Monday, July 25, 2011

Tony Bennett said what?

I first visited San Francisco in December 2002. I made a trip to the Bay Area by myself to visit Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. I immediately fell in love with the area, the culture, the people, and I knew without a doubt that God was calling me and my family to move all the way from very rural Mississippi to the huge metropolis of San Francisco, California. We spent four wonderful years in that area. We studied, we trained, we ministered, and we fell even more in love with the people and the area. We made the greatest friends anyone could ever want, but we knew that one day we would have to leave the place we loved and called home.

I graduated in May 2007 and God began to do a work in us again and we knew without a doubt that He was leading us and calling us to pastor in Boulder City, Nevada. I have been serving as Pastor of Youth and Education and we served in this role for a little over four years. These past four years have been amazing. We have, first of all, seen lives changed and have learned and grown a lot in our relationship with God. I announced my resignation yesterday.

However, almost a year ago God began a stirring in our heart. He began a restlessness in us that was hard to explain. As I have eluded to in the title of this blog post, I left my heart in San Francisco. This time in my spiritual journey began a deeper yearning for God that I had ever had before. God began to bring about relationships in my life that was needed. God allowed us to "church cheat." We began to attend a friends church in Las Vegas on Saturday night and through that fellowship, through their teaching and preaching, and through the relationships that I began to have with leaders there, God began to reveal things to us in unexplainable ways.

I have always wanted to plant a church. I have always wanted to create something new in an area where people have limited knowledge of Jesus or that don't know about Him at all. God began to reveal to me in September of 2010 that I should plant a church in the city of San Francisco. After a lot of prayer and searching the scriptures and reading, God made it apparent that I needed to take a trip to the city and pray and talk and He also revealed to me that He would show me what was next when I got there.

In October 2010, I took a trip to the city having faith that God would show us what to do. I visited friends, prayed, chatted with locals and other strategic people, and even got to see the Giants in a playoff game. As I was meeting with a church planting strategist in the Richmond District of San Francisco, God made it clear that I was to plant a church in that neighborhood. I shared this information with Jessica and we were ready to pack it up and move that week. However, church planting requires a set a gifts, skills, and resources. Jessica and I knew we had the gifts, most of the skills, and none of the resources. We definitely wanted to plant a church in San Francisco, but we didn't want to do it wrong, because that would dishonor the process and most of all would dishonor God. I want get into all the statistics, but I will tell you a majority of church plants fail within the first 4 years. We didn't want to be a statistic.

We took a very hard look at our abilities and God was revealing to us that although He is calling us to plant in SF, it may take some time. We decided to take it slow and just be open to His leading during this "slow" time. During this time, I would intentionally meet with people, read books with church leaders, practice vision casting, attend conferences, and do anything I could to make me a better leader. While I was doing this I was introduced to an organization called Launch (www.launchstrong.com). This organization is designed to help potential church planters. They assess, train, and partner with planters through churches to plant churches. They were partnering with Hope Baptist in Las Vegas to do an assessment for planters wanting to plant in the West. I was encouraged to go through the assessment. Jessica and I had the opportunity to have dinner with their Chief Launch Officer and his wife to here more about the program. After hearing more details about it, we felt comfortable that we would go through the assessment. The assessment required us to spend money, complete an intense online component, and sit through an intensive 2 day assessment with other couples planting in the West.

Over the next several months we began to try to figure out what we could do while we were taking it "slow" to get ready for SF. One option that came to my mind was to look for a different position. We prayed for opportunities with other organizations and thought strategically about what would be best for us. Nothing seemed to be working out. I truly believe God gave me this idea. I know of a church in the Vancouver area that has been without a pastor for a while. I know of some great church planting systems, training's, planters, and people in Vancouver too. Many of you know my father in law is a church planting catalyst in Vancouver and so I thought what if we connected with him and his people for a while to train and get experience. I submitted that to him and he began to work on a proposal. Meanwhile, we attended the SBC Pastor's Conference in Phoenix and doors began to open and connections were being made that really made us want this "Canada Training" to happen. As I shared this with many church leaders and the words that almost all of them used was, "that is very wise." All of this was taking place in early June. In late June Jessica and I went through the assessment with Launch in Las Vegas. We knew going into the assessment what our results would be and when Mac, the guy I had dinner with, called to give us the results it was exactly what we expected. The assessment teams suggestion was although we had the heart, desire, humility, and passion to plant a church, we were not quite ready. We need to take the next 2-3 years and work on leadership complexity and leader multiplying. While we were at the assessment we shared the proposal for Canada. During the phone call, Mac said that the opportunity for Canada would be great for us.

After more praying, we felt a peace about pursuing the option to move to Vancouver to pastor and train. It took a few weeks, but all of those details are working out and a couple of weeks ago Towers Baptist Church voted and called us to become their first church planting resident. These duties include preaching, pastoring, church planting, training and a bunch of other things.

San Francisco is still in our hearts. We are going to figure out in more detail what that means over the next 2 years. God could possibly allow us to develop into great leaders with better skills and more resources to plant a church. He could provide the teams, the money, the partners that we don't currently have. He could call us to stay longer and develop partnerships between the similar cities and train people to go on mission or to help train people to be the ones to plant the church. Although we will be in Canada, our heart is for San Francisco and the West. We plan to be involved in the city that we left our hearts in as much as possible.

We are blessed to be able to live in the house that Jessica grew up in and be near her family. God is good and we are just being obedient to what is He is calling us to do now. Many of you have asked about what happened to San Francisco. I hope this explains it better. We want to honor God by doing this right. We want to do it well.

We ask that all of you pray for us as we pack boxes and get ready to move. We ask that all of you pray as we seek to raise funds to help us move and then serve up North. As I said earlier, this past Sunday I announced to the church and to my students that I was resigning. My last day at Bethany Baptist is August 21. We move August 23.