My Season Finale as a Pastor
Stepping out of the Pastorate and into Something New
A brief note: This week, I sent the following letter to the current members at Cornerstone Church. Over the years (especially since the pandemic), I’ve learned that there are other people who have been a part of what goes on at the church, even though they’ve never set foot in our building. If that’s you, I hope this letter sheds a bit of light on my transition. It’s been an honor to serve you, even if I’ve never seen you. I’ll be writing more about this transition in the weeks to come. I just wanted to send this out to start the conversation. Peace!
On Monday, October 17th, after much prayer, consideration, and conversation, I have concluded that my season of pastoral ministry at Cornerstone Church has ended. December 18th, 2022, will be my last official sermon as Teaching Pastor of Cornerstone Church, and January 31st, 2023, will be my last official day on staff. At that time, I will be stepping out of the office of pastor and more fully into the role of member.
I imagine this news is a shock to a number of you. Making the decision and repeating it out loud has been a shock to me. Pastoring is the only full-time vocation I've had since I was 22 years old. For the past 16 years, it has been one of the most unique gifts, outside of Family and friendships, that God has given me. The Lord has used it to shape, mold, and refine me. For that, I am forever grateful. Nevertheless, this particular season and shape of ministry is giving way to something else. That something else isn't yet fully formed or known. To say it's bittersweet is an understatement. Yet, I'm stepping into it in faith, as I stepped into this calling 16 years ago—trusting that the Lord will continue to lead, guide, and provide as He always has.
I want to assure you that the reasons for my transition are not due to any disagreement among the pastoral team. I love and respect each of those brothers dearly, have benefitted from being pastored by them over the years, and am excited to continue to follow their lead as a member. Nor is this transition due to personal frustration, scandal, or moral disqualification. This transition is the culmination of ongoing angst and wrestles I've had over the past few years regarding calling, passion, and even vocational fit. For the past 16 years, pastoring has been central to my vocation, while I’ve been using the margins (early morning, late nights, weekends, vacations, sabbaticals, etc.) for writing books, speaking, curating and curating other environments of hope. This next season, I’m feeling led to reverse that. I feel uniquely called to give more of my primary time to the things that, up until now, have only existed in the margins.
These opening paragraphs have been pretty standard in every draft of this letter I've written. (You're reading the 5th or 6th draft right now). I spent so much time unsuccessfully trying to be comprehensive and brief in bringing you all into the wrestle. I wanted to explain how these thoughts that began in 2019 expanded and shrunk, advanced and receded, and moved in and out of focus almost weekly. I wanted to share more fully the rationale behind giving back roughly half my salary at the top of 2022, becoming bi-vocational, in order to give myself more fully to other projects and free up resources to better staff the administrative support needed at Cornerstone. But then, I realized that I didn't want to bring you into understanding the why that way. That weight was too heavy to be carried by a letter in your email inbox. The nature of this information should be shouldered in person.
As I say almost every week when I get up to preach, the church isn't just like a family; it is Family. And in a family, a significant transition like this shouldn't be delivered through cold computer pixels. Major news like this should be experienced through warm and embodied communication where questions can be answered in the moment. Where weeds of misunderstanding can be pulled up and dealt with as they sprout, long before they can take root and cause irreparable damage. We've had enough tough news delivered through computer screens over the past few years. We've experienced how hard it is to process heavy things when we can't hold someone's hands to steady our own. To that end, we will be setting up a time when we can talk, hug, ask questions, and have a fuller in-person interaction. Real-time conversation will be a better place for us to process everything.
This letter is not that.
It is merely an attempt to give those of us who may be quick feelers and slow processors a little bit of a head start to ensure that our time in conversation together is effective.
I want to close by saying that I love each one of you dearly. I count it a great honor and privilege that you have allowed (and encouraged) me to serve as one of your pastors over these eight years. There are some of you that have been with me for the entire 16 years of my pastoral journey—and you've been such an example of God's grace in my life. Many of you were with me when my brother died, traveling to Memphis, Houston, and Dallas for all the funerals. I still see your faces and will never forget your red-eyed smiles and consoling embraces.
Some of you walked Shawndra and me through infertility and were there to catch the tears falling from our faces—ensuring very few of them ever hit the ground. Others of you were around for the birth of Ava, capturing her first smile on your camera phones through her incubator window. Still, others of you weren't just around for her birth; you decorated her room while we spent weeks in the NICU.
I will never ever ever forget the kindness, the encouragements, the testimonies, the tears, and the ways you all have grown to love and cherish our God more deeply and hold on to the hope that's found in His Word more firmly as a result of our time together. If you've benefitted at all from anything you've received from me, know that I've benefitted more from the giving (Acts 20:35).
While I am excited about what it will look like to engage as a member, I do want you to know that I will miss being one of your pastors. I imagine this transition, more than almost any other I've experienced, will be a source of ongoing grief that I will be processing for a long time. But, I am fully convinced that grief and joy can coexist. If anything, I've learned they can be great roommates, living comfortably together in the same heart. That's my prayer for myself, and if any of you find this news difficult to process, my prayer for you as well.
I leave this role with great confidence that Christ builds His church (Matthew 16:18). The key to a church thriving is the presence of God, commitment to Christ and His Word, and being empowered by the Holy Spirit. My role transition changes none of that. It only gives us another opportunity as a church to explore the unique ways God might call each of us to work differently toward the same mission. I'm eager to witness that with each of you.
If I can leave you with anything, I want to leave you with this: Pastors aren't meant to stand between you and God. Pastors exist to make sure nothing else does.
We are not priests, nor are we mediators. We are merely servants (seasonal ones at that…all of us are here for a season predetermined by God) of God to help you grow closer to Him.
You have God's Son, God's Word, God's Spirit—you have God Himself, which means that you have everything you need (Psalm 23:1).
Thank You for letting me serve as one of your pastors for these eight years.
I LOVE YOU,