I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
– 1 Corinthians 3:6-7
One year ago this month — October 3, to be specific — I took to the pulpit of Middletown Springs Community Church and announced my resignation. Over the last 12 months, have shared some reflections on that time, primarily in a well-received post I titled The Gospel for Ministry Quitters, which resonated with folks far more than I anticipated, but I’ve never shared my actual resignation letter. I know there are readers who are interested in such things — I’d be one of them, honestly — so I thought I’d share it with you. Below is the announcement I read — or, rather, sobbed through — before preaching a long-beforehand-scheduled sermon on 1 Corinthians 3:1-9. The Lord has a very remarkable sense of humor.
Sharing this information with you is one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I ask that you will listen carefully and seek to hear my heart despite what I am sure will be shocking and disappointing to perhaps a great number of you.
For over a little more than a year, I have felt a great discontentment in my role as pastor. It has taken me a very long time to discern what the cause is. I have felt overwhelmed and exhausted for a while now, and early on I simply assumed that it was due to the difficult season we have been walking through as a church. Most of you who have been here for at least a year know that we have undergone more than our fair share of suffering. When I first began to feel over-burdened and dissatisfied with my ministry here, I assumed it was just that I was tired, that this was simply a hard season, and I ought to just wait it out.
The longer I wrestled with this uneasiness, however, and the more our church has grown, I have come to realize that my problems are not really about the difficulty in this season or ministry, but more about my own deficiencies as a leader. I hope you will understand that this was a very hard thing to realize and even harder to admit. I have always dealt with a sense of inadequacy but I have also always idolized approval, so it has been my operating mode most of my life to put up a good front and try not to disappoint people.
Additionally, I did not come here looking beyond Middletown but planning to dig in and put down roots and to be here until you got sick of me or I died. I really meant that; I really believed that. Having made that commitment publicly numerous times, here and elsewhere, I have been dealing a lot over the last few weeks with fear of what others might say about me.
I don’t think I realized how much my identity has been wrapped up in being the “rural church guy” or the “New England guy.” There is a good pride to take in that, but also a bad kind. My identity needs to be in Christ alone, so I need to find my approval and validation there. I am sorry if you have felt misled or even lied to. This turn of events has surprised me as well. I never wanted to go anywhere else.
But it has occurred to me that both trying to fake what I don’t have the gifts to do and not rocking the boat because of fear of man isn’t only spiritually unhealthy for me, it is spiritually unhealthy for the church.
I know this will be very confusing to some of you, especially to those who may only see me on Sundays when I am operating in my primary area of giftedness and strength. I love preaching. I love Jesus and I love the gospel and I love this church, so I have loved every week plunging the depths of God’s word with you and showing you Jesus and helping you enjoy his grace in new, fresh, and deep ways. I have also been privileged to help some of our precious saints suffer well, and die well. That has been the profoundest part of my time as your shepherd. But these are not the only functions of a good pastor – especially a solo pastor, who must be more versatile in his giftedness and stronger in areas of leadership when a church grows in numbers and mission at the quick rate ours has.
It is also confusing, I know, for me to express discouragement in the ministry here, since we have seen such growth. We have almost tripled in numbers in the last five years, but more importantly we have seen such beautifully wrought spiritual fruit. People have come to Christ. We have baptized and discipled new believers, we have welcomed new members, we have begun the planting of a missional church in downtown Rutland. By all exterior marks, the ministry at Middletown Springs Church has been a great success.
I just want it to continue being a great success. I do not believe I am a leader with the capacity to lead us into it.
When I came to the dawning realization that I don’t think I have the right gifts to continue leading the church into the right kind of growth for our future, into the next season, I wasn’t sure what to do with that realization. I prayed about it and chewed on it. Becky and I prayed and talked. About two months ago the two of us went to the elders to simply tell them I was struggling and needed help. They were very encouraging and helpful and began putting in place different boundaries and strategies for me that might help shore up some of my deficiencies. I left that meeting feeling deeply loved and very much supported.
But my new conviction about my uncertain future here returned. I began to feel more unsure and more disoriented and overwhelmed about all the needs we face as a church, about the kind of leadership we need from a pastor, and about the high capacity the next season would require.
I asked God to help me. I asked God to show me what I ought to do. I was not looking to leave. I was just looking for an answer. About a month ago, I received a call from Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. They offered me a position on the communications team there as the Director of Content Strategy. I have received numerous job inquiries over the last five years and turned them all down flatly. But this one was different. It felt extremely providential. The more I talked with the team there, the more Becky and I prayed and discussed this opportunity, the more we believed it was the call of God for our family.
Prayerfully and carefully, I have decided to accept that call, and so I am announcing my resignation to you today and will be moving to Kansas City the first week of March 2015.
When I first visited Vermont in view of the call to pastor the church, you hosted a Q&A after the service where I was asked a lot of questions. Afterwards, I was asked if I had any questions for you. I considered all that I had witnessed, all I had learned. You had then the mature, hardworking, godly core of believers that you have now. Pastor Roland had been retired for almost a year by then, but you had capable teachers and spiritual officers. You were in community with each other and you served each other gladly and humbly. So it seemed natural for me to ask: “Why do you want a pastor?” I was told, “We like who we are and where we are, but we feel like we need someone to take us to the next level.”
By God’s grace, over the last five years, I believe I have led you to that next level. We have reached it together. You have done an eternity’s worth of kindnesses to me and my family. You have been the church family we didn’t know existed – sweet, loving, gracious, full of spirit and truth. Leaving you will be like leaving home, not going home.
But it has been my prayer for several years now that God would hijack our agenda – hijack MY agenda – and replace it with his own. You have heard me pray this numerous times. It was not just me blowing smoke. I have come too far with the Lord and trusted him with too much and found him way too faithful to deny his call now. Ten years ago when I was depressed and suicidal and had nothing I could trust in or cling to, he woke me from my spiritual coma and showed me that his grace is delicious. I was willing then to have lost everything in order to have him. And though I am a great sinner, I am willing now to give up whatever he asks.
But it is extremely hard. This is not easy for me to say or do. The church is growing and multiplying. You love Jesus and you love me and you love my family. There is no great conflict that I’m running from. There is no great sin disqualifying me. I know a few of you may think there is much more to this story, and while I could say a thousand things more about it, this is the truth. I love you with all my heart. But I love my God more, and I would not be a good pastor to you in this moment if I did not go where I believed he was leading – if I did not make way for the man whom he has appointed to lead you into the next season.
You are great. I cannot overstate it. When I read Paul saying to the church at Thessalonica, “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?” – I know what he means. He is not saying this in a prideful or arrogant or Christless way. He’s just saying “I’m so proud of you. You are the proof my ministry is true. You are proof that the gospel I have preached is real and powerful.”
Who is my crown of boasting before the Lord at his coming? It is you. You are, as Paul calls the Thessalonians in chapter 2, verse 20, “my joy and my glory.”
And you have become so by enjoying and glorying in Christ with me.
I know you have many questions to ask me and many thoughts and I would even assume corrections too share with me, and there will be plenty of time for them, beginning today. You will have some after church and I can talk as I’m able. The church planting team will have some tonight, and we will spend our time together at 6 pm having our family meeting. Men’s discipleship group is tomorrow night, and I would be glad to answer questions then too. The time until March is short but it will be long enough to sort some things out and begin moving forward.
And over the next five months, beginning this morning, I want to continue doing what I have always sought to do for you and with you – point you to Jesus Christ and then get out of the way. I hope you will partner with me in this work, as we just keep savoring God’s glory, week after week, day after day.
We are all very sad right now but the joy of the Lord will be our strength, so I ask that you would please turn in your Bibles to 1 Corinthians, chapter 3 . . .