The last time I wrote I briefly mentioned that seven years ago my family and I were called to Michigan to begin ministry. In this month’s installation I’d like to recount the journey I’ve taken and how God helped me to go to uncharted territory.
It’s not easy leaving family, friends, your home, a comfortable and well-paying job, and everything you are familiar with to follow God’s calling in life. My story isn’t anything spectacular in the realm of physical hardship because I didn’t move across the seas or to a non-English speaking country with foreign gods and anti-Christian sentiments…I did however move to the great white north. Some people would say that the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is no man’s land or at the edge of the civilized world, but like any place on earth, it is what you make of it…and we have made it our home! Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the Bible-believing south and folks up here are a whole different kind of “country”, but we have come to love not only the landscape, but it’s people.
When Jesus was choosing his disciples, he gave out some pretty convincing proof that following Him would always require sacrifices, leaving home, doing things differently, and sometimes persecution. He said that anyone that looked back wasn’t worthy of His kingdom. Those words rang loud and clear in my heart and mind whenever we set out for LSCC because we were leaving a home that wasn’t sold…many in my family were very pessimistic and doubtful about us picking up and leaving, and I was going on the faith and trust that God would somehow provide for us whenever we got here. We still had all the same bills but half the income. Our kids are home-schooled so that transition wasn’t as rough, but I was coming into a situation I had no experience in dealing with, my wife had to start her business again from scratch, and there was no real promise that I could do the job I had been hired to do. I had only worked part time in ministry as a choir director at a large church at home, but when I took this job it required me to lead an entire ministry. I had never led a worship team rehearsal, never had to recruit and train volunteers, I knew very little about the technology used in worship, yet I was in charge of that too. To top it all off, I was coming into a situation where the previous worship pastor had left on bad terms and had taken about a fifth of the church with him to start a new congregation…the cards were stacked against me to say the least.
I had prayed and fasted intensely before accepting the position and was continually asking God to show me what to do and how to do it. Every prayer I prayed was or still is in the process of coming to fruition and all I can do is say, “Thank you Jesus!” Probably the single most important factor, aside from prayer, to my successful transition was that I had a wonderful friend and mentor to walk with me and gently teach me the ropes. His insights, rebukes, fatherly advice, and genuine desire to see me succeed is what I can truly say pulled me through all the valleys I experienced in those first three years. As I look back I see God’s fingerprint on everything…from selling our house before we even reached Michigan (a miracle in that housing market) to helping me re-build a ministry with no experience in doing such things, He has been faithful.
If I were sitting across the table from someone who was praying and considering entering or transitioning in ministry I would offer just a few pieces of advice…
- Don’t put God in a box…He can do much more than we could ask or imagine
- Learn from others who’ve been where you are or are going
- Try not to compare yourself with others…do what God has called you to do to the very best of your ability
- Do your research…find out about the community, talk to other pastors, ask God to give you insight and “spirit alarms” when something doesn’t seem right, find out the good, bad, and the ugly at any cost
- Find a good mentor or someone you respect to help keep you accountable and give you that extra push when you need it
- Make sure your spouse is 100% behind your decision
- Recruit the best prayer warriors you can find and communicate with them regularly about how and what to pray for you, your ministry, and your family (nothing is as valuable as prayer covering)
- If someone or something is creating obstacles or discouragement hold on and keep walking…if God closes a door, don’t try to open it again
- Do some serious soul searching, fasting, and praying before making any huge career change or ministry moves
- Set up altars along the way. The only reason you’ll want to look back is to see what God has done and celebrate it. The Israelites had a custom of leaving altars so that when they passed them they could remember God’s promises and faithfulness and worship Him.
Take it from someone who knows, there is a lot of truth in the old saying, “Home is where the heart is”. I used to be a bare-footed, BBQ eatin’, gospel singing Kentuckian, but I recently saw a T-shirt that pretty well describes my sentiments about upper Michigan; it said, “I wasn’t born here, but I got here as fast as I could!” That’s what God does isn’t it…he takes us where He wants us to go, gives us a new home, a new family, a new job, and a new affection for strangers in the kingdom, and then He draws us surely and gently to the point of loving it enough to call it home.
Grace be with yous (that’s Yooper for ya’ll),