Many of you know, I took a sabbatical in 2016. It was time for me to slow down, to walk more than 1,000,000 steps on the Camino de Santiago, and get in touch with my own heart. What happened was I discovered emotions I had not felt, and learned how much I valued silence, and learned that my value or worth was in being not doing. It was on the Camino that I discovered what it meant to “stay with my feet.”
It was one of those journeys I am still living out. Returning home I held on to what I had learned, sought to still stay with my feet, while walking out what God was speaking and saying to my heart. If you could dig into my journals, which would be an arduous journey, you’d find lots of emotion penned onto pages seeking to fathom God’s plan, God’s desire for this walk.
It was in March 15, 2018, while away for a prayer retreat, this clarity came to me:
“Son, Yes. There is change coming.
You are sensing what is true.
You cannot stay at Westside forever.
I do have plans and designs on your life. But you must also not rush Ahead. The call of a disciple is to follow not lead.
So your most difficult work is to wait, to Trust, to be.
I have the plans. They are mine!
So you won’t get to see them until the right time. But trust me in this – … You will have two years at Westside yet. But you won’t feel as dragged out. You’ll find a new vitality.”
Two years. That meant as of July 2020 I would be stepping away from Westside but into what, I had no clue.
The idea of stepping to another church pastorate was out of the question for me. I had known when I arrived at Westside that I would not be taking another church after this. But also knew I could not retire – financially, emotionally, physically, or spiritually, with God’s call upon my heart.
As I walked through the summer of 2018 I wondered: “Had I heard correctly?” There was that possibility that I had not. But in the fall, I began to feel like I needed to talk with people. I talked with Erin, the District Superintendent, she believed me, and heard me, and yet, when I mentioned this conversation to Karen, my wife, Karen was not ok with this. To her, that sounded like walking off the plank.
She didn’t want me stepping out of the church without clarity of what I would be stepping into. I heard her. So, I told Erin, to hold that conversation we had had loosely, and told Karen that I would begin to pray specifically regarding this. So beginning in the fall of 2018 I began to pray this;
“Give me clear guidance into what is next for me, Jesus. Unite Karen and me in my next step, Lord….Clarify direction for 2020 if it is different than staying here at Westside, and tell Karen and communicate it with me. Let us see this by June 2019.”
My journal entries have been like a yoyo over the months. One day so thrilled to be in ministry and the next, not so much. None of this swing has been about the people or the church here at Westside. This is the best church to pastor in the annual conference, and the best people to join in ministry. It has been my dream church for worship. No, my struggle has been entirely about my own heart, about Jesus pushing me out of the church. Here was June 8th:
“I’m feeling really at a loss. Feeling done with pulpit ministry. Yet what is next? I don’t know. I’m scared to discover there’s nothing. That I won’t find any niche.”
God began to move prior to that entry, I just couldn’t see it.
June 3rd two of our daughters are involved in a ecommerce business and wanted us to meet those they are working with, saying, “Mom and Dad, we respect these people second only to you two.” We went to a meeting with them on that night, and one of the women we spoke with, Amy, in speaking about her dad and what he was doing piqued my interest. It was like a light went on. The next day I texted Grace asking if she could get in touch with Amy asking for her dad’s contacts. Having that, I called his office and was super tentative with the admin who answered the call on what I was seeking. But the admin gave Amy’s dad, Randy, the message. He left a message back, and after phone and email tag we finally connected on June 15th.
In that two-hour conversation, hope was birthed in my heart.
One, I could earn a living working alongside this guy, Randy. I would be working in mediation. And I have a ton of skill sets already that could be applied in that area, especially from storytelling, which works from the premise of asking questions not telling. Powerful asset. And the course he would teach in mediation would be happening June 27th and 28th– all in June 2019, and I had been praying for months that in June 2019 I would know into what I could step in July of 2020.
I shared this with Karen, she confirmed that she supported this, and so I signed up to take the 40-hour training at the end of June. I had 10 days to complete 24-hours of assignments and squeezed them in, then attended the two full days of training. It was powerful and it was of God. I felt like all of what I had been doing for years was being put to use in this class. I had been prepared for this.
June 22nd, this was the message I penned in my journal:
“Son. You are right where I need you to be. Trust me son. Walk close to me. Don’t believe what cannot be true. Believe my good purpose. You cannot stay at Westside forever. I have another to come carry on the work. Trust me. Walk in me.”
The bottom-line to all this, dear friends and family is this: You and I have another year to walk together with me as your pastor at Westside.
So, I want us to make the most of the time.
That means we need to grieve well, celebrate well, communicate plenty, enjoy one another, say goodbye to this relationship we have had and hello to new and different connections. The fact is that after I leave Westside in July 2020, I will not be coming back here, nor can I be your pastor for God is raising up someone else to take on that responsibility, someone with the right gifting and heart. This will be a new opportunity. And that person whom God is now preparing will walk with you into what God has planned for your next step in growth here at Westside.
Please be praying for this person to hear God’s call and respond.
I told church council this news on June 29that our meeting, and they asked that I begin to share it with you beginning June 30th, so that was the first public announcement. When I shared with church council we also took time to listen for God to speak. Here is what three of your council members heard God speaking to their hearts:
Kari Suppes wrote:
“Kari, I love Westside so much! It’s all going to be OK. I have big plans for Westside and for Brian. I know you don’t like change, but it is a good thing. Lean into Me. Keep your eyes focused on Me. Unify, Love, Listen, Be Still. I am your God. Take this opportunity to be excited for the future. Come alongside those who will be confused and hurting from this. Practice your empathy. Be vulnerable. Come as you are.”
Later Kari heard God saying He had someone specially trained and called to come.
Debbie Gabel wrote “Boy God what are you doing?” And heard this response:
“This is when I say: ‘Trust. Me.’
I am working. I have plans for you, You will not be left orphaned.
My Holy Spirit is within your midst.
This is a growing year, a year of celebration.
For you are stepping into a new place. A place of wonder.
Come and see what I have prepared for you. You have no idea.
Just remember that you are loved and Loved deeply.
Keep your heart with Me. Listen for my whisper. For My name will be glorified.”
Susan Brehmer wrote:
“My beloved and cherished children,
I have assembled my dream team. I have placed dreams in your heart for my people: for the ones you know, for the ones you have yet to meet. Listen for my heart to speak in and through this congregation. Pastor Brian has been a faithful steward of the resources I have given him and the sheep I have led him to lead. A new shepherd is coming, one with a heart for me. Do not focus on the gate, keep your eyes fixed on me. I am the Good Shepherd. I will lead all of you in and through this transition.
To you, this looks like a big change. For each of you, Pastor Brian included, this is but another step on your path leading you deeper into my heart.”
I loved how these three different listeners witnessed to God saying “He has this.”
And that this is not something scary for He has plans that are magnificent. And that good overarching theme of trust!
When Susan heard that this is “another step on your path leading you deeper into My heart,” I thought of a vision God had given me, that this step for me is not the end, either, but another piece of a greater whole. The picture he gave me was of a LEGO toy, in which I saw another piece being put into place.
It underlines this basic truth: We are all on this journey together.
There are no questions you cannot ask. Please keep asking questions. Talk to me. Talk to each other. Bring questions out into the open instead of inventing your own answers that may or may not be accurate.
Grief takes communication, for those feeling grief. Others have said they are so proud of me for taking this step, and feel this will be good for Westside and good for me, both. So, we are on a journey together, so I ask you to stay together.
Your church council has formed a transitions team to help us in this year and be able to make this a transition that goes smoothly.
The five recognized stages of grief are: Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. They do not run in order or sequence. So you might flip around them a bit, if you are experiencing them.
The key to grief is simple: feel the feelings as they come. To push them down, to deny them (see first step of grief), to project them, to exaggerate them, to succumb to them is not the answer. Feel. Cry when you need to. Laugh when you need to.
As one of the members in first service Sunday observed:
“Change is hard but also it is an opportunity.”
This is true.
So, let’s walk together, one step at a time, and stay with our feet.
Another member said, “We are all in transition…” Also true. As you are walking in the transitions you are encountering, may you also take only one step at a time, and stay with your feet.