The LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you…”
~Genesis 12:1 (NIV)
Since my post about leaving Trinity many people have asked me what our next steps will be. After many conversations, deliberations, and prayer we’ve arrived at our decision: we’re heading to St. Louis to attend Concordia Seminary. While it’s a fairly simple thing to write, the journey to that decision has not been an easy or straightforward one. So, I wanted to take some time to explain our decision, but also to give you some insight into what the process has been like for us as a family.
Back when we first knew that my job was being eliminated, one of the options that our church extended to us was to attend Concordia Seminary, with the hope that this would help fast-track my path to ordination, provide me with solid theological grounding in the Lutheran tradition, and leave the door open to returning to Trinity for my pastoral internship and, God willing, an eventual call back to full-time pastoral ministry in our home congregation.
But there was a huge lingering question: do we feel called to the Lutheran church? After all, I had served in an interdenominational college ministry for six years and have been studying at a seminary affiliated with the Evangelical Free Church. As such, we’ve been exposed to a variety of Christian traditions. It only made sense to ask the question, “Are we ready to be tied to this denomination and to this theological tradition?” Furthermore, this was a question that many people around us have been asking. There are some in our denomination, and some looking in from the outside, who are disillusioned with the level of infighting that has taken place in recent years and who urged us to consider getting out. Others, however, believe deeply in the theological convictions that undergird the Lutheran tradition and urged us to stay even in the face of such struggles.
At the end of the day, I have to say that there are a variety of reasons that we’ve decided to say “Yes” to this calling to the Lutheran church. First, I love the Lutheran commitment to the solae of the Reformation: sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, soli Deo gloria. Their high view of scripture and justification through faith in Christ alone are convictions that we, as evangelicals, share with our Lutheran brothers and sisters. But beyond this, I love the acknowledgement of mystery, the commitment to the sacraments, and the thoroughly biblical way in which they articulate and ground their confessions. If the basis on which we take part in a denomination is to be grounded in the theological confessions of that denomination, then the Lutheran church has a lot going for it.
But beyond this, there is a wonderful community of visionaries, reformers, pioneers, activists, missionaries, and shepherds within this faith tradition who inspire and encourage us. Yes, our denomination has its conflicts, its infighting, its politics, but what denomination doesn’t? No denomination is perfect. And yet, the Lutheran church also has a rich community of those who are committed to advancing the Gospel and helping people grow as disciples of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, Concordia Seminary itself is committed to equipping pastors for the harvest. I’m excited to see programs like MissionShift taking off as the Seminary partners with church leaders, activists, and social justice practitioners to train up-and-coming pastors on how to reach the world next door.
As such, I want to be a part of this growing community. But I’ve also learned that it is easiest to build bridges from the inside. If I desire to be the change that I wish to see in the denomination, I need to do so as one who has expressed, in both word and deed, a commitment to it. I can think of no greater commitment than submitting to its authority, teaching, and formation by attending seminary. True change happens in the context of relationship. Going to Concordia, in my mind, will solidify that relationship and help shape me as a pastor within this tradition.
Finally, and most personally, we have the support and prayers of our home congregation in sending us. If ever there were ever a reason for a person to enter seminary, my hope would be that it is because his or her home church is commissioning, blessing, and sending him/her to do so. We have that. I’m honored that Trinity sees itself as a sending congregation that equips workers for the harvest. The fact that our church desires to send us, financially support us, pray for us, and maintain an ongoing relationship with us means more to me than any other factor. Rarely do I see churches taking such an active role in the formation of their leaders, much less investing such care and support in them as they go. I’m excited to see how our partnership and relationship will develop in the years to come, and my ultimate hope is to return to our home congregation so that we might continue to bless them through our service and leadership.
But even with all of these wonderful reasons for going to Concordia, the decision has not been easy and there has been no small amount of pain as we’ve moved forward. The truth is that this change happened far more quickly and unexpectedly than we were prepared for. When we first learned of this staffing change we were preparing to fulfill the dream of purchasing our first home. We were also putting down roots in our community, preparing our eldest child for preschool, and enjoying our growing relationships with people in our church. I was enjoying my graduate work at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Jenny was looking forward to pursuing her own personal professional goals of tutoring, volunteering with InterVarsity, and becoming a Master Gardener.
This change, in many ways, is an uprooting, a pruning. We will be leaving behind family, friends, and colleagues. There are many plans and hopes which, once again, are being put on hold for the sake of ministry, and while the calling is a good one, there is heartache as well. As Jenny and I reflected on this a bit last night we realized that our daughter will be leaving behind the friends she has had since birth and that our son will return to the area without the connections that his sister was able to develop as she grew. Jenny, while always a pillar of support to me, is once again putting her own hopes and dreams on hold for the sake of her husband’s call to ministry, a reality of which I am painfully aware. One of the greatest struggles in this has been the reality that many people have expressed direct support to me while Jenny has, at times, been left feeling isolated and out of the loop on this leg of the journey, not sure what to share or whom to share it with. I’m reminded, again, that the calling of a pastor is also the calling of his spouse, and just as a pastor can oftentimes feel isolated and alone, so too can his wife. It has been sinking in more and more just how hard this transition will be for Jenny and the kids, and so I ask not only for prayers, but visible and direct expressions of support for them as they make this transition with me.
Furthermore, we are moving to a new city without jobs, without housing, and without financial stability. There are still many unknowns and unanswered questions about what our life will look like and how we will make ends meet, even with the support of our home congregation. These are daunting questions which, for a young family, are difficult to answer.
One of the themes that seems to come back to us, again and again, is this image of the nomad. In very real ways, because of finances, jobs, and life transitions, we have always been on the move, and while it is one thing to say, “this world is not our home” it is another to be reminded of it year in and year out. The reality is that we are beginning to feel it. On the intellectual level we know that God has and always will take care of us, but that has not lessened the emotional reality and weight of this change. Never before have I longed more for a sense of “place” than I do now, just as we are preparing to leave one place behind in exchange for another.
So, it is with this in mind that I ask for your support and prayers, not just for me and my studies, but for my wife, my children, my family. Specifically, I would ask for the following things:
- Please pray that Jenny and I would find both housing and jobs quickly. We are looking to move in mid-July, but we need to have a home and some possibilities for income shortly thereafter.
- Please offer support and encouragement to our family. This is a transition for all of us, and so my wife and my kids are going to need just as much love and support as I do. We need your help and support emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and, yes, physically (hugs are always appreciated).
- Please pray for our preparation. We have a lot of packing to do and paperwork to file. Furthermore, I need to prepare for my entrance exams and the GRE. This will be a stressful time for us, so please understand if we don’t answer emails and phone calls immediately. We love you. We just need time to get reoriented.
- Pray for our times together as a family. In the midst of the busyness of a move it is easy to allow our personal times together to slip. Pray for us and encourage us to take time for ourselves in the midst of this transition.
Again, in all of this we are confident that this is God’s next step for us, but we are also wrestling with the challenges of this change. We appreciate all of the support and encouragement that has been extended thus far and we are grateful to God, our family, our church, and our friends.
Stay tuned for further updates 🙂