Yesterday, after almost a year of praying and agonizing about what the Lord would have me do, I accepted the call to be the Senior Pastor of Killian Hill Baptist Church in Lilburn, Georgia, a community on the north side of Atlanta. It was a bittersweet day—bitter as I prepare to say goodbye to Tri-County Bible Church after 15 years together and sweet as I prepare to lead a body of believers in one of the world’s great cities. Please pray for me and my family, for TCBC, and for KHBC.
This wasn’t a decision I made lightly. I’ve shed many, many tears as I’ve contemplated the move. If you’ve not gone through a similar decision, you have no idea how excruciating it is. I anticipated spending my entire ministry at TCBC, and I was glad to do so. There is no problem to escape. On the contrary, things are going great. We have solid leaders in place. People are continuing to come to Christ and grow in Christlikeness. Our philosophy of ministry is sound. Our relationships are strong. We’re enjoying a new building after 12 years in a high school. Finances are fine. It’s a healthy, vibrant church, by God’s grace (Psalm 115:1). So why leave? Well, for a number of reasons (listed in no particular order):
- First, I’ve been unsettled over the last year, wondering if the Lord had another task for me to perform. I waited it out, lest it was a temporary thing—a midlife crisis, or a letdown after the building project, or a funk, or burnout, or whatever. But the sense that it might be time to do something else lingered, even as I delighted in what God was teaching me and doing at TCBC.
- Second, I objectively looked at my strengths and weaknesses, and where they could be maximized and minimized most effectively. I wanted to be a steward of my opportunities, responsibilities, and gifts.
- Third, I prayed. And prayed. And prayed. I’ve never prayed so much about a matter in my life. It was my first and last waking thought: “Lord, want do you want me to do?”
- Fourth, I considered the Scriptures. I rested in the call of God for pastors in Acts 20:28. The Holy Ghost makes our pastoral assignments—which is great to know. He’s more interested in this than I am. And He’s sovereign. I asked God to exercise veto power as described in Proverbs 16:9. I considered texts which focus ministry on urban and multi-ethnic areas in both Testaments (from my preaching on Jonah, to my writing on missions, to my reading of Acts and the epistles). I considered with great delight the multi-ethnic throng in Revelation 5:9-10, and I desired to be part of gathering such a diverse people.
- Fifth, I sought counsel—from long-time friends, from ministry partners, from co-laborers at TCBC, from missionaries, from family members, and especially from my wife.
- Sixth, I read. John Cionca’s book on pastoral transitions, Before You Move, was very helpful. Kevin DeYoung’s Just Do Something was liberating. A number of books about missions and risk-taking were troubling, albeit in a good way. Some Christian biographies talked about transitions that the Lord used for His glory. It seemed from what I read that there was a divine conspiracy to get me ready to go.
- Seventh, I looked at the stability of TCBC, and specifically at the giftedness of Joe Tyrpak, our Assistant Pastor. For years I’ve labored to make the body sustainable should I die, or move, or (God forbid) fall. We’ve preached every-member ministry. We’ve decentralized leadership. We’ve taught that no one is essential to the local church but Christ. And all the while, Joe has grown as a preacher and pastor (as evidenced in this bold message on transitions in leadership, preached 3 weeks ago). He’s shepherded TCBC—including me—capably. He is as gifted and faithful a shepherd as I’ve ever known. I began to believe that although we work exceedingly well together (in fact, he’s among my best friends), our gifting and burdens are a bit redundant. It’s great working together, but there are so many needs and opportunities elsewhere. I believe he is more than ready to lead TCBC and that we should expand our influence. (By God’s grace, the transition is going well. We’ve worked on it for months, and Joe has been recommended as the next Senior Pastor of TCBC by a unanimous vote of our leaders. We vote on that change as an assembly next week, when I’ll begin serving as his Assistant Pastor through the end of 2012, Lord willing.)
- Ultimately, having considered objective and subjective factors, having gone through a thorough vetting process, and having prayed relentlessly, I determined that the Lord was opening a door for a new phase of ministry. And so I moved forward. Yesterday, by God’s good leading and grace, the decision was made final, both by a strong vote at KHBC and by my acceptance of the call.
I’m excited about the work God has ahead for my family as we join the team at KHBC. I’m excited about their involvement in missions. I’m excited about their excellent Christian School, particularly their open enrollment policy that allows them to minister to a staggering breadth of families from every corner of the globe. I’m excited about their faithful, complementary leadership. I’m excited about their committed, sacrificial members. I’m excited about their stability (the last time they had a pastoral transition I was 8 years old!) and commitment to the Scriptures. And I’m excited to see the Lord transplant a bit of TCBC’s heart for evangelism and discipleship into a sister ministry. I’m confident that the result of the move will be a net gain as the Lord works in both churches for His greater glory.
I’m also excited about TCBC’s future. I love this body of believers, and in a sense, Madison will always be home. As I preached yesterday, I find great hope in Philippians 1:6. Though it has individual implications (and that’s how we generally use it), it was written to a local church and its leaders (1:1). Paul, the church planter rejoiced in what God had done “from the first day” (1:5), was continuing to do “until now” (1:5), and would continue to do “until the day of Jesus Christ” (1:6). In reality, Christ started the church in Philippi (as recorded in Acts 16) and wouldn’t stop His work until it was finished.
The church is Christ’s. He owns it. He builds it. He rules it. And He expands it. I’m eager to see that happen, both in Ohio and Georgia, and around the world. Pray for us. Grace!