Yesterday my family and I announced the most difficult and emotional decision we’ve ever made in Christian ministry. We shared with the spiritual family and congregation we love our plans to transition from FBC Grand Cayman to return stateside to plant a church East of the River in Washington, D.C.
I began to feel a sense of the Lord’s leading about two years ago. But the actual decision was reached over the last ten months. That’s when I first asked the elders of FBC to shepherd me through my burgeoning desires and to help me discern the Lord’s will. When we began I only knew my desires seemed consistent enough that I needed shepherding, but not so consistent that I’d made a decision. The elders allowed me to put all my thoughts and assumptions on the table. They asked questions, listened to me ramble, gave feedback and offered their support in whatever path we’d take. It was as healthy a process of discerning a call and transitioning from a senior pastor role as I’ve ever seen or known. I’m profoundly grateful to the Lord for these men.
And I’m profoundly grateful for the church family at FBC. While many were and are shocked, the congregation lovingly communicated with us and eagerly embraced the vision for expanding the wider kingdom of God. Many spoke of having a sense that God had prepared them for this moment and excitement about the unfolding chapters ahead. Their love made a most difficult announcement an occasion for yet more grace from God. We love these saints dearly. From approximately 30 nationalities, we have been deeply united in Christ our Lord and the fellowship of His Spirit. We’re going to greatly miss the saints.
If you’re a part of the FBC family and you missed our service yesterday, or if you’re a reader of the blog and you’re interested to know what I shared, my comments to the congregation are below. For those who have a moment, I’d greatly appreciate your prayers for our FBC family and for our future. And for those tempted to ask, please do not send me your resume to replace me :-). I’m sure everyone would like to “suffer for Jesus” in the Cayman Islands, but what we need most is prayer right now.
Grace and peace to all.
Dear FBC Family,
In April 2006, while borrowing Stephen Ryan’s old apartment on Outpost Road, I read the words of 1 Thes. 2:8: “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” I read those words and knew the Lord was sending me to the Cayman Islands to pastor the saints of First Baptist Church.
We landed in Cayman on August 1, 2006 and were met at Owen Roberts airport by some 30 members of the church. It was one of the warmest receptions we’ve ever received from a group of Christians—and it was only a brief glimpse of the love, support, encouragement and help we would receive from this church family for nearly eight years. You helped us set up house. You encouraged us in our ministry. You had us over for dinner and introduced us to “heavy cake.” Right away you cared for our daughters. And you’re the only church family and home Titus has ever known. He’s been carried in many of your arms and loved by you all. You’ve loved and honored my wife—which I count as a special gift. She has thrived here more than perhaps any other place we’ve lived. You have been our family.
As a church family:
- We have served together. Every week we’ve gathered to sing amazing praises to our God, to pray, and to hear God’s word. You’ve endured my preaching, and you’ve encouraged me constantly. Some of you have met to pray and study with me at various seasons during my ministry here. Others have traveled with me as gospel partners to give support at conferences and on mission trips. We’ve partnered together to operate a school, send missionaries, plant a church in the Middle East, eliminate our debt, and seek revival for our own beloved Cayman.
- We have mourned together. We’ve sat with one another as older brothers and sisters grew older and weaker, as sick saints grew yet sicker. We’ve hugged and wept at the loss of loved ones. Even before we arrived in 2006, you prayed for me and my family at my brother’s death of cancer. I’ve tried to faithfully do the same when it’s been your loved ones. Together, we’ve fought for marriages, agonized over wayward children, and scraped through financial loss.
- We have rejoiced together. Some of you I have married. We’ve celebrated the birth of many of your children and grandchildren. We’ve gone to house warmings and the opening of new businesses to ask for God’s blessing. I’ve had the honor of seeing some of you raised from death to life through the power of Jesus Christ. Some of you I have baptized. And I rejoice at the great spiritual growth that’s happened in all of us.
All of this has been one of the greatest privileges of our lives. We feel so honored that you would allow us to participate in the most intimate times of your lives. And because of these things and so many more, we will carry you in our hearts for the rest of our lives. Because all of you are in our hearts, our hearts are heavy with sadness at the prospect of leaving. We hope you will also carry us in your hearts and carry us to God in prayer as we embark on this exciting and uncertain venture.
The apostle Paul once wondered about what would happen to his fellow Jewish community which did not yet believe the gospel. He writes: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.” He says: “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved” (Rom. 9:2-3; 10:1).
Over the last two years, something like that has become an increasing burden for me. Great sorrow. Unceasing anguish. A heart’s desire to see my “kinsmen according to the flesh”—the greater African-American community—come into the glory of God’s salvation—especially those in the forgotten and forsaken cities of the country.
About ten months ago, I began to talk with the elders about what was then a feeling. When we began, I did not know what the Lord would have us do. It was such a blessing to have a group of men welcome the opportunity to pray and discern with me the Lord’s directions. Many pastors could never do this with their fellow leaders. The elders graciously joined me in praying and seeking the Lord’s will—whether I should continue in ministry here or transition to this new work. Over those several months, we met individually, held a retreat to focus on this issue, and they met several times without me. In the end, they could detect no sinful motive, recognized the needs of the wider kingdom of God, understood my burden for urban African-American communities, and offered their support whether I chose to continue at First Baptist or follow the Lord’s leading elsewhere.
I have decided to transition from FBC to pursue this exciting and difficult ministry for the glory of Jesus Christ and the salvation of many in African-American communities. Effective June 30th I will transition from my role here as senior pastor. In early July, we hope to move back to Washington, D.C. where we will, Lord willing and pending an official call, land at Capitol Hill Baptist Church as members and as church planters. From there we hope to launch a new church in a part of the city commonly called “East of the River.”
The elders of FBC have communicated their desire for the church to stand with us and to send us into this harvest field. I am grateful for these men, for their faith, love and hope, and their partnership in the gospel.
I’m praying for a deep unity and deep faith for us as a church family. During my ministry here I’ve tried to emphasize two things: (1) the absolute centrality and sufficiency of Jesus Christ and His gospel, and (2) the great importance and joy of being a true spiritual family, committed to one another as members in the local body of Christ. With this transition, I’m hopeful that what I have treasured and taught will be treasured and lived all the more by everyone here.
I firmly believe that the best days for FBC are ahead of it. Jesus never abandons His Church. While I intend to get completely out of his way, I will be completely supportive of the man the Lord has prepared to shepherd you. I have a deep sense that the leadership that is to come will be precisely what the church needs for the years ahead.
We love you more than you know or than we can express. And we are confident of your love for us. That’s what makes this sorrowful and also what makes it promising. We are hoping to spend as much time as possible with as many of you as possible between now and July. Whether this is a shock to you, a disappointment, something that you expected, or something you’re excited about, we’d love to hear from you and have time with you.
It has been our honor to know and serve you these 7.5 years.
With an everlasting love in Jesus Christ our Savior,
Thabiti, Kristie, Afiya, Eden and Titus