a bit of anger, too. But that’s another story for another day. Suffice to say, that season gave her a new perspective on success.
Success is not always determined by numbers or buildings or programs. Neither is success always the completion of a dream. She learned success wasn’t defined by man, but by God. In her life, success meant saying YES to God and trusting his plan even when the outcome was uncertain or unknown. Or when things didn’t turn out they way she had envisioned or planned.
Church planting ruined her and her family in the best way possible. And she’d do it again…in a heartbeat.
But when had she really seen God working in her life?
Maybe it was back in 2013 when her husband told her he needed to recharge for the next ministry season? He wasn’t at the point of burnt out, but he knew that if he didn’t intentionally take a season of rest, he would be. In some ways, this was a sabbatical, but in this case it was voluntary unemployment. In our faith tradition, pastors are usually granted a sabbatical every seven years. However, due to moves and various other transitions, they both had been in ministry for nearly 20 years without ever taking, or being granted a sabbatical.
To some, taking this season of voluntary rest didn’t make sense. Still, in faith, they walked in obedience to God. For her, specifically, this was another lesson of trust and relinquishment. This decision should have freaked her out, because she is planner–a serious planner who likes to have her ducks in a row. Yet, it didn’t freak her out. In fact, she experienced peace like never before. And she thought, “No paycheck, no problem.” God will provide.
And God did provide in many overwhelming and extraordinary ways. During that season, her husband was intentional about resting and restoring himself—body, mind, soul and spirit. He also took on all the responsibilities of home schooling their kids and managing their home while she continued to work. And it was amazing to see God work in and through their lives.
In less than three months, God multiplied her music studio by three fold. She was flabbergasted. As such, her sphere of influence widened. She had students and families from every walk of life and background coming into her home each and every week. She may have been their music teacher. But she knew for many, she was the only Jesus they would ever see. And she took that seriously.
As a result, she began to see ministry differently and more clearly. Ministry was not only when she served on the staff of a church, or whenever she had the title of pastor. It wasn’t an official program or position. No, ministry was her very life, 24/7/365. Living and loving like Jesus, wherever she found herself in the many spheres of influence that God placed her.
As the season of
sabbatical (unemployment) ended, they really had no idea what their next steps would be. Would she be hired at a church to pastor? Would her husband? Would they be serving together? Or in separate locations? Would they move? Or would they be able to stay in a community where they felt called to establish roots? No matter what the future held, they were going to be obedient to God. And they would walk through whatever door he opened or down whichever road he directed.
Then, one day, that couple got another call from the very same superintendent who had called them a few years before. Remember?
Perhaps, that was the day when I most experienced God working in my life.
And here I am. A pastor on staff of a church. A church I dearly love. Serving alongside of my husband, because he’s on staff, too. Writing these words in the very office where my husband sat and worked way back in 2000. The very office that I helped him to paint (And it’s the same color, mind you, from over 15 years ago.) The very office where we had many tearful talks. The place where I told him about yet another negative pregnancy test. (Unfortunately, we had that particular talk a lot.) But it was also the place where I was able to tell him he was finally going to be a daddy for the first time.
It was in this very office where our then-lead pastor looked at me and told me, “Jada, you should pursue pastoral ordination and take classes, because you are already a pastor, but you should make it ‘official’.” And now, it’s the place where I fulfill my pastoral calling from so many years ago.
Yes, I do believe it is in this season that I am most experiencing God working in my life. Right now, in this very moment. But I wouldn’t be in this season had it not been for the many, many others. For you see, each one is intertwined and connected together to create exactly who I am and where I am today.
And in this one, I’m fulfilling a little girl’s dream. A little girl who “played church” with her stuffed animals and “preached” on the front steps of her parents’ home in the Deep South. Only now, I’m not pretending to be a pastor. I am one. And I love it and my Church, the people, as well as the community in which I reside and serve.
Recently, we were on a family hike. During the hike, my daughter exclaimed, “Mom, I don’t like straight paths. I like to make my own way.” Her comment got me to thinking–really thinking–about my life and the paths that I have journeyed over these last four decades.
Now, I can’t speak for everyone. But for many of us, God’s plan for our lives doesn’t always include a straight path. Oh surely, sometimes, it might. But usually, there are many twists and turns and detours along the way. At least on my journey, there have been many.
And there were times when I thought the dream and the calling would never be fulfilled. But God had a plan. A plan I would have never, ever dared to dream, or hope for, or imagine. Whenever I thought the door was closed, he was simply saying, “Not that one,” or, “Not now.” God was with me and stays with me every step of the way. In some ways, I’ve come full circle. And there are many days that it leaves me absolutely breathless.
What about you? Has God given you a dream? Has he called you to a unique opportunity? Surely, it doesn’t have to be vocational ministry. God calls his children to all sorts of endeavors and experiences. And he only asks that we faithfully serve and represent him wherever we find ourselves.
The book of Proverbs tells us, “We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.”
So, if God has given you a dream or a calling don’t become discouraged when it doesn’t come to fruition overnight or within a human’s finite timeframe. Allow him to work and to move and to do what only God can do in and through you. For you see, it’s really not about the destination; it’s about the journey. If I could encourage you in any possible way, it would be to keep your eyes on where he’s leading, but mostly, I encourage you to enjoy the journey–each and every step, every twist and turn, and even the roadblocks.