Below is the transcript from this past Sunday, August 18th at Woodlands Point Community Church. It shares in detail why I am resigning from the church I love and what it is I am confident God is calling me to. (You can listen to the audio HERE.)
Good morning. If you are a regular with us, you have noticed that the service is significantly different than normal. If you are new with us, then we want to extend a welcome to you. We want to let you know that you have stepped foot into, unknowingly, a family meeting here at Woodlands Point. This is a family that we hope you would find a home with. It is one of those unique Sundays - it is different for those of you who are regulars with us, but it’s still an opportunity for us to extend a hand to those who are new with us and say, “This is a little different, but we’re glad you’re here.”
This morning I want to share a story with you, the conclusion of that story first, and then I want to have the opportunity to fill you in on how we’ve been led to that conclusion. The conclusion of the story is: I am officially stepping out of my role as lead pastor at Woodlands Point. So, effective mid-to-late September, I’ll be stepping out of my role. We felt that it was appropriate for us to share the story with you face-to-face, because it’s a good story. My prayer, in the end, is that your heart would resonate just as everyone’s has - it’s a shock, it’s a surprise - but as you hear the story, my hope is that it makes sense and that it’s encouraging. My hope for you this morning is that perhaps you’re in a position in life right now where you feel like the Lord is leading you in a particular direction and you’re seeking clarity on that. I want to share with you my story, because it might help encourage your story.
PLANTING WOODLANDS POINT
Six years ago at this time, my wife was very pregnant with our second child, and the two of us together were very pregnant with this idea that God was calling us to plant a church. I couldn’t quite figure out which one was more terrifying to me—bringing another human being into our home or the idea of planting a church. I fought God on the implications of what it meant and the hard work that would be sure to follow on planting a church; but, at the same time, I knew that was what God was calling me to do. I’ve never doubted that is what He called us to do.
So, just over five years ago, we began to gather in a room like this at an intermediate school; but, what led up to that was several months of meeting in living rooms—even some living rooms of people who are still here this morning. Our church began as a group of 18-20 people in our living room, in our old neighborhood, and it has grown to where it is today. God has been gracious and faithful. I have no doubt in my mind that this is exactly what He has called us to do and to be a part of.
About one year ago, I began to feel my heart disengage - not from the people of Woodlands Point, as this is our home and our family – but from the position that I have at Woodlands Point, which is a unique one. So, again, it has never been the people or the community. This is our home. This is our family. It has been the position. I felt my heart begin to disengage from that.
There were two primary questions that I had to find resolution on that have really set me on the path - for the last year - to seek God and counsel on that. If you are in a position where you feel like God is leading you, maybe these are some questions for you as well. The two driving questions were as follows:
- Am I thinking clearly and healthy; or, am I coming from a place of exhaustion, after five years of doing what needed to be done to plant this church and to get it to the point where it is?
- Am I running from a place that God still wants me, or am I running to a place that God ultimately has for me?
The source of those two questions, in large part, comes from some of the occupational hazards that come along with being a pastor. If you’re a doctor, an occupational hazard is being sued for malpractice. If you’re a teacher, it’s difficult parents or students, whatever the case may be. If you are an oil rig worker, it’s falling off the oil rig or something exploding.
I was with an Exxon friend of mine the other night in our community group, and he’s telling stories about pressure valves. He was speaking a whole different language. He was describing all of the dangers on an oil rig. I’m thinking, “Those are some serious occupational hazards.” For a pastor - let me share this with you - the occupational hazards are relational. It’s a difficult position to be in, because the role of the pastor is to extend himself or herself fully and vulnerably to people for the sake of trying to lead them to a place that is in their best interest - towards Jesus. That’s often met with resistance, backlash, betrayal, and relational carnage along the way. It is also met with joys, excitements, and celebrations. However, it is often met with difficulties, when you are in the people business.
After five years, there have been incredible joys, excitements, and difficulties with people. That’s part of the job, and I’m okay with that. I needed to determine, “Am I coming from a place of exhaustion with that and I just need to get healthy, or am I thinking clearly? Am I coming from a place of running from where God wants me, or is God really stirring me towards a new place?”
I tell you that, not to elicit sympathy. I like a hard job, and I am not afraid of that. I tell you that, to encourage you, if this is your home church, the men and women who help lead this church, lay themselves out for you, lay their families out for you, and relationally they make themselves vulnerable for your good; and, you need to know that. You need to know the occupational hazard of those people who are leading you.
Those were the questions that were driving me that I needed to seek clarity on and some resolution on with God. So, I began down that path. Several months ago, I began to share some of this with our elders. They very much affirmed, “We see that in you. We see that struggle in you.” It’s such a blessing to have elders and leaders in this church that give margin, room, and latitude to explore that and to come to resolution on that; rather, than, with some environments, if anything like that is shared, there’s no room for that, and you just need to go. That’s not our leadership. Our leadership is very gracious with much room and latitude to explore what it is God is doing.
We began down this path of seeking counsel and asking God for clarity on, again, these two driving questions. The assumption all along was that the resolution of these questions would be that God would heal my heart from any exhaustion and that God would strengthen my resolve to be here in this position. So, the assumption has been all along that the end result of this would be a refreshed spirit for this calling and position, renewed passion and a reengaged heart. I’m not out looking for other jobs. I’m not making any exit plans or strategies. The assumption is this is where we’re going to be. This is where God has us. This is a baby that we gave birth to six years ago that holds a very dear place in our hearts that we will always fight for, until the bitter end, just as we would any one of our other daughters.
So, that was the assumption all along. What that means is that we’re not looking for an exit strategy, and certainly not feeling called to go find a job outside of the church. My ministry resume is laughable in the corporate world. So, that’s not even a consideration. It was certainly not, “Maybe the solution is to go work at another church.” No. This is our home. This is our family. This is where we are. This is where we want to be. So, clearly, logically, for us, the solution was going to be a renewed spirit, renewed perspective, and reengagement of our hearts here.
So, we began to share with elders and leadership and receive counsel, and much of my questions were coming to a resolution. As I sought counsel our elders - very, very gracious - gave me some time this summer to not preach for a little while and to seek some clarity on that. I very confidently can say that the answers to those questions are: 1) This isn’t coming from a place of exhaustion. It is actually coming from a place of clarity. 2) I don’t feel like I am running from something that God has for me but that God has turned our hearts to something new, again, not from the people, but from the position here.
This is a baby that we gave birth to 6 years ago in our hearts, 5-1/2 years ago in our living room, about 5 years ago in the cafetorium of an intermediate school, and now in the gym of a high school. In the early days, it was new, fresh, and visionary with a small group of excited people. It has never stopped being new, fresh, exciting, and visionary. But it has grown into something very different than what it was in the early days. That’s a good thing. Again, it’s like one of our babies. We want our babies to grow, mature, and to reach new places. Our church plant is, for all intents and purposes, “a successful church plant.” What I mean by that is, by and large, the overwhelming percentage of church plants don’t make it past year one, year two, so on, and so on.
We are also in a unique position that - our staff can testify to this - on a weekly basis, we are contacted by other church planters or other church plants who want to come and meet with us and learn from us. They see what God’s doing here, and that’s what they want. That’s a humbling and unique position to be in, but it’s a testimony to the fact that God has been very gracious to us here. So, when we began in the early days, it was a young, excited, and vibrant group of people and continues to be. It has also added on a layer of growth and organization that doesn’t just require a young, excited visionary, but it also requires really strong management of an organization to steward it well.
So, maybe you are in a position where you’ve started a business or started something that was very simple in the early days. It has grown. You’ve become a victim in some ways of your own success. It has grown beyond, maybe, some of your giftings, passions, or leanings. That’s a good thing. I want my children to grow up in our home in such a way that they no longer need me to thrive and we can send them out when they are 18-years-old - Lord willing - to make their own money, eat their own food, and thrive in the world. That’s the goal. The same is true for our church. So, I have, over the last one year, done a lot of introspection, seeking self‑awareness about:
- Who am I?
- Who am I not?
- What is my gifting?
- Where are my passions?
- Where are my passions not?
I am reading a book. I read military books for some reason. I live vicariously through very courageous men and women, and I read war stories. The book I’m reading describes a soldier, and there was one line in there, recently, that said, essentially, “the more aware he became of his weaknesses, the more confident it made him in his strengths.” That resonated with me. That has been my process:
- Who am I?
- What is my gifting?
- Where are my leanings?
The conclusion I have come to is this: My gifting and passions were required to plant this church and to raise it to where it is. My gifting, passions, and leanings are such that I am so grateful that our church has really outgrown a lot of them. I am grateful for that. As I have become more self-aware of that, the stronger and more confident it has made me in who I am, my gifting, and my passions.
So, again, throughout this, the assumption was, somehow we’re going to stay here with a renewed perspective and a refreshed heart; and, again, we were not looking outside of that. As we gained clarity on that, I shared some of the conclusions I came to with elders and key staff members, and it was met with much affirmation: “Yes, we see that in you. That makes a lot of sense. We don’t necessarily like that - in a good way - because it’s as if we’re saying maybe it is time for you to go. But that's not what we mean.” So, there has been very objective, wise counsel for me. It’s hard to find. Most people are biased in that, “Well, we think you should do this or that.” The men and women in my life who should be most biased have actually been most objective, and it has been refreshing with our elders and our leaders.
HOW ORPHAN CARE PLAYS A ROLE
So, the conclusion was, “Well, then, what now? What does that mean?” Let me backtrack a little bit. A few years ago, God decided that orphan care was going to be a big deal at Woodlands Point. We didn’t solicit that. We didn’t try to manufacture that. That’s just something that God said, “Here’s a fire that I’m going to light, and here’s kindling that I’m going to put around it. It is going to burn out of control here.” It has been amazing to see that. A church, by and large, rallied around the mandate to care for the marginalized, oppressed, and orphaned. Love it. That caught my heart up. That caught my wife’s heart up. It has changed us in more ways that we can ever imagine. It’s changed our family, as we are in the process of adopting a little girl. It’s changed the color of our family, literally. It has changed the aisles in Walmart that we have to shop on for hair products, literally. [laughter] We now find ourselves reading online and learning…no lie, there is a book and training online called, Chocolate Hair, White Care. That’s our world now. [laughter]
One of our daughters recently said, “Daddy, my hair grows down, and Marley’s hair grows up.” “Yeah, it does.” [laughter] Our family has changed, and our reality has changed. We love it. God has clearly caught us up in that. If you and I are friends on Facebook, you are probably sick and tired of everything about adoption, orphan care, and pithy statements here and there. [laughter] That is just where God has moved our hearts. God has moved much of the heart of our church in that direction. We couldn’t be more grateful.
A couple of years ago, through the leadership of Randy Doleman, we launched The Orphan Care Network, for the purpose of equipping, mobilizing, training, and resourcing families, churches, and organizations for the cause of the orphan. In that, we’ve developed a very close relationship with Arrow Child & Family Ministries, which is the agency our family and many other families in our church go through for foster care and adoption. We’ve had the privilege of sitting around the table with the president and the high-ranking people at Arrow, and we have developed a relationship with them. God has been gracious to us as we have been launching the Orphan Care Network.
AN UNEXPECTED OPPORTUNITY
In that, I developed a close relationship with the president and founder of Arrow, who, himself, was a foster child, and he was adopted as a teenager. That’s his story. Several weeks ago, again, having come to several of these conclusions - I’m more self-aware of who I am than I ever have been before and I feel very confidently that the questions I had have been answered; this is a place of clarity, not weakness; this is not running from, this is running to something - all this was a slow process of discovery for me. Then, the process sped up fairly significantly when I was asked to coffee by Mark Tennant, the President of Arrow. He essentially laid out a vision for me on how Arrow can help equip and train churches.
Here’s how the conversation began. He says, “Twenty-two years ago I started Arrow. We started Arrow. Arrow has since become known as one of the premier placement agencies, which means working with state and local governments and contracts to certify families and place kids.” They do that well. Many people in our family can attest to that. He says, “I’ve led this organization for 22 years, and it has grown X number of employees and X number of organizational demands. It has grown outside of my passions and gifting. I am ready for a change.” So, he begins to read my book, essentially. I hear him share his story, which my story resonates with.
He says, “As a result, Arrow is starting a new entity, a new branch, where we are not only going to be the best placement agency, we want to be one of the best equipping and training agencies for the local church. We are starting an organization called the Arrow Foundation, whose intent is to engage and equip the local church with the theology of adoption for the purpose of Gospel‑centered orphan care.” He essentially presents this to me and says, “We believe in your ability to communicate the theology of adoption - in spoken word and on paper - and your church experience. I am giving you the capacity to engage churches from a place of ministry experience and your foster care and adoption experience. All sum total, we have essentially crafted this opportunity for you.”
So, in that moment - maybe you’ve felt like this with God sometimes - I know that theologically God doesn’t trick people, play games with people, and doesn’t put a carrot on the end of the stick just to see us dance. If he was that kind of God, this is what it would feel like, “Okay, God. Is this you dangling something out there for me to see and say no, that’s not what I want, and it reaffirms where I am? Or, is that you dangling something out there that’s just so clear and that’s what I need to do?”
So, I took that information that I had to our elders and our team. Again, men who should be biased and say, “No, we don’t think you should do that. We want you to stay here.” They were very gracious and objective and said, “That’s you. That’s you - writing, teaching, and articulating the theology of adoption. Equipping and training and resourcing churches and church leaders to that end for that cause, that’s you to a T.” They’re right.
If I’m not careful at Woodlands Point, every sermon will be about adoption, every sermon illustration will be about adoption, every blog post, every e-mail, and everything. You guys will get to the point of, “Oh, here he goes again, adoption, right?” [laughter] That’s just what I bleed now. I’m being presented this opportunity to spend my time and life doing that with a laser focus.
The church, by the grace of God, has grown to the point where it requires a guy like me to manage across the board, outside of a lot of my gifting and passions. What I’m being presented is the opportunity to be laser focused in one single area, according to my gifts and passions. So, I take that seriously. I took it to the team, and they were very objective and gracious to me with their counsel. Again, I have not looked for a job. God says, “This is pretty clear.” The thing that’s been ringing in my head for the last couple of weeks - which I’m trying to get out of my head because it’s like an annoying song - it’s like the Sinéad O'Connor song. [sings] Now, it’s in your head. [laughter] You’re welcome. It’s this this old Baptist Sermon illustration that’s been stuck in my head. I love Baptists. That’s not derogatory. It’s an old Baptist Sermon illustration about a guy - maybe you’ve heard it - that is in a flood and he is stranded on the top of his roof and is begging God to rescue him. A boat comes by and says, “I’m here to rescue you.” “No, I’m cool. God’s going to rescue me. Go on.” Another boat. Another boat. A helicopter comes by. “You’re about to drown, and we’re here to rescue you.” “No, I’m okay. God is going to send some help.” The guy drowns, presumably goes to heaven, and is angry with God for not rescuing him. God’s response is, “Really, three boats and a helicopter!” The point of that story is not that I need rescuing. The point of that story is sometimes God is very, very, very clear with us. It’s time for us to stop asking for clarity when He has been so clear.
It got to the point, a few weeks ago, where it was time to stop asking for clarity. So, that’s where we are. So, it’s been a long process leading up to that, and then it’s been a fairly quick process as a result of the clarity that God has provided. So, I’ve accepted that role, which means later in this semester, I will assume that role. Towards the end of September, I will step out of my role here at Woodlands Point, take a little time off, and then step into my new role, which, essentially, will be to equip, train, and mobilize the church with the theology of adoption for the purpose of coming alongside the marginalized, oppressed, and the orphaned. I will call people on a 30,000‑foot-view level to respond to the mandate to care for orphans. Then, I will step out of the church. We come in and fire hydrant them with that call, and then they’re left to do with it what they feel like God’s called them to do with it.
THE ORPHAN CARE NETWORK
One question we get is, “What does that mean for The Orphan Care Network?” As many of you know, we launched The Orphan Care Network and Randy Doleman leads that. The vision of the network is to engage families, churches, and organizations for the cause of the orphan. In many ways, this gives us a greater platform for The Orphan Care Network to succeed in its vision. Arrow is one agency of dozens that the Network can engage in, but it’s a significant one. It’s a key relationship. Essentially, what it does is, it gives me a platform to come in and speak 30,000-foot-view vision for the cause of the orphan and then to advocate for The Orphan Care Network, to come alongside of that, on the ground level, and help network, connect, and resource in an ongoing way. So, this, by no means, replaces The Orphan Care Network. As a matter of fact, I am very excited about working even more closely with Randy and the Network on how we can use this platform to advocate even more for it. So, that’s been a question, and it is a good one. That’s one that we’re actually very excited about.
HOW TO SERVE US
There are a couple of things I should say. If you see us express any emotion over this, specifically my wife and I, and you are like, “Jason, really, emotion? No.” [laughter] It’s not because it’s a negative thing. It’s because this is a baby of ours that we’re sending off. It has grown up, and it has matured. We’ll cry when our girls move out, and that’s the emotion that we feel. We’ve given everything that we’ve had, for the last six years, to this church. We’ve embraced the occupational hazards, which were sometimes not easy, but were always worth it. I’ve literally given my hair for this place. [laughter] If you look back at pictures of me a few years ago, I’m clean, young, and fresh. This vision is 6-years-old, and I feel like I’ve aged 20 years in the process - all worth it.
That’s the emotion we feel. It’s not a negative thing. In no way shape or form are our elders or leaders forcing anything. Again, this is clear. Again, it’s the position, not the people. This is our home. This is our family. This is our community. We plan to continue to make it so, after the dust settles. I want to get myself to a place where I can walk into Woodlands Point - I would say 9:00 or 11:00 with the rest of you - but really it’s 9:10 or 9:15 with the rest of you, if we’re real honest 11:10 or 11:15 [laughter], with my family and worship here and not work in my head. This has been my life for six years, and I’m eager to continue to live life here and have my girls here. So, that’s our plan. The best way to serve us, during this time - my wife and I specifically - is we have found that when people ask us, “Are you doing okay,” it actually makes us not do okay. It’s like, if you are married, and you ask your spouse, “What’s wrong with you?” “Well, nothing, until you just asked, ‘What’s wrong with me,’ and now there’s something wrong with me.”
So, we are okay. It’s just this is a baby of ours, and it’s grown up. It’s an adult. That’s the emotion that we feel. The best way to serve us during this time would be with more affirmation, than, “Are you okay?” This is by no means an easy thing; but, sometimes the best things are the hardest things. We have no doubt that this is the best thing. I can say this with full confidence. When my parents dropped me off at A&M for the first time, in the dorm, it was straight out of a movie. We’ve got my younger brother and sister, my older sister, my pastor, dad, and my mom, and they walk me into the dorm on the north side of campus at A&M, which is the routy, cheap side of the campus. At the time, these were big bonfire dorms. So, it was debauchery everywhere, just horrible. They walk me into the hallway. There is furniture everywhere. There are half-naked guys running around everywhere. There are beer cans everywhere. There is loud music. It was like was just stepped foot into Animal House, the old movie.
I can’t imagine what my parents were feeling in that moment, “Really? We have to leave him in this?” The confidence I have with the leadership at Woodlands Point and where Woodlands Point is is more like I am dropping the church off at a homeschool, private, Christian college dorm. I think it’s very safe. [laugther] I am very comfortable and confident that it’s going to be okay. The leadership of our church is undeniably amazing. God has orchestrated it to a point where I have full trust and confidence in the leadership.
THE CONFIDENCE I HAVE IN OUR LEADERS
Yesterday morning we met with about 25 community group leaders and shared the story with them. I look around the room; and, in that room, yesterday morning, there were more people in that room - just leaders, community group leaders - than there were in our living room when we started our church. I look around at the caliber of leadership, and I think, “I have no hesitation whatsoever that God has orchestrated and brought about such amazing leadership here that the timing and hindsight has all worked out and that it’s just clear.” So, that’s where we are.
That’s a lot, I know. Welcome to Woodlands Point, if it’s your first Sunday. We love you. [laughter]