The Journey Ahead
What a whirlwind this season has been. I’m grateful to God for all he has done, I’m hopeful for the future, but it sure has given us strong highs and very deep lows.
On Sunday, March 6, we will be starting a new series for the Lenten season, which will take us through the last Sunday before Easter, April 10. It’s called Build The House, and we will be walking through the book of Haggai as a church family on Sunday mornings.
I wanted to take some time and explain how I landed on this book for the next step in our church’s story. This post is going to read a bit like a journal entry and an explanation. I suppose you can consider this my “Dear Anthem” letter, a letter of introduction, a letter explaining how I’m thinking about and praying for us as we head into Lent together.
So, why Haggai? To be honest, really, I desperately need this book.
A year ago, the elders gave Allen permission to explore what God was doing in his heart, to see if he was really hearing and feeling the Lord’s prompting regarding his future and the church’s future. We all agreed that this couldn’t be determined any other way, and we trusted all the while that God would be the opportunity footman, opening and shutting doors as his perfect will directed. Allen promised us he would not take any steps, forward or backward, without wise counsel and our prayerful contribution.
And church, let me be as clear as I can about two things regarding this transition:
- Allen kept his word throughout the whole process. He involved the elders every step of the way. He invited pushback, he listened to wisdom, and he was patient. He held the whole journey with an open hand, allowing us to join him in discernment. All six of us elders, for the past year, have been completely preoccupied with doing only that which God was doing and leading us to do. I’m honored and grateful to be part of a council of elders that take so seriously God’s will and the future health of a church. | Allen served the church so well through this process. I already miss his presence this week. In my mind he is just on sabbatical, and will come back, white hot with fresh energy, passion, and a notebook full of ideas for the fall. But he’s not coming back, and it’s not because he abandoned us. It’s not because he wanted something bigger, better, and different. It’s not because he was tired of us. It’s because he loves Anthem so much, all of us, that he was willing to do the hardest thing to make a way for what God is doing. I’m proud of him, I’m grateful to God for him, I love him, and I will miss him dearly, just as we all will.
- I’ve spent a year wrestling with the fact that I was the one called to lead this family into that next thing that God is doing. I say this in the most sober and non-self-depreciating way I possibly can. Besides, I wasn’t really sure it was the best idea; none of us were when we started. Slowly and surely, however, God began to breathe confidence into what we were sensing - not confidence in ourselves, but in his leading and his plan. This is why these decisions are best processed together, prayerfully, and with some time.
Allen and I spent a lot of time together over the past year, wrestling with the process, sharing our fears, worries, and burdens. Through our wrestling, I became more and more open to the fact that this transition could happen, though the fear remained. Then, as we reached the end of 2021, Crossroads Church in Camarillo began to emerge as the most likely possibility for Allen’s future. Though nothing was final yet, we all began bracing ourselves for what could potentially be a major shift for our church.
Based on counsel I got from the other elders, I decided to take the week after New Years off to sabbath and prepare myself for what might be coming in the months to come. So I scheduled the time, and I had a great plan for how to use that time off… but Omicron had a different plan. Instead of resting, praying, and sorting myself out, I spent most of the week calling, texting, researching, doubting, and scrambling to get a gathering together, only to reach the point where we really didn’t even have enough people to properly staff a gathering. I finally surrendered, and Nathaniel and I pre-recorded a livestream for that Sunday, January 9. God was good to us, and he used that time, but boy, it was not restful. Is this what my life is going to be like as a lead pastor?
Then, as I was gearing up to preach on Sunday, January, 16, we heard from Connie Berry that Bill (former pastor of Anthem for close to 40 years before Allen) was going to pass away by the end of the day due to complications with COVID. Bill was not just a family friend to me, not just a former pastor: in a very real sense, Bill was closer than a grandfather to me. He was a spiritual father, a constant of faithfulness and a model of obedience to those that knew him. The timing of his death on that day flooded my mind with questions to which I still have no answers: God, why did you take him now? What's your greater purpose here? I have tons of support in this next season; I have a great family, great elders, great church support, and Allen is a text, a phone call, or a short drive away. However, the timing of losing Bill now was an added weight to the already heavy grief of his death. Who else could speak into what was ahead of me like he could? Who else has pastored in Marin in the same church he grew up in, just like me? I was deeply depending on his presence as I stepped into this position, and I confess that without him the road ahead looks darker and less certain. As I held weeping church members that day, I felt the tears begin to well in my own eyes, but the adrenaline of having to preach that day kept the emotions at bay. And if I’m honest, they’ve stayed at bay since then, because I knew what was ahead.
In late January, the transition became final, and on January 30, we announced it to the church. Every Sunday in February was beautiful, but so full and so heavy. There were people to love and listen to, stories to hear, grief to process with those around me. I’m so grateful to God for how he held us in his grace. In a different church, February could have been a lot more painful and divisive. But God is enough for us in all seasons, including this one.
Last week, we had our last elders meeting with Allen present. After some side-stepping on my part, Allen loved me enough to ask me, point-blank - “What are you not saying about how you’re feeling right now?” After searching for a few beats, I responded in the most honest way I could: “I feel numb right now. I don’t feel anything.”
This is where I am today. After months of gearing up for the possibility of transitioning into the role, worrying about what the future holds and my competency to face it, pre-mourning the loss of comfort in having Allen around, and avoiding the pain of losing my grandfather and dear friend, I’ve realized I’ve been in pain-avoidance mode to get through it all… to get here. What I keep saying to those closest to me is this: I haven’t felt the feelings I need to feel in order to process all of this change. If I’ve seemed distant, short, or quiet these past few Sundays, this is why. I’m going to take Wednesday-Saturday this week to be as alone as I can be to process, feel the feels, and get ready for the Lenten season. I’m not tired, I’m not angry, I don’t feel unhealthy, but I do feel overwhelmed… and I actually think this is a good thing that will press me into God and our community, as long as I start feeling again. I covet your prayers as I take this short break with my family.
Which, at long last, brings me to Haggai.
We aren’t a traditionally liturgical church, but I do love that we have taken Lent and Advent and have incorporated them, in our own way, into our church calendar. Historically, Lent is a season of repentance, reflection, and fasting, through which we prepare ourselves and reflect on the suffering of our Savior on Good Friday. As sad and strange as it is, I can think of no better time for this transition to happen. Last Sunday, we laughed, cried, and said goodbye to Allen, and we now plunge ourselves right into Lent. If you’ve resonated with any of the pain, loss, uncertainty, and grief that I’ve expressed here, I encourage you to use this season to feel your feelings with me. Process them. Write them down. Pray them to God, who listens and is waiting. Share them with others. Cry tears. Sing songs. Laugh.
What my soul needs in Christ right now is examination, the space to breathe, and a call upward to the work ahead. And when the Lord led me to this small, two-chapter book in the Old Testament, I felt my soul flicker with hope. Haggai prophesied to God’s people as they returned from exile. Upon returning to the ruins of God’s temple, they started the work of rebuilding, but then… life got in the way. Work, family, distraction, fear, enjoyment… all of this took the place in their heart that both affection and obedience to God were supposed to take. And here’s what’s amazing about this book - God isn’t calling his people back to build his house just for his own sake, although that would be enough reason for our holy God. Building the temple is not about getting a building back for nostalgia’s sake - it’s about the heart work that goes alongside as God’s people prepare a place for him. He is calling them back to build his house because deep down, the cry of the hearts of God’s people is that his presence would be felt, strong and moving, as they re-devoted themselves to their Heavenly Father.
God’s presence has been with us throughout this whole season - let me be clear. But if you’re anything like me, you want to participate in that more. You want it to be more real to you. You want your hurting, distracted heart to be mended in the presence of God, through the ministry of the Spirit, made possible by Jesus himself. You want to put down the emptiness you’ve been chasing, and you want your soul to come alive as you come to build the house, because that’s where God is. And you know it, deep down.
The graphic I used for this series is not a random stock photo - it’s an actual photo of the groundbreaking of our church building in 1958. Our church history is full of moments when its members have been called to stop, repent, pray, assess, and put down that which is temporary in order to pick up that which is eternal. We long for this joy - it’s time to build the house yet again, Anthem. Will you join us?
I love you,
Father , as your son , our Pastor , Andrew releases, and communes with you , lead him, be the lamp unto his next steps , Holy Spirit please fill him with your joy and wisdom , please bring comfort and healing , bring new vision that glorifies your name ! In Jesus beautiful name we pray , Amen