Whenever I think about trying to determine what God is calling someone to do, the word that seems to describe it best is wrestling. That is always what the process has felt like for me (although sometimes it feels more like flailing).
A little background:
After I finished college and started looking for a job, I had this strange sense that I should take a year and do an internship with the campus ministry that I had been a part of at Fredonia. There had never been an internship there before, I just thought this is what I should do. I hadn’t ever experienced anything like that before, but after wrestling with this for a weekend, I woke up on a Monday, called and cancelled a job interview I had scheduled, and signed up to be an campus ministry intern.
Even when I did this, the thought was still, ministry will be what I do on the side, while I have a job in Human Resources. Over the next two years, as I started a campus ministry in Albany, and worked at another job on the side, I began to recognize that I was supposed to be doing ministry full-time (even if it wasn’t actually paying full-time).
A few years later, when we knew that it was time to leave Albany, we didn’t have a clear sense of where next. But after a lot of prayer, we believed that it was Ithaca, and Cornell University. Seventeen years later we look back and are amazed at how God guided that process.
Then after being in Ithaca for about 3 years, Liz & I made one of the biggest moves we’ve ever made. We got involved with the Vineyard, and began moving towards planting a church. When we first started going up to Syracuse to attend the Vineyard there, I had no intention of church planting. I was simply looking for a church for our Cornell students to be a part of. However, it didn’t take too long to recognize that a church 80 minutes away was not a great fit.
At that point I began talking to John Elmer (the pastor of the Syracuse Vineyard) about sending someone to Ithaca to plant…and then we would be willing to help! Next thing I know John invites me to some meeting at his house where it’s him, me, two other guys and he starts talking about what is involved in planting a church…I had no idea what I was doing there (I was just happy he was feeding us!)
Then he scheduled me for something called a church planting assessment. Since my last ministry interview involved 15 guys in black suits sitting around a table firing questions at me for my ordination interview, I was a bit nervous.
Keep in mind, for the 10 years that I had been doing campus ministry, the one thing I knew for sure that I never wanted to do was be the pastor of a church (let alone plant one). Yet even though the process started with me kicking and screaming a bit, over time it became clear to both Liz and I that this was what we were supposed to do.
Which brings us to Ireland.
When this thought first came up, it was very clear that if were we to pursue it, it would be a big change for a lot of people. Most notably, our kids, our families, and the Ithaca Vineyard [basically all the major components of our lives]. And so as we wrestled with the idea of moving to Ireland to plant a church last fall, our initial response was, this just can’t be for now.
Then, as I shared yesterday, it came back full force in February.
And my initial response was to try and explain it away. Maybe it’s just because we were in Ireland last summer & I really loved being there (which I did). But we were also in London & Paris for a bit and I didn’t have any thoughts about going there to plant a church. In fact, we weren’t even in Dublin all that much (and what little time we did spend there was mostly our trips taking Liz’s dad to the hospital).
So as Liz & I were talking more and more, the passage of scripture that came up for me was Acts chapter 13.
1 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers:
Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been
brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2 While they were
worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for
me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So
after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and
sent them off.
One of our core values as a church is living life together, and this was a chance to live this out. So after Liz & I talked and prayed about it for a couple weeks, I went to our church council, James, Bill & Steve. Not only are they are leaders in our church; they’re the people I work closest with, and I trust them. I told them what we were wrestling with, and I asked them to pray and fast.
I referenced this passage & asked them, “Please don’t pray that God would make it clear to us. I want you to ask Him to make it clear to you. If you pray and sense that no, this isn’t God…we are not going to go.” The flip side of that of course is, if they sensed that this does seem to be God, we don’t see what kind of choice we have but to go.
After a few weeks, the 3 of them went out to dinner with Liz & me (St. Patrick’s Day, coincidentally) and said that what they kept coming up with as they pray was “send them.” (It was kind of them to tell us that when they had met with each other just previous to this, they each came hoping the other two had heard something else so that they could be overruled! But they were all in agreement.)
I’m still not really sure what Liz & I were expecting that day. But I think it really hit us for the first time that this was real. From there we told our kids. (It went a little better than last summer…but just a little). We began talking to other pastors in the Vineyard, and while I kept waiting for someone to tell me this is crazy & we should forget it, that never happened.
The final step in the whole process for Liz & me was going back to Ireland last month to meet a couple of the Vineyard pastors there, and walk around the city of Dublin talking with each other & praying. There was still a part of me that expected a big red “STOP” sign to be placed in front of us, but everything we got, said “go.”
Over the past few months, I’m pretty sure Liz & I have used the words, “crazy” and “insane” more than we have at any other point in our lives. But so far, it has been a really good and exciting kind of crazy.