Sometimes God does things in your life that don’t make sense until you look back on them, and then they snap into clarity. When I look back on the past year, that’s what I experience.
Last spring I was doing great. I worked at an awesome church with great people, and every day I got to come home to my beautiful wife Ashley and our sweet boy, Luke. Our daughter Nora was due in late May, so at that time I was eagerly anticipating her arrival. I was also a few months away from defending my doctoral dissertation and graduating with my PhD after 9 years of grad school.
I wasn’t looking for any major changes; in fact I was looking forward to a period of rest.
But there was a quiet, underlying discontent that was growing in volume. God was stirring some things in me. I did not see how they were connected to each other at the time. For example, I found myself becoming more and more burdened for the (mostly invisible) people in our community who were suffering. I also began noticing the people in our area who don’t fit neatly into the Katy community: people who are single, twenty-somethings, college students, single parents, and those who have intellectual doubts about God. Especially that last one. For some reason I just started noticing them more. They became visible to me.
God also began to stoke my passion for the global Church. I found myself heartbroken for Christians who were persecuted for their faith. I started praying consistently for the 70,000 North Korean Christians who are suffering in concentration camps. I also felt an unusual sadness for the many people who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ – a surprising percentage of the global population.
Then, over a period of about a month, several different people independently approached me and suggested I pray about becoming a lead pastor. At first, I took their comments as compliments, but nothing more. I had never intended on becoming a lead pastor, and I wasn’t interested in going that direction. I loved Parkway Fellowship and wasn’t about to start sending out my resume. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was supposed to reconsider my future in ministry.
Around that time I had a few conversations with my friend and co-worker Jenny Jones about how exciting it would be to start a church in a place where Christianity was not the dominant culture. These were not serious conversations about actually planting a church. We were just talking about the key role that local, life-giving churches can play in the spiritual revitalization of cities.
But somewhere along the line in these conversations, and I can’t remember exactly when, God opened my heart to the idea of actually starting a church. Then one day, Jenny told me that she and Chad would seriously consider planting a church with us if we were open to it. Ashley and I took some time to pray about whether we should even pray about it. We agreed that we should at least talk with Chad and Jenny, and pray it through. It felt like God was up to something.
The four of us got together one evening and shared our hearts for ministry. It was clear God had been highlighting for Chad and Jenny many of the same things he had highlighted for Ashley and me. We all agreed to pray together for a good portion of the summer, and then come together at the end and compare notes. During that time, I studied the pastoral letters in the New Testament (1-2 Timothy and Titus) and asked myself honestly if I was qualified to be a lead pastor. I prayed and asked the Lord if I was ready for that level of responsibility. I also sought the wisdom of some trusted friends, mentors, and family members.
As I prayed during that season and asked God if we should start a church, the answer I got over and over was “Why wouldn’t I want you to start a church?” As I read Scripture during that time I was struck by how integral church planting was to the growth of the early Church. God’s Kingdom has grown over the last 2,000 years by the continuous, unbroken tradition of Christian leaders starting new local churches. That’s what the church has always done, and God helped me to realize that praying about starting a church was not such a strange thing to do.
The moment I knew for sure that I was supposed to plant a church was when I realized that the only anxiety that remained was financial. If my only fear was about money and being able to provide for my family, that’s not a good enough reason not to do it. If God was calling us to plant a church, he would provide. As a pastor, I continually encourage people to step out in faith and trust God even if it means acting in the face of fear. This was my chance to do just that.
When the four of us got together in early August after our time of seeking the Lord, it was clear that God had called us to start a church together – a new outpost on the front lines of God’s Kingdom. The first thing we all did is begin to read through the New Testament. We read God’s Word with fresh eyes, asking ourselves the question: “What is the Church supposed to do?” We wanted God to give us his vision for this church, a church we eventually named Real Hope Community Church.
As we prayed about a location, we did not feel God leading us to move out of Texas. The kind of community that we wanted to reach is right here in the West Houston area, especially in the rapidly developing areas along Grand Parkway to the north and south of Katy. There are relatively few churches, and many thousands of people who need Christ and the love of the local church. The Church as a whole has not been able to keep up with the population growth. In October, God surprised us by opening a door for Real Hope to meet at Adolphus Elementary at 99/Bellfort (near the Palladium movie theater and Gallery Furniture).
After saying yes to God about planting the church, we faced the question of timeline. When do we start this church, and when do we stop working at Parkway Fellowship? Other than a few family members and mentors, the first person that we told about this was Mike McGown, our friend, mentor, and Senior Pastor of Parkway Fellowship. We shared the news with him and his wife Amy in early September. It was hard for them to hear, understandably, because all of us on staff at The Park are very close. That’s the sort of atmosphere Mike has cultivated over the years.
The months between then and now have been simultaneously thrilling and difficult. Thrilling because we are following God’s call into uncharted territory, and difficult because we are going to have to say goodbye to our Parkway family. We won’t be able to walk into that office every day and see our friends, and we won’t be able to worship and serve every week alongside so many people we care deeply about.
On that point, I am reminded of Paul’s relationship with his protégé Timothy. He called Timothy his “true child in the faith”, and they worked together for years in ministry. But there were seasons when they had to separate to lead the Church in different parts of the Roman Empire. They didn’t see each other for years. I imagine those separations were difficult because Paul and Timothy were very close. In the same way, we will have to separate from our Parkway family to do the work God has prepared for us to do. I’m just thankful we will still live close by so that we can maintain our friendships.
We all have to make sacrifices in our lives in order to follow Christ, and we have to be willing to walk away from great things in order to go where God wants us to go. We have to hold our lives and our jobs loosely, knowing that God may ask us to let go of them at any given moment and pick up something else. I’m so thankful that the Lord began to work on my heart last Spring, and that he enabled me to hear his voice.
In the days ahead, we will be communicating God’s vision for Real Hope Community Church and beginning to put a launch team together. I’m not going to go into that here. I just wanted to share my story, and most importantly in this moment – I wanted to ask for your prayer. I am acutely aware of our need for it. Pray that God’s will would be done in and through Real Hope Community Church, and that we would be humble enough to hear his voice and obey.
I leave you with Peter’s words about the real hope of Jesus Christ:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade-- kept in heaven for you (1 Peter 1:3-4)