A Story of Calling

This past week, I accepted an offer to be the College Pastor at University Fellowship Church (UFC) in Eugene, OR. I will primarily oversee a thriving ministry called The Good Fight, which meets on the Univ. of Oregon campus.

This was an unexpected development. As recently as two months ago, there wasn’t even a passing thought that Caitlin and I would ever relocate. To put the suddenness of this decision into perspective, in March I bought a season ski pass to Mt. Rose for next season. But by this summer, we will be living in the cloudy, sales tax-free wonderland of Oregon.

So I’m writing this post to share how all of this developed because I think it gives a glimpse into how God calls people to something unexpected. Maybe this will help you discern God’s leading in your own life. At the very least, it will enable me to express my heart about this decision.

Here’s the story.

In 1859, the State of Oregon was founded and-

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Fine. In January 2017, my friend Rick Reeves reached out to me about this college pastor position at UFC. Rick, along with his wife Ali, planted Gospel Community Church (GCC) in Eugene just over a year ago. UFC has been instrumental in supporting GCC, including supplying them with funding, people, and office space. Because of Rick’s outsider/insider vantage point, he has intimate knowledge of UFC’s ministry, staff, and values. He spoke highly of everyone, particularly Lead Pastor Brett Gilchrist, and thought that Caitlin and I would be a good fit.  

But I said no. It didn’t make sense to move. We were content in Sparks. And I was in a sweet spot in my role at Summit. I was not disgruntled, bored, or on the verge of getting canned (I assume). The timing was not right.

So a couple months pass and life goes on as usual. Then in March, completely out of the blue, I was reached out to by a nationally respected pastor with a ministry opportunity in the Dallas area (not Matt Chandler). This was surprising because I didn’t have a resume out in cyberspace. I had not put out any feelers. I had not even prayed for God to open a door to something new. But this pastor and I had mutual friends who recommended me for the job, and he encouraged me to explore the possibility of moving to a new church context.

That conversation awoke the sense that, despite our comfort, God was calling Caitlin and I to something else (just not in Dallas). But I utterly despise ministry ambition and felt uneasy with the prospects of shopping around for a “better” spot, so I called Rick to get his wisdom on this. Midway through our conversation, I casually asked “whatever happened with that college job in Eugene?” Rick said that not only was it still open, it was still open for a reason. So he urged Caitlin and I to pray about pursuing it.

We prayed. And from there we decided to take the next step.

Then Rick, continuing to play the role of ministry Cupid (someone turn this into a meme please), gave me the contact info of the departing pastor, Sol Rexius, and urged me to call him. That phone call with Sol went very well, and started a snowball of phone calls, emails, and connections with UFC over the next month. (I did some math and figured out that I have been involved in 85 UFC-related emails, give or take a dozen).

Things heated up quickly. But as we got deeper into the inner workings of UFC the opportunity grew increasingly exciting.

 

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Now, when it comes to discerning God’s calling, I have long adopted (and counseled with) a textbook three step checklist: 1) internal desire; 2) external confirmation; and 3) opportunity.

The opportunity was there. And I was offered wise counsel by many trusted friends who roundly affirmed that I would serve well in this role with The Good Fight. In fact, there was not one person who threw up a caution flag. And Caitlin, the most important voice, has been confident about this ministry since day one. She will also be able to shape the faith and lives of the young women in The Good Fight, so it will be a meaningful ministry for her as well.

But in my past experience, internal desire usually kickstarts the quest to discern God’s calling. In my case, however, that was the last item to be checked off the list. I was hesitant because, like I mentioned above, there was no compelling reason to leave Reno. Caitlin and I weren’t frustrated, and we were settling into a home we bought only a year ago. Plus, Northern Nevada is booming. The region is being flooded with Silicon valley overflow and UNR finally returned to the NCAA tourney this year. I mean, Reno just opened a Chick-fil-A this week. This is the beginning of a golden age in the Silver State.

But the hardest emotional obstacle to overcome surrounded the things in Reno that cannot be replaced – family, history, and roots. I have lived in Washoe County for virtually my entire life, and spent much of my adult life with a longing for a change of area code. But in the last couple years that youthful wanderlust ceased to exist. I’ve learned that a change of scenery is no substitute for three decades of memories. I still stand by that.

 

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So I was uncomfortable for most of the hiring process. There were nine candidates for this role, and at one point I prayed that God would take this opportunity away so that I could be freed from having to make a decision. But I had coffee with Summit’s co-Lead Pastor, Bryan Smith, and he offered wise words that stuck with me (I’ll have to paraphrase, but this is the essence of what he said): “Your sense of calling to the unknown should outweigh the security of the known. If they are equal, it’s probably not wise to go.”

This statement became the grid through which I evaluated the opportunity. Through various conversations and prayer it became clear that I am hard wired to preach, teach, and lead people who are at a crucially formative age. It was in college that Jesus grabbed my heart through a small Bible study with a few of my baseball teammates. I needed a strong college ministry then, and now have a chance to be a part of that for others. So this is truly a matter of Caitlin and I getting a chance to live out the Great Commission in a way we have been designed to do. 

So I think it is fair to say that we are not leaving. We are going. And I’m not trying to be cute with words; I think there is a big difference between the two concepts. Jesus’ words that “anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” have taken on a new shape because of the cost of uprooting from Nevada. And I think God has called us during this time of peace and comfort so that the actual desire to serve the students of The Good Fight would be clearly shown. The sense of calling to the unknown does outweigh the security of the known. We are confident in that. 

I should make crystal clear that the decision was not motivated by anything negative at Summit. Actually, this would not be possible without Summit, specifically Steve Bond. Two years ago I was the pastoral equivalent of a garage sale item. But Steve not only offered me a chance to be a pastor, he equipped and encouraged me in ways that were vital for me to have confidence in ministry. And in the past several months, all of Summit’s Lead Team – Steve, Bryan, Brett Zunino, and Chris Winslow – individually expressed that if God is calling me to something then they would fully support it. They have honored that since I broke the news about UFC. And Brett Gilchrist did his part in reaching out to Summit’s leadership to avoid any whiff of pastor poaching. In a world of church splits, moral failings in ministry, and general divisiveness, it has been refreshing to see the godly character and kingdom values of each respective church (UFC, GCC, and Summit).

As I write this, I have a mixture of sadness, excitement, fear, and hope. I’m also hungry, but that’s irrelevant. Yet I am fully confident that God is calling us to go to Eugene. And outside of the general apprehension towards the unknown (which I think is a prerequisite for, and builder of, faith), I don’t have any reservations. Jesus Christ is the Lord of the world. He is the one who rescues us and calls us to seek first his kingdom. That can never be taken from us, even if it comes with great cost. 

 

welcome

 

So now we pack up our belongings and hit the Oregon Trail, hopefully with less dysentery and broken wagon wheels than in generations past. Between now and then, we hope to spend time with our family and friends while I finish up my responsibilities at Summit.

On another note, do you know someone who kind of looks like me who would want a 2018 Mt. Rose ski pass?

Christian, husband, pastor, father. Occasionally, I try to arrange words into sequences that make a difference.