Have you ever seen a bird fly full-speed into a crystal clear window? He thinks he’s about to enter the luxurious haven of your living room, and he’s wasting no time trying to get there. But then the unexpected happens, and he’s suddenly confronted by an invisible barrier that radically alters his course of flight.
I’ve never flown into a window. I guess I’ve never really flown at all. But I think I can relate to that bird. At least a little bit.
Back in March, I stepped down from the church I had served since 2010. It was a difficult but necessary decision, and hindsight has only confirmed that it was the right thing to do. At the time, however, I didn’t have the next stage of my career trajectory planned out, so it came with a pretty significant amount of uncertainty for me and my family.
In the immediate aftermath of that decision, I was faced with some daunting questions. Should I continue as a pastor? Was there something else I should do with my life? If so, what? And if not, where on earth would I find a church context that would be a better fit for me as a pastor?
I can honestly say that I approached these questions with an open hand, exploring all options. I wrestled with my jadedness, I analyzed the path that had brought me to that point, I tried not to turn away any possibility. But as time went on, our family came to realize two things. First, I’m cut out to be a pastor, so that’s what I needed to do. Second, in order to remain as a pastor, it would be necessary to leave Lafayette, a city we still very much loved and a place where we had planted deep roots. I began applying more intentionally to churches all over the country, working with search organizations, and preparing for a big life transition. We cast a wide net, and God allowed me to have the privilege of interacting with a handful of great churches as we tried to discern where God wanted us.
In the course of these conversations, there was one opportunity that stood above the rest as a very attractive place for us to land. After two months of phone and video interviews with the search team and staff of this particular church, the time came for Elizabeth and I to visit in person. We had seen God lead us very clearly down this path, and we were confident that our visit would be the final step in us discovering our next assignment. As we landed and got off the airplane, we looked forward to finally becoming acquainted with our new church and our new city. In fact, we had already prepped our house and worked with our real estate agent so it could be listed at a moment’s notice, hopefully within a day or two after we returned.
And then smack. Like a bird into a window.
There are certain experiences in the Christian life that simply defy explanation. And for me, this is one of those experiences. Since then, I’ve searched for a way to faithfully convey an accurate picture of what happened. But as of yet, I haven’t found an arrangement of words sufficient for the task. The best I can do is to say that between the time we left home and the time we returned home, we had heard from God. Loudly. Clearly. Unmistakably. As flaky and laughable as that probably sounds, it’s the truth. And what we had heard was this: Go back to Lafayette. Dig deeper. Serve the kingdom. Start a church.
Going into this trip, we had been praying fervently for God’s clarity, and we knew that God would give it to us. But our unspoken assumption was that this clarity would come in the form of God confirming the direction we believed he was already leading us. It was in our hotel room late on our last night in this new city that we started to realize God was setting us up for clarity of a completely different kind.
Although we were meeting some amazing people and seeing first-hand God’s work through an incredible church, we couldn’t shake thoughts of Lafayette. We had this nagging sense that everything we were looking for we already had. We were looking for people to pastor; we had that back in Lafayette. We were looking for a neighborhood to be immersed in; we had that back in Lafayette. We were looking for schools to love and partner with; we had that back in Lafayette. We were looking for future followers of Jesus who would let us into their lives; we had that back in Lafayette. We were looking for deep relationships with people who longed to do justice and love mercy; we had that back in Lafayette. Whatever certainty we had going into the trip was quickly eroding and we were starting to get anxious.
All of this came to a head the following morning. We had been invited to a weekly prayer meeting, and as we sat there, surrounded by earnest brothers and sisters praying for their church, their leaders, and their city, we quietly asked God to meet us. To talk to us. To tell us what on earth he was doing and why we had to go to another part of the country to figure it out. We were desperate, afraid, confused.
During that time of prayer, everything changed. As I cried out from a place of feeble faith, God showed up and rocked my world. He placed me in front of a path that I had previously closed off and boarded up, he kicked down all my barriers and barricades, he gave me a firm nudge in the back, and he said to me, “Walk.” And if there’s anything I know about God, it’s that you probably shouldn’t tell him no.
In the immediate aftermath of my resignation earlier in the year, there was one option that I quickly determined was off the table entirely: starting a church in Lafayette. A number of people had approached me about doing so, and I had developed an arsenal of reasons to explain why it was a terrible idea. I didn’t want to threaten the health of the church that had loved me for the previous eight years. I didn’t want to draw a crowd around shared dissent. I didn’t want my family to get caught up in a risky, unpredictable venture. I didn’t want to start another ministry in a town that already had plenty of them. To plant a church was not even a possibility in my mind.
But as I pleaded with God in that prayer meeting, I sensed him telling me: “All of your reasons for not starting a church in Lafayette are perfectly valid so long as other people are asking you to do it. But what if I’m the one asking you to do it?”
Whatever fears and objections I had entertained until that point were almost immediately rendered void. In that instant, I felt the freedom to wonder: What if God was calling me to start a church for the unchurched? What if it could be planted with people who didn’t already have a church home? What if it could add to the church scene in Lafayette instead of threaten it? What if it could be shaped around a positive vision for renewal and flourishing, rather than a reactionary negativity? What if it could join the other strong churches in the area, while also contributing something unique? What if it could be a community geared around the missional opportunities God had already placed in my life? What if it could be the overflow of all the new lessons I had been learning in my own walk with Jesus? What if it could defy all the conventional church planting wisdom and just be a community of people whose only goal is to be faithful citizens of God’s kingdom?
As soon as Elizabeth and I were alone together, we compared notes and discovered that God had been working on both of us in a similar way. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we had been given the clarity we were seeking. It wasn’t anything close to the clarity we expected. But it was the clarity we needed. And so we hopped on the airplane, we headed back to Lafayette, and we put the plans for Renewal Church into motion.
Looking back on our last few months, we’ve realized that we never really lost our sense of calling to Lafayette. We anticipated that God would give us a new calling to a new place in due time. But although we clearly felt him leading us away from serving on the leadership team of our previous church, we never felt him leading us away from this city. We had a home we loved, neighbors we loved, a school we loved, friendships we loved, family we loved. It gutted us to lay all of that on the altar, but we knew that’s what God was calling us to. And so we did. Reluctantly at first, but in the end, honestly. Yet much like Abraham with his son Isaac, when the knife was raised and the crucial moment had arrived, God graciously intervened. He stopped the sacrifice. He pointed us in a new direction. He gave everything on the altar right back.
And so here we are. In Lafayette. In a house that has some fresh paint and new light fixtures. In a community that is more beautiful to us than ever. In the company of people who are committed to a shared path that is as exciting as it is daunting.
I don’t think birds like it when they fly into a window. At least that’s what their feathery carcasses would lead me to believe. But although our aviary friends may rarely survive the impact of a sudden and unseen redirection, that hasn’t been our experience. To be sure, we have been as shocked about this turn of events as anyone. Honestly, we still haven’t even processed it all. But we’re learning that the window pane we flew into wasn’t put there to harm us; it was put there for our good. We’re praising God that we flew into it. We’re still a bit dizzy, but that’s okay. We know what direction we’re supposed to fly, and until we hit the next window, our little wings are flapping.
Want to learn more about Renewal Church and our vision for Lafayette?
Check out our website at RCLaf.com.