What happened? What am I doing in NW Georgia? How did I get here? These are a few questions that have run through my mind in the last month.
Amber and I are truly at total peace that God has led us on this new journey, but we have had moments of realizing just how big this transition is after 23 years of life in Glynn County, and 22 years as the Pastor of Community Church (www.wearecommunity.church). Our lives have been completely changed from living in a little town on the coast to a little town in the mountains. We have had moments of culture shock, unbelief, and just pinching ourselves. Currently we have no house and most of our possessions are in several storage units split between Calhoun and Dalton, GA. We plan on building in the long run, but will be renting an apartment near Dalton State college if they can ever get the CO from the County Gov. So we are homeless pilgrims on a new journey – living in her parent’s two bedroom house in Calhoun. I love her parents Mike and Brenda, but I thank God they have actually been in St. Simons for this whole month on vacation. I like my alone time as an introvert and not sure I could live in a two bed room with my in-laws for weeks on end. In fairness to them, I do not think they want to do that with me either. We love each other. Let’s keep it that way and not try to live on top of each other for a month or two 😊. Know what I mean? In the meantime, I have had time to begin to reconnect with some old friends and acquaintances from Dalton.
Why did you leave SSI? What would make you leave a rather successful ministry at the beach to lead a smaller church in a small NW Georgia? These are questions we have faced hundreds of times. It was not an easy decision to let go. We struggled and wrestled alot with God and each other. Once we made the decision though, there was lots of peace. No regrets, no fear, and no looking back. I know God has called us. We were at Community Church for 22 years. The Lord was incredibly gracious and kind during our ministry on SSI and in Bwk. We saw the Lord do more than we could ask or imagine. We saw lives changed, many salvation and baptisms. I never dreamed we would be able to impact our community in the ways that we did. I am so thankful for the thumb-print the Lord gave us in the Glynn County-Golden Isles Community. I am thankful for the strong future CC will have being led by many close friends who are talented and gifted. I know. I had the opportunity to serve with them and lead our team for many years.
After 22 years though, my season of leadership there had come to an end. Two years ago, Amber and I became empty nesters at age 50. We wondered if we would stay put and end our ministry there or uproot and start something else/something new. It was hard to see myself leaving, but it was also hard to see myself staying until I was 65+. We knew if we going to make a move, it would most likely be sooner than later. I always felt like I had one good run still left in me. So we are running in a new direction.
I feel I took Community Church about as far as I knew how to take it. Yes, I still had thoughts and ideas but I just felt a little stuck, like I was walking around in the same circles. God used us still. He was still using me in St. Simons and Brunswick (in spite of myself often), but I also had levels of frustrations that I couldn’t overcome. It was becoming harder to gain traction and feel absolutely clear for the church and our team. That couldn’t stay like that. It was becoming a sign that I no longer had the grace of God to stay and lead in this place that I love with many people that I dearly love. I sought to keep my heart in the right place, but I was no longer in the right place. That was God’s call – and not mine.
COVID was also a really hard season for pastors. I know many in ministry felt they could not make a right decision. COVID protocols, shut-downs, masks/no masks, social unrest and political divisions were just a few land mines we all sought to navigate. It seemed nobody could agree with constant differences of opinions – very strong opinions. It was one of the most toxic seasons of church history I think I have ever witnessed (across the entire body of Christ). So many pastors have felt beat up, ghosted by 50% off their people, and worn out from pivoting their course of action and ministry. Through all of this, many pastors have decided to leave ministry all together., or many have shifted to new roles and new churches. They were done! I can relate to those thoughts and feelings, just being over it I can remember being so tired that I didn’t know what to think or do next. Yes, I have had wounds and hurts from this season. I found myself becoming a victim. God did use some of that to get my attention, but there was “no thing” or “no one thing” that caused me to make a change. I did not leave because of pressure from others, or intimidation or fear. Amber and I were fully ready to stay for the long haul on the other side of COVID when we felt the Lord change our direction.
COVID was hard, but we did see God greatly at work. He used our church throughout Glynn County and around the southeast, and beyond – even reaching others nations. I held hundreds of online prayer meetings attended by many. So while I felt more criticized than ever before, I also felt more confirmed in my calling. And I made a decision to take care of my heart late in the fall. This involved a lot of introspection, self-examination, deep prayer and repentance, going to counseling (yes I have a counselor), and opening up to some others. I had isolated a bit, and I had to come back out of the shadows of retreat, and embrace a path of healing and wholeness. I am not alway there yet. But I am committed to God’s plan to change me. My heart is soft again. I am finding rest. I am becoming more in tune with my fatal flaws, and more dependent upon the Spirit. I love Jesus fully, and I want what He wants.
And then God’s call came in a way that I was not expecting. 29 years ago, in June of ’92, I became the youth pastor at Evangelical Methodist Church (EMC). These people loved Amber and me so well. They helped send us to seminary at Asbury Theological Seminary (www.ats.com) to get my degree. We left seminary to go back to my home on SSI to begin a new journey of ministry that led to Community Church. I am so grateful.
And now at age 52, a new journey. Another full circle story of coming back to a place where we first started. EMC is now called Church on the Hill (COTH)- a church with a long and strong history in Dalton. They have passed through some rough times over recent years, and have lost some of their members. Yet there is a strong remnant with a love for Jesus, for Dalton, for others, and for Amber and me. Several of them have told us that they can’t believe we would come to this church. Amber and I feel the call to Dalton was needed as much for us than as for them. We are the ones blessed to be able to ultimately join them in what God has been doing in their hearts. We were in need of change, fresh challenge, fresh perspective, and breaking out of our comfort zone. We are in need of these people even more than they need us.
There are many reasons it was time for a change. I think I had accomplished all that I could in St. Simons and Glynn. The creativity was not quite there. I kept seeking for the fire but it was not consistent. After 22 years, I felt CC needed a new shepherd with a new voice to lead them. I just think God’s grace was longer upon me for that position. The Lord had someone better in mind to lead there. As much as I loved that church and the people, I was no longer the right one to lead them.
So I interviewed with COTH over this last year. Something stirred within me during our conversations. For many it has not seemed logical that I would leave St. Simons and Community Church. Yes it has been quite a switch, but God never looks with human logic. I had a number of people telling me years ago that I was making a mistake becoming the pastor at CC. I have eyes of faith to see this next venture through the lens of my Heavenly Father. It excites me. It humbles me. It stirs me in new and fresh ways.
The people are hungry and thirsty for a move of God. They love us already. We knew a number of them previously. Their constant love through these years for us has been amazing. They are willing to pray with me – I mean really pray – like crying out and calling out to God in desperation kinda prayer. There is something about the DNA of this church that has always resonated with me. And just I am ready to continue to grow and be stretched, so are they. The Lord seems to have put us together.
Riding around Dalton my first night here back on April 30, I had the sense that I was home – that Jesus had invited Amber and me to be a part of His work here in NW, GA. I had the sense and still do that I will get to be a part of something very unique, special and Spirit inspired here at COTH. I declare that completely BY FAITH, and not because I think I can make it happen. If God doesn’t show up, we are dead in the water. I do not start full time until June 27th. Until then, Amber and I are travelling, resting, and getting ready. It has been sweet. I have preached a couple of times though already at Church on the Hill (COTH). Church on the Hill is a sweet spirit filled church with people who want spiritual renewal and revival. They love to worship and are hungry for the Word. The vision is to exalt Jesus Christ over the Dalton area, and our mandate is clear: (1) Worship, (2) Prayer, (3) Healing, (4) Renewal, (5) Witness. When I read these the first time, it completely resonated with my heart. I am willing to lay down my life for the next several years to pursue these callings with my new church family. I do not fully start my job until July 1, but I have already had moments where the Holy Spirit has shown up in a powerful way at “The Hill.” I have a real sense of expectation for the Lord to move in power for the sake of His glory.
For now, I am right where I am supposed to be. I am still getting used to the idea of having moved from St. Simons, and living in Dalton. But I wake up with joy and a new sense of purpose. I was truly blessed to have served CC for 22 years. God used it all, and yet I have a sense that all that I have learned will actually allow me to serve more deeply, lovingly and humbly in the future. Jesus has brought me here.
Some people have tried to check my sanity for moving from beautiful St. Simons and the ministry of Community Church to NW GA and a church that was a good bit smaller in size. Do not worry about me – for some people have. I am just fine. I am more than fine. Yes, I miss my home, my old church, and the many friends. And yet I would have been out of God’s will to stay. The safest place on earth for me is right in the middle of God’s will. The most fulfilling place for me is in the middle of God’s will. God has called me to love Him above all else and to serve him whole-heartedly and it just happens to be that God knows I can do that best in Dalton, GA. I submit gladly to His plan, and I cannot wait to see how it all unfolds.
I look forward to sharing more – maybe a couple of times a week – as I discover all the Lord has for me and the people of COTH! My expectations: Revival – a true move of the Spirit that touches many. I do not say this because of me but truly because of the God that I serve and what I sense He is saying and doing in and around us. Get ready Dalton friends. It is time to get right with God. Let the winds blow, and let the Fire Fall. Come Holy Spirit. Peace!