In 2009 God surprised me. Not the first time, probably not the last time, but it was a big time surprise.
As a student at Marion College (now IWU) I heard Dr. Laurel Buckingham, longtime pastor of Muncton Wesleyan Church, give this challenge to ministry majors – “Pray that God will call you to a community where you could spend a lifetime.” That really spoke to me, I prayed the prayer, and sensed I was called to Kentwood (a suburb of Grand Rapids, Michigan) to plant a church I would serve for a lifetime.
In 2009 I was 30 years into that calling, and had plans through 2020 and beyond. I made no secret of my conviction that “local church ministry is the front lines of Kingdom expansion” or as Hybels puts it more compellingly “the local church is the hope of the world.” Denominational or educational service was important, but secondary. And I was as energized as ever by the local church I served and the community we were serving. I was exhilarated by the church planting we were doing (playing a part in the establishing of the hip hop “The Edge Urban Fellowship” was a blast), and our journey to becoming multiethnic (reflecting our city and heaven) was really picking up steam.
Then God clearly indicated to me, “you’re being released.” How that all unfolded may be a story for a future blog contribution, but I was caught completely off-guard. Though we had a succession plan in place, up to that point it had been just theory and not something I suspected we’d use anytime soon. Surprise!
At first I felt like I was in no-man’s land, or as I later described it on an “Abrahamic Adventure” – between the GO and WILL SHOW (Genesis 12:1) there was a DON’T KNOW (Hebrews 11:8). I knew my time in Kentwood was over, but unsure of what might be next. Then I was invited to interview to be Vice-President of Wesley Seminary at IWU, and entered the dilemma of participating in an exciting Kingdom endeavor that wasn’t local church ministry.
I’ll never forget a conversation with Dr. Henry Smith, President of IWU. I said to him, “You realize I don’t have one day of experience in academic administration, that I have ONLY been a local church pastor.” He paused, then said, “Exactly.” He paused again, then went on to say that their choice of a local church pastor for leadership at the Seminary was very deliberate, because they wanted it to be a practice-oriented seminary serving ministry leaders, especially those in the local church. Subsequent conversations and significant times of prayer confirmed my new assignment from God.
So eight months into this new assignment I’m frequently asked, “Are you enjoying it?” It’s a question I’ve answered in different ways, including…
…the unique vision of Wesley Seminary is invigorating! This role is giving me an opportunity to use my spiritual gifts, to express my passion for equipping others for ministry and to build on experiences in local church life (church planting, multiethnic ministry, balanced life for sustainability, raising up leaders, etc.) for the benefit of students we seek to serve.
…I’m still convinced the local church is the front lines, so some days it feels like I’m one step removed from where the action is. I’m also convinced the value of the Seminary is what we do in support of local church.
But most lately, after digging around in Ephesians, I think “are you enjoying it?” is the wrong question. Not that the motive is wrong – its most often asked by people who are genuinely interested in my well-being and it is a way of wishing me the best. But the question is not good for me, because it makes ME the center – my feelings, my fulfillment.
The question is not “am I enjoying it?” but “is GOD enjoying it?” Am I participating in “the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure” (1:9)? Is my service putting a smile on the face of the One who “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will” (1:11)?
That’s where the peace comes. I sense I’m where God wants me, engaged in a Kingdom-worthy endeavor that gives glory to Him. I believe God is enjoying it…and I share in His joy.