A Testimony of 8 Years

Now that I’m finally on the other side of a major transition, I’d like to briefly describe it. The transition I’m about to describe is the reason I haven’t written much in a while. We decided to take a hiatus from certain activities until the dust settled.

This is going to have alot of “I” and “Me” and “We” in it. Not at all to try to make everything about us, but just wanting to describe the testimony from our vantage point as we ultimately remember Who is in charge and Who is sovereign.

On to the story…

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When I was serving as a worship pastor in Ohio, I attended a promise keeper’s rally in Columbus. This was about 8 years ago now. It was the only one I had ever attended; I haven’t attended one since (for no particular reason). But I do remember how amazing the worship was and how strong the Spirit moved. The Katina’s did what I consider the most God-reflecting music set I’ve ever seen or heard by a “major Christian artist.” And then a speaker got up to speak.

This speaker – and I couldn’t tell you his name, though I remember his face and his voice, which I shall not describe here – this speaker was the man through which I felt the call to pastor. Not just lead music, but pastor – get in peoples’ lives, declare the Word, under-shepherd the flock – pastor! This speaker weaved music into his message in a way that I had never seen before; it was as if God was telling me that music would be a part of who I was, not a limitation.

I sat down with my pastor at the time and shared my heart. Over the years that followed in Ohio, I was given plenty of chances to “train” in the pastorate. Sermons, weddings, funerals, hospital visits. I was able to attend deacon’s meetings, stewardship meetings, etc. It was a time in which I felt I was obviously being prepared to enter the senior pastoral ministry.

In 2009, God did something we didn’t expect. He pulled us out of that situation. I honestly expected to remain in Ohio for years, if not my career. But His ways are not ours. We were presented with an opportunity to go to Florida, and felt very strongly in our Spirit that this opportunity was afforded to us from above. Isaiah 55.

We spent just over 3 years in Florida. It was a very music-heavy position, when compared to my position on Ohio. I honestly at many points questioned whether I had really been called back at the promise keeper’s rally or not. I think the world of those folks in Florida. They were delightful people – they really were! My impact there was smaller than I was hoping for, at least in my field of vision. My job was music moreso than pastoring, even though I tried to figure out the balance between the two for the duration of my tenure there. Sometimes I felt that I wasn’t free to pursue my passion on a scale that I would’ve wished for – getting in the lives of people. I didn’t understand why God suddenly and seemingly put me on the sideline of where I thought I was going. Isaiah 55 again. In hindsight, we were learning lessons. We were just learning different lessons, in a different way.

In and around January of 2012, Sarah and I began fervently praying about where God was leading, and why did we seem tasked to be musicians when we felt called to be something different. We began asking people outside of our local church to pray with us in this regards.

We talked to a number of church planters, at the advice of some of those people. This would’ve been in the early spring of 2012. One church planter in particular seemed desperate for us to be a part of a work in the northern part of the country. We were invited to come up and look at possible locations for a church. We thought that was a possibility, but God made it pretty obvious that it wasn’t what he wanted.

Over the summer, I found a small group of pastors who began praying for me and giving me counsel from time to time – one in Ohio, one in Tennessee, two in Alabama, and one in Kentucky. These were in addition to the pastors in my family (both sides). These folks weren’t holding copies of a resume and trying to find something for me – they were just supporting with their encouragement and their kindness and their prayers.

Time continued to march on. The rift in my personal spirit became more pronounced. I felt like a person who speaks English in the middle of another country. I was a worship pastor, and doing my best to be one, but I also felt like I wasn’t in “my world” anymore. My soul and my life yearned to migrate towards what I felt God was calling me to do – to love on people as their pastor without a dual commitment that would prevent me from doing so (for example, being a music minister, and the hours required to be one).

We had much advice from many folks. Tears were shed, prayers were said, counsel was sought, scripture was read (oh, I just rhymed!).

Fast forward to October. I was contacted by a church in Robertsdale, Alabama of all places.

You see, I thought for sure the Lord would call us back up north – to a place where snow falls in abundance, and people speak funny. Where many people have never attended a church, unlike the south, when most Christians simply hops to or starts another church when someone upsets them. We loved it up there, and 2 of our children were born in Cinci. The north needs churches badly. Surely the Lord would bring us back, right? Isaiah 55.

But here I was, talking to a church in Robertsdale – mere minutes from my original hometown. In the south, where it is hot in the winter and mosquitos carry off small children in the summer. The 4 seasons are 1. hot, 2. still hot, 3. Christmas, and 4. about to get hot again. Where there are many churches, and many churches being started, sometimes because the churches that exist just can’t get along. And guess what.

On December 30, following a process in which God was in from beginning to end, Bethel Baptist Church of Robertsdale, Alabama recognized that God was calling us to be their senior pastor by a vote of the membership. Given the confirmation afforded to us by the vote and the inward confirmation of the Holy Spirit, we accepted this calling the same day and agreed to become the Pastor of this church.

So tomorrow, February 10, is my 2nd Sunday as pastor of the church and my first opportunity to preach in the morning service (we had a concert last week!). It has been a blessing and a blast so far, and these are wonderful people that we are just blessed to be able to serve and serve with. I look forward to growing with them and seeing my family grow with them.

Hindsight reveals God’s moving so much clearer than present-sight or foresight. He doesn’t promise a taxi ride to our destination. Sometimes it is a long process, filled with questions and struggles and tears. But now, at the end of one part of our journey and only at the beginning of the next part of it, we are filled with joy at his sovereignty, which has afforded us this season to reflect on it as we begin the new work at Bethel.

More tears will come again, and struggles, and questions, but also joy, and happiness, and reward.

None of us are even close to perfect, but consider the encouragement of Paul in the 3rd chapter of the Philippians:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

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Big Changes

I haven’t blogged in a few weeks because of the enormous changes that have happened to our family in the last few weeks. In answer to questions received, I will begin blogging again (likely weekly) after the transition concludes in February.

Not only is this coming Sunday my last as worship pastor at FBC Mary Esther, but it is my last as a worship pastor. It is a significant day, bittersweet, but bathed in the peace provided to us by the Holy Spirit.

In case you are wondering, “What transition?” – here’s a copy of what I read on Sunday morning, January 6:

 

January 6, 2013

Staff, Worship Ministry, and Members of First Baptist Church of Mary Esther, FL,

God is amazing. He is always working. His will is perfect.

The Earls family must follow God once again in full surrender. We can do no less, we can do no more. God has implanted within my own life an overwhelmingly strong desire for the pastoral side of the ministry. Now, He has provided our first opportunity to engage this desire on a full-time basis.

This previous Sunday, we accepted the position and calling to be the shepherd and senior pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Robertsdale, Alabama. My last Sunday as FBC Mary Esther’s Worship Pastor will be on Sunday, January 27. (Editor’s note – that date is now January 20, to coincide with the going-away festivities and is at my request). My first Sunday in the new pastorate will be on Sunday, February 3.

FBC Mary Esther has a long history of raising, training, and sending out men who would become pastors. I know I didn’t grow up here, but I consider it an honor to have engaged in pastoral training in your midst, and I humbly request that you send the Earls family with your love, your prayers, and your blessing to this new adventure. Having led music since the age of 18, this is a new leap of faith for us, and we desire your prayers as we follow Him.

I cannot give enough thanks for your kindness and generosity during our short tenure as your worship pastor. Thank you for your generosity over these 3 years. Thank you for your generosity over the Christmas season. Thank you to this wonderful church staff for the many blessings of serving God together. Thank you to Pastor Byron, Pastor Tom, and Tammy for your heart, your service, and your relationship with I and my family. It has been a true honor and a true blessing to have served you all as a minister. I wish I had the opportunity to sit down with each of you and explain to you how you’ve been a blessing to us. I will seize those opportunities in the coming weeks as much as I am able.

I have full confidence in God, who is leading us in this transition. I believe with every fiber of my being that God has led and is leading us down this path. Now I remind you that God, who is infinitely faithful, will too provide for the people of FBC Mary Esther. There is no debate on this matter. God already knows what is going to happen, and desires that you rely on Him. I want to encourage you concerning God’s future for you , God’s grace provided to you, the supremacy of Christ displayed to you, and the sufficiency of His Word given to you. He is enough. It is enough. God is good.

Separations are temporary. Soon enough, we’ll spend eternity together. Until then, it has been an honor.

 

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